With no job to tie you down, retirement is meant to be a relaxing time. However, your newfound freedom and leisure time can quickly become stress-inducing if you spend too much time fretting about your finances.
To better manage that anxiety, here are 11 clever strategies to take some of the financial worry out of retirement and make your golden years more enjoyable.
Make sure you’re ready for retirement. The best way to ensure you have a relaxing retirement is to ensure you’re financially prepared. “Before making a blind leap into retirement, make sure you have a current comprehensive financial plan,” says Drew Denning, investment research analyst at the financial firm Wells Fargo Advisors in St. Louis, Missouri.
You can use a retirement income calculator or work with a finance professional to estimate your expected income. Then, compare that approximation with your expected expenses. If you have a shortfall, you may need to adjust your lifestyle or delay retirement in order to eliminate financial stress after you leave the workforce.
Map out how you’ll allocate your time in retirement. Time management can be almost as important as money management in retirement. “Everyone is always so concerned about the economics of retirement,” says Timothy Speiss, partner-in-charge of the Personal Wealth Advisors Group at the financial firm EisnerAmper LLP in New York City. “They don’t plan for how they are actually going to spend their time.”
Without knowing how they’ll spend their days, retirees could find themselves feeling restless and unhappy. Volunteer work, hobbies and travel are pursuits people use to create a fulfilling retirement. However, these activities aren’t all free, and the associated costs need to be factored into a retirement budget.
Time your withdrawals strategically. There’s no way to know when the next stock market crash will occur. “That can be a huge source of stress,” says Jared Snider, senior wealth advisor with financial firm Exencial Wealth Advisors in Oklahoma City. A down market can be devastating for seniors who rely on money from their 401(k), IRA and brokerage accounts.
Snider says it’s possible to mitigate the risk of permanent losses from a bear market by timing your withdrawals correctly. In other words, retirees should try to avoid taking money from accounts when the market is declining. Doing so could lock in the market losses. Instead, keep a reserve of money in savings or money market funds to avoid withdrawing money during an economic downturn.
Keep up with inflation. While keeping money in a savings account is a smart way to hedge against market losses, you want the value of your cash to keep up with the rate of inflation.
“For the past eight years, people haven’t thought much about inflation,” says Gary Zimmerman , CEO of MaxMyInterest.com, an online service that helps people move their money into high-yield savings accounts. However, after years of low inflation, rates have begun to rise. By keeping money in accounts offering little to no interest, you could lose thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in purchasing power over time.
Stick to your budget. Just as budgeting is important while you’re working, it’s essential to financial well-being in retirement. Have a plan for your monthly income and then track spending to ensure you stay on target. “However, don’t become consumed with tracking every expense every day,” Denning says. “Look at trends over periods of time.” Using an app or website like Mint or Personal Capital can make it easy to aggregate spending into categories and see where you might need to cut back.
Set up automatic payments. It’s easier to avoid obsessing about your finances if you don’t have to worry about meeting payment deadlines. Most financial institutions offer bill pay services that allow you to send payments automatically. Companies like Verizon and Comcast will even send their bills electronically to further simplify the bill payment process.
You may also be able to set up automatic transfers between accounts. For instance, MaxMyInterest.com allows users to set a desired balance for their checking account. Each month, money from savings is used to replenish the checking account as needed or any excess is automatically transferred to a high-yield account. Banks and credit unions may also offer their own automatic transfer services.
Consolidate your finances. Managing money in retirement can be less stressful if you have fewer accounts to juggle. “Instead of having multiple 401(k) accounts, it can make it a lot easier to consolidate those,” Snider says. Similarly, having a single brokerage account and using one institution for the bulk of your finances can be more convenient.
Be intentional about donations. Many retirees like being generous with their time and money, but it can be easy to feel obligated to donate to all the organizations you deem to have worthy causes. Remove some of the stress by deciding in advance which groups will get your support.
“Determine what those charities and priorities are at the beginning of the year and stick with it,” Zimmerman says. If a new organization approaches you for a donation, politely decline and say you’ve already committed to your charitable causes for the year.
Unsubscribe to mailings and sales calls. Advertisements and sales representatives do a good job of convincing people to buy things they don’t need and may not even particularly want. That can create financial stress by taking money from the budget that was intended for other purposes. Minimize impulse buying by opting out of mailing lists and putting your name on do-not-call lists. For a $2 processing fee, the Direct Marketing Association will remove your name from mailing lists for 10 years. You can sign up for this service at www.DMAchoice.org. To be placed on the federal do-not-call list, you can visit www.donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222. Telephone numbers stay on this free registry indefinitely.
Know the signs of a scam. Unfortunately, seniors can often become a target of scammers. Callers may claim to be IRS agents and demand payment over the phone, or door-to-door salesmen may show up pushing unneeded home repairs. There is also Medicare fraud and tax identity theft to worry about.
It’s a good rule of thumb to never give out information to an unsolicited caller. Never share your Social Security number, Medicare number, credit card numbers or other sensitive information with people you do not know. The IRS doesn’t take payments over the phone, and Microsoft will not call you to let you know your computer has been compromised. If you get calls like these, hang up. Be wary of anyone selling door to door and be sure to check the Better Business Bureau for reviews before signing a contract. Speaking of contracts, never sign a document with blank spaces. When in doubt, talk to your local law enforcement if you feel someone is being dishonest with you.
Break the model. A final way to remove stress from retirement is something Speiss calls breaking the model. It involves working with a professional planner to run various financial scenarios to find the worst-case situation.
“What would actually have to happen to have someone run out of money?” Speiss asks. In many cases, it would take a series of catastrophes to totally wipe out retirees’ nest eggs. That knowledge can help relieve the stress. Should the models reveal that money may run out prematurely, running these scenarios in advance can give you time to make the corrections needed to keep your retirement as pleasant as possible.
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