The main goal before you retire is to make sure that you have enough money when you do retire so you can maintain your standard of living. How much is enough depends on when you wish to retire, what your anticipated living expenses will be, what rate of return you can expect on your savings, and whether you will continue to work at all after retirement.
The anticipated date of your retirement affects two important factors: how much time you will have to save up for retirement and the number of years you can expect to live after you retire. A qualified financial advisor can help you sketch out your retirement plans in terms of timing and lifestyle. Once you put these down on paper, the financial planner can help you calculate how much money you need to have set aside to meet your goals and how it should be invested. Unfortunately, the answer will likely be that "You'll need more money than you think." Americans are living longer than ever before and inflation inevitably eats away at the value of dollars saved.
Many Web sites now offer free tools and information to assist with retirement planning, including "retirement calculators." By providing a few details about yourself and your finances, these calculators can predict how much you need to save to achieve your retirement objectives. Calculators are available from AARP, Fidelity, MFS, Kiplinger, and Vanguard among others, although bear in mind that a 2009 study found that while such calculators "can provide a rough idea of whether the user is on target for retirement," they inadequately assess the risk of running out of money.
Once you have an idea of how much you will need, here are other factors involved in determining how well you will manage your retirement savings:
- The total amount you contribute over time
- How you save (all at once or little by little)
- What kind of investment you use (savings accounts, bonds, stocks)
- How much your savings or investments grow, less expenses
- Whether or not you reinvest that growth
- How long you have before you begin spending your retirement savings
- How you plan to take money out (again, all at once or little by little)
- How and when your money will be taxed and by how much
- The inflation rate over the life of your retirement planning.
A resource from NextGenWealth, "How Much Do You Really Need to Retire?", offers more points to consider when determining a retirement budget.