Even though the market is saturated with financial professionals who, for a fee, are willing to help you navigate your way through retirement, using an adviser is not the only option available. For those who do not trust, cannot afford or otherwise would prefer not to use a financial advisor, managing your own retirement is an option. You just have to be willing to map out and follow a deliberate plan. The challenge is twofold: You need to know how far away you are from retirement (if you are not there already), and you need to know how much money you want to live off of in retirement.
Planning Before Retirement
If you are serious about taking retirement into your own hands, develop one simple habit that will serve you for life: Pay yourself first. Invest in your future financial flexibility. Figure out a weekly or monthly budget and make sure to devote money to your retirement. The biggest battle for financial health is watching inflows and outflows.
Next, take advantage of free information. There is a wealth of valuable information online about how much to save, how to match with your employer's 401(k), how to avoid fees and commissions when investing and much more.
You need to put money into investments that generate interest, pay dividends or can be sold later for a profit. You have to be able to beat inflation with your savings, and inflation is not going to stop when you retire.
Take the time to find the right investments. Stocks are relatively risky, but historically can generate the highest returns. Mutual funds offer a lot of diversification in a portfolio and should probably be a mainstay for any typical investor. “Having an appropriate asset allocation that is represented by a broad base of index mutual funds can help reduce the emotions associated with the more frequent rise and declines of individual stock prices,” says Kevin Michels, CFP®, a financial planner with Medicus Wealth Planning in Draper, Utah.
As you get older and want to make sure your money is more secure, switch to bonds and certificates of deposit, or CDs. The right portfolio is different for every investor, but follow these general rules. Robo-advisors can automatically adjust your portfolio based on parameters you set.
Things to Consider After You Retire
Deciding how to manage your own finances and investments in retirement may seem daunting, but it boils down to a simple process. First, take the time to identify what you and your family need to live comfortably in retirement. Second, add up the funds you have and how/when you can access them. Lastly, decide what you want to do with those funds within the context of your needs.
If you do not have a plan for long-term care, or LTC, take the time to create one. You can buy long-term care insurance, which typically runs between $1,764 and $3,446 per year for modest to above-average benefits. Low-income households can rely on long-term care help from the government program Medicaid.
Make sure you understand your Social Security benefits and, if applicable, the Social Security benefits of your spouse. Married couples do not get to keep joint benefits if one member passes away; make sure your plan leaves a safety net for any surviving party.
Many retirees want to travel, spend time with family and enjoy a life after work. If you fall into this category, understand how much your retirement plans are going to cost. “Most important,” says Cullen Breen, president of Dutch Asset Corporation, in Albany, N.Y. “is the Golden Rule: Keep your expenses as low as possible. This cannot be overstated and is the single most important thing that you can control.”
Taking Stock of Your Finances
Most retirees have two or three forms of income. The first is Social Security: You can estimate your benefits by visiting the Social Security website or calling the Social Security Administration for an appointment. Many retirees also rely on defined-contribution plans, such as 401(k) plans and some may still have an old-style defined-benefit pension.
You may also have other investments, such as annuities, mutual funds or CDs. These can be excellent sources of income in retirement, but make sure you know when and how to withdraw money from them; do not pay any unnecessary withdrawal fees.
“When you get older, it is much more important that you find safe investments,” says Kirk Chisholm, wealth manager at Innovative Advisory Group in Lexington, Mass. “When you are close to retirement you cannot afford to lose a large percentage of your savings. You can lower your risk by finding bonds with a short maturity date, CDs, fixed annuities (not equity indexed or variable), safe dividend stocks, physical real estate or other assets that you would consider yourself an expert in.”
Draw down from your savings deliberately. Figure out how much you are going to need every month and keep the rest in secure accounts that keep growing in value. If you own your home outright, perhaps even consider a reverse mortgage. Reading Is a Reverse Mortgage Right for You? can help you review this option.
The Bottom Line
It's not easy managing your own retirement, but if you are determined and diligent, you can set yourself on the right path. You just have to know what your timeline is and how much money you need to amass for your post-work years.The 4 Phases of Retirement and How to Budget for Them can help you develop a plan that will evolve with your needs.