It’s not too hard to find news reports about the toll the pandemic has taken on many retirement plans. Some folks approaching retirement might not realize while COVID-19 may have been a once-in-a-lifetime event (we hope), there are always people facing financial challenges as they near retirement age.
More than four years ago, I wrote a piece on this issue in the wake of a Wall Street Journal article discussing the “crushing debt” faced by some Baby Boomers as they reached retirement age. Here’s the condensed and updated version of that advice – as applicable now as it was then – based on interactions with members like you.
1. Be open to your mistakes. While outside forces such as the coronavirus pandemic may force some alterations to your plans, resist the urge to shift blame and instead do some meaningful self-reflection. Consult a financial adviser for an objective look at what you’ve done with your finances, a move which could lead directly to the next item on this list.
2. If you don’t have a plan, make one. This is different than following the latest stock trend or collecting investment advice on the golf course. Look at your family unit as a business – cash in, cash out, budgets, investments … put everything on the table.
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3. Talk it out. Communication is key throughout the planning process. Compromise and consensus are important. If one spouse chooses to opt out of financial decisions, don’t take that as a blank check – be sure to stay in regular contact with your spouse and adviser as you make your moves.
4. No secret accounts. An extension of the above – while I’m not generally let in on the purpose of these secret accounts, it’s rarely a good one. Sometimes they’re designed to cover up past financial mistakes, other times they’re created as a hedge against future problems. Either way, it can be an indication of a deeper problem.
5. Do the math. Make it a goal to invest 15% of your income. Figure out how much you’ll need for retirement to measure progress through the years. Every salary increase provides the means for a greater savings rate. Don’t shy away from these long-term projections – these dollar figures, no matter how daunting, are the only way you can set a solid financial path.
6. Address debt. Do what you can to tackle outstanding debt before you retire – put the income from your remaining years in the workforce to good use. Beyond that, look at the spending habits that created the debt in the first place – do you have the discipline to stick to your plans? If not, do you need to change your behavior, or the plan itself?
7. Skip individual stocks. Some more accomplished investors probably can skip this part, but if you’re in debt or you’re questioning whether you’ll be able to retire, consider other means of investment. The inherent risk from holding individual stocks can make an already unclear financial situation much worse.
8. End the trends. This falls neatly with the above item, but it also covers any other “hot tips” you’ve heard or read about, including the ever-increasing types of cryptocurrency. Leave emotion out of it and avoid putting all your eggs in any one basket, no matter how well-recommended by a family member, TV show, or website.
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