Have you ever been up against a really tough challenge? Not the kind of challenge that’s overly complicated, physically demanding, or seemingly unattainable — the kind that demands a shift in your habits and maybe even the dismantling of mental barriers to progress to the next level.

Your mind may naturally wander to things like maintaining a healthy diet or sticking to a gym routine. However, if you sit with this question, your thoughts may gravitate towards other unquestionably essential things, such as planning for retirement.

Think about it: opening up a retirement account or setting up automatic contributions, the very basics of preparing for retirement, isn’t all that challenging. Yet, many of us find excuses to put it off for another day.

“I’ll start saving when I make more money.”

“Who knows what tomorrow holds? I’m living life on my terms now, and I’ll deal with retirement later.”

“It all feels overwhelming, and I have no clue where to start.”

While those thoughts may hold some validity, they often become excuses to procrastinate on planning for something that will inevitably come. Even if we delay retirement or opt to work part-time during retirement, the fact remains that a time will come when we are no longer physically or mentally fit for employment, and the time to prepare for that day is now.

Steps in Retirement Planning

So, where do you start if the enormity of it all feels too much to handle? Fortunately, taking small steps is not only allowed but encouraged. And if you’re asking, “What are the first steps of retirement planning?”—we’ve got you covered with four steps you can start taking today! 

1. Define What Retirement Means to You

If you’re in the early stages of your career, it’s natural for your retirement goals to shift many times before you retire. However, even if you don’t have all the answers, it’s still important to think about what retirement means to you right now.

For some, retirement might mean achieving a work-optional lifestyle, meaning they have the flexibility to retire by a certain age, even if they intend to continue working because they genuinely love their work. Others may aim for a more definitive retirement age, at which point they focus on a passion project or volunteering their time.

Here are a few questions to help you start thinking about what retirement means to you:

  • What’s your ideal retirement age? (Hint: It doesn’t have to be the traditional age of 65. You’re allowed to dream while still staying grounded in reality.)
  • Where do you want to live? Do you want to stay put, move to a tax-friendly state, or move abroad for a lower cost of living?
  • Do you have a passion project in mind, like launching a non-profit or turning your hobby into a business that you can hand down to the next generations?

Remember, it’s okay if your goals evolve with you. It’s better to adjust your goals as your circumstances and dreams change rather than do nothing because you have no vision for the future.

2. Estimate Your Anticipated Expenses

This step in retirement planning can feel hazy, given the many variables that can change between now and retirement. However, a practical starting point is assessing your current spending.

Make a list of your current expenses and determine which ones you’ll realistically maintain in retirement and which you won’t, or which might increase or decrease in retirement. Remember to factor in inflation, medical expenses, and some things you aspire to do in retirement.

Here are some questions to inspire your imagination about what you might want and need to budget for in retirement:

  • What are some things you want to experience in retirement? For example, do you plan to travel extensively while you’re still in good health?
  • Is there someone or something you’d like to financially support, such as an organization close to your heart or your grandchildren?
  • Is there anyone who would be able and willing to take you in if there comes a time when living independently becomes challenging, or do you envision a scenario where you might require care in a nursing home?

Depending on where you are in life right now, it might be too soon to have a solid answer to some of these questions. However, they are meant to get you thinking about how you may want and need to manage your finances during retirement. 

3. Assess Your Current Financial Situation

This step may be challenging because we’re shifting the focus from dreaming about what’s possible to facing reality. However hard it may be, you need to clearly understand where you are today to plan for where you want to go.

To gauge your retirement readiness, you can start with these steps:

  • List all your retirement accounts, including their respective balances and ongoing contributions. 

This list should include everything from employer-sponsored plans like a 401(k), self-employed retirement plans such as a Solo 401(k) or SEP IRA, personal retirement accounts like IRAs, and even non-retirement accounts that you’ve earmarked for retirement, like investment or savings accounts.

  • Review your investment portfolio to ensure it aligns with your age, risk tolerance, and goals. 

Some mistakenly believe they’ve covered all the bases by simply contributing to a retirement account, but there’s more to it. While retirement accounts offer tax advantages, if your retirement funds are parked in cash, your returns won’t be much different than leaving your cash in a savings account earning a meager 0.3%.

A more aggressive approach to investing is typically suitable when you’re younger because you have more time to take risks for greater rewards and recover from market setbacks. As you approach retirement age, a conservative approach may be better to preserve your wealth. 

Once you know where you stand, you can take the proper steps to move the needle in the right direction.

4. Determine What Changes Are Needed and Take Action

This step involves some number crunching to determine if you’re on the right track and, if not, how to bridge the gap. While a more in-depth approach may be required, there are many online calculators that allow you to plug in some basic data to get a general idea of your retirement readiness.

In addition to solving for your required contributions and rate of return to meet your goals, you may need to make other changes. For instance, you may need to set up or enroll in a retirement plan.

If you’re employed, start by reviewing your benefits to see what option(s) are available to you; if you’re self-employed, start comparing the various plans available to business owners to determine which best meets your business needs.

Once you’re clear on what needs to be done and you have the means to do it (even if it involves trimming some of your discretionary spending), it’s time to take action. 

Enroll in your employer’s 401(k) plan. Boost your contributions to secure the full employer match. Automate savings to your investment account. There’s no universal guide to retirement, so do what’s necessary and attainable for your circumstances.

Your Retirement Life by Design: Piecing It All Together

While we encourage you to work through these exercises individually, merging all the steps in retirement planning into a comprehensive and well-defined strategy can be challenging.  

The good news is, much like there are specialists for handling your taxes or repairing things around your home, there are retirement planning specialists, too. Retirement planning specialists like the team at Five Pine Wealth can help you develop a clear roadmap with steps in retirement planning to help you achieve your vision.

If the idea of planning for retirement feels daunting, we’d love to chat with you to see if we’re a good fit. Give us a call at 877.333.1015 or send us an email at info@fivepinewealth.com.

At this time, we’re welcoming clients in Spokane and across the nation through our virtual retirement planning servicesRemember, whether you do this independently or opt to team up with a trusted advisor, taking even small steps is far more valuable than taking no action at all.