April 19, 2019
- A comfortable retirement is built on years of consistent saving, investing, and planning.
- If you're aiming to quit work in 10 years, giving attention to a few specific areas can make post-retirement life that much easier.
- After calculating how much you'll need to retire comfortably, consider maxing out retirement accounts, paying off high-interest debt, exploring healthcare options, checking on investment risk, figuring out if you want to downsize, and prioritizing retirement savings over supporting adult children.
Not many people can decide to quit their job and retire the next day. A comfortable retirement is built on years of consistent saving, investing, and planning.
Often the smallest decisions - like deciding to contribute to a 401(k) at your first job - can make the biggest impact in retirement. But once you reach your 50s, focusing on a few specific areas can make post-retirement life that much easier.
Here are seven things to consider now if you're aiming to retire in 10 years.
Calculating how much you need to retire
If you haven't already run a calculation to figure out how much money you need to retire, do it now — and again, and again. Your idea of a comfortable retirement may evolve over the years, so taking stock every so often and accounting for new or expected expenses is crucial.
You can use a calculator like NerdWallet's or SmartAsset's — which account for inflation and periodic salary increases — to find out whether your currently monthly savings and investments will be enough to cover your golden years. Be sure to periodically check up on how much you can expect to get from Social Security, too.
Maxing out tax-advantaged retirement accounts
Experts agree that one of the easiest and most beneficial strategies for saving for retirement is maxing out a 401(k) or individual retirement account (IRA) — the tax advantages are often unparalleled. In 2019, you can elect to contribute a percentage or dollar amount of your pretax salary to a 401(k) if your company offers it, up to $19,000, or $25,000 if you're over 50.
The pretax dollars funneled into a 401(k) not only grow exponentially but also reduce the contributor's taxable income by that amount. Plus, some companies offer to match contributions up to a certain percentage of the employee's elected amount.
According to one study on dual-income couples with access to a 401(k) plan at work, saving is often relegated to one spouse, and that person usually isn't saving enough for both people. In couples where both spouses are saving, the combined contribution rate is just 9.3% of total household income.
The bottom line: There's no harm in reassessing your savings rate to ensure you're getting the best possible benefits.
Paying off lingering high-interest debt
Approaching retirement with high-interest debt from credit cards or consumer loans could wreak havoc on your savings and make it hard to plan for future expenses.
Ryan Cole, a certified financial planner and private wealth adviser in San Francisco, previously told Business Insider that if your debt carries an interest rate of 9% or higher, you should pause your retirement savings to stamp out the debt. What you end up saving in interest payments is often greater than what you'd earn in a savings account or the stock market, he said.
However, Cole said, there's one exception: If your employer offers a company match to a retirement account, contribute at least the minimum in order to score the free money, and then put the rest of your savings toward paying off the debt.
Educating yourself on healthcare options
Healthcare is one of the biggest expenses retirees face, and it's important to get acquainted with your options before reaching the threshold of Medicare.
Fidelity Investments estimates the average 65-year-old couple will spend $11,000 on healthcare in their first year of retirement. While the most basic Medicare plan is free for most people over 65, there are still out-of-pocket costs, such as deductibles, copayments, and prescriptions, to factor in. But Medicare doesn't cover everything — many retirees pay extra for supplemental health insurance called Medigap.
Medicare doesn't kick in until age 65, so early retirees have to find coverage elsewhere — whether through a former employer, a working spouse's insurance plan, or a private insurer. Costs for these types of health insurance run high.
Checking up on your investment risk
It's always good practice to diversify investments. But the closer you get to retirement, the less risky and more varied your investments should be, since you'll need the money in relatively short order.
Jill Schlesinger, CFP and author of the new book, "The Dumb Things Smart People Do With Their Money," says 10 years before your retirement date is a great time to review asset allocation. "Be careful not to take too much or too little risk ... remember, your savings and investments need to last for another 20 or 30 years," she told Business Insider via email.
Experts recommend even seasoned investors stick to low-cost index funds for optimal growth. Meanwhile, bonds offer a reliable and fixed return.
Figuring out if, and when, you want to downsize
There are a few reasons you may consider downsizing before or during retirement, from reducing living costs to minimizing house work to freeing up some cash.
No matter the scenario, you'll probably want to run the numbers to figure out the costs of selling and buying a new home — or even renting. One other major factor to consider: The cost of living where you want to live.
As personal-finance blogger Abby Hayes wrote for US News, "Downsizing within the same neighborhood is likely to save you money. But moving from an affordable area to a city center or a more expensive state could actually cost you more."
Setting boundaries if you're financially supporting adult children
Parents are giving their adult children more money than ever, and it's a bad sign for their own retirement. Seventy-two percent of parents said they put their children's interests ahead of their own need to save for retirement, according to a 2018 Merrill Lynch survey.
It's a balancing act, to be sure, but boundaries are necessary if you want to be able to achieve your ideal retirement. If a parent is willing and able to offer financial help to a child in a high-cost-of-living city, for example, be realistic and establish a clear purpose and timeline.