A few weeks ago, I wrote about preparing for Murphy's Law when it comes to retirement so you aren't caught off guard. But what if it's already too late and your personal retirement planning crisis has already happened? The bad timing, the bad returns, the bad luck ... all just a few years before you retire. What do you do then? (For background reading, see 50 Years Old And Broke: Now What?)
First, be thankful it's not worse. It probably was for those poor souls who'd planned to retire on March 9, 2009, the lowest day for the stock market in over a decade. Assuming you weren't that person, you still have time to make alternative plans. In reality, most people
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who call us with retirement issues discover they have more options than they'd originally thought. Many even discover that the changes they make turn out to be a blessing in disguise and their new retirement plans are much more fulfilling than their original ones.
Here are some options to consider if Murphy's Law has already happened to your retirement plans, and you're scrambling to figure out how you can make the numbers work.
Prioritize: Think hard about what's most valuable to you and likely to make your retirement fulfilling. Is freedom or quality time more important to you than a big house and huge travel budget? If so, you may be among the lucky group of people who can retire at the age you've always planned. If travel or the house on the hill is important to you, consider delaying retirement until you have more saved.
Consider retiring later: These words make many cringe, but a couple extra years of income can make a huge difference in how much you receive from Social Security and a defined-benefit pension, if you have one. For example, someone eligible to receive $1,759 a month in Social Security starting at age 62 can turn that into $2,346 a month by waiting to draw benefits until age 66. Working a few more years can also contribute dramatically to rebuilding your nest egg. Retiring later gives the market time to recover, and you'll have fewer years of retirement to fund. Contributing the maximum to your retirement plan for an extra two years will potentially add $44,000 to your account; not having to withdraw money to supplement your retirement income will save you an extra $100,000. For some, it may be the only option - especially if you find your lifestyle expectations remain high after re-evaluating them. (Find out what types of choices can hold you back from retiring when you want to in 9 Factors That Affect When You Retire.
Find extra income: I have a friend who refers to retirement as "refinement." When he retired, he began doing what he'd wanted to do all his life - coaching and consulting entrepreneurs with whom he loved to work. This refinement enables him to do what he loves and still hike, enjoy wine country, travel to Italy, do yoga and take classes. At just 51, he has saved enough to support himself on a lower income with part-time work he'd probably be willing to pay to do. Because he changed his income plans, he's been "refined" for almost 10 years now.
Think broadly about wealth: Most people actually have more wealth than they think when they think narrowly about assets earmarked for retirement. Consider selling a home and downsizing or perhaps selling expensive jewelry and collectibles or tapping an inheritance or permanent life insurance cash values. (Find out how a smaller home can grow your nest egg in Downsize Your Home To Downsize Expenses.)
Save more: This can be easier said than done and makes less of a difference if you are just a few years away from retirement because your money doesn't have time to compound. Saving more is always a good thing to do, but for most people, it's not as powerful as delaying retirement by a few years, changing their lifestyle expectations or finding another source of income.
Be wary of planners selling "increased returns": Will Rogers once joked that investing wasn't that hard as long as you "invest in the stocks that go up." Yes, over time aggressive investing generally does bring high returns, but with limited time you take a huge risk of investing too aggressively and losing what savings you have. Unfortunately, life isn't a computer model where we can simply type in the return we want and get it. If it were, I wouldn't be writing this column ... I'd probably be retired.
Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: Goldman Fined, Financial Fixes And Apple's "Apology".