Many people go through their entire careers, assuming they will be ready to retire when they hit “that age;” for some that may be as early as 62 while others may wait until 70 or later. People think that if they worked hard, paid into Social Security, and saved up some money in an individual retirement account (IRA) or 401(K), they will have the money they need when they stop working.
If you are in your 50s, you should be doing the math to make sure you will not have to survive on ramen noodles and peanut butter in your golden years. Here are some suggestions about what to do 10 years before retirement.
Give Your Finances a Quick Checkup
You would not take a road trip across the United States, by just getting into the car and driving around aimlessly. You can’t assume that if you drive for 3,000 miles, you will happen to end up in California from the East Coast. You have to think about where you are now, where you want to end up and what you need to do the get there.
The standard advice is that, by the time your retirement is 10 years away, you should have saved about seven times your current salary. This rule of thumb is part of the general idea that people should save 10 times their annual salary by the time they retire. In reality, the amount you will need is not that simple.
How Much Money You Really Need to Retire?
The amount you will need, depends on many factors, such as the living expenses you will have in retirement. Your retirement living expenses will vary widely, because of factors like these:
- Whether you will be getting a Social Security retirement check and how much that check will be. Many Americans will not qualify for Social Security when they hit retirement age, or they will get a much smaller check than they thought they would. Go to the Social Security Administration’s website and use their calculator, so you can find out what to expect.
- Whether you have a private or government pension. Unfortunately, pensions are not as common as they used to be, but you should check to see if you qualify for one.
- Whether you will have a mortgage or rent payment. If you have paid off your mortgage or will sell your house and use the proceeds to buy a smaller place with no mortgage, then you will not have one of the highest living expenses of retirement, which is housing. Experts say that people who do not own a mortgage-free home in retirement have to plan on paying $1,500 a month for housing for the rest of their lives, or until they do pay off their mortgage.
- Whether you will have any debt, like credit cards, car payments, educational loans or personal loans during retirement.
- The cost of living where you plan to retire. If you live in a small town that has a low cost of living, you need far less money that someone who lives in Manhattan, San Diego or another expensive city.
Steps to Take Now to Make Your Retirement More Secure
Pay down and then zero balance as many debts as you can, before you stop working. Some people work for another year or two to pay off their debts and have less financial stress in retirement.
Think about part-time or freelance work you could do when you retire, or a business you might want to start. Take the steps now that will put you in a favorable position to enter your next adventure, when you stop working.
For those who will still have debt, boost your credit score. This will decrease the cost of borrowing money, which can lower your living expenses.
AARP. “Countdown to Retirement: 10 Years.” (accessed March 23, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/retirement/planning-for-retirement/info-2019/10-year-countdown.html