Retirement planning: It's not just money

@Money March 23, 2012: 10:56 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Most retirement planning emphasizes financial considerations. How can I plan for the way I'll live after I leave work? -- David, Miami, Fla.

Many of us get so caught up in the financial aspects of preparing for retirement that we forget the reason we do all that saving, investing and planning in the first place: to have a meaningful and satisfying post-career life.

So "lifestyle" retirement planning is every bit as important as crunching the numbers, even if it doesn't always get the same attention.

If anything, lifestyle and financial retirement planning complement each other. After all, you can't really know how big a nest egg you'll need without having an idea of how you want to live in retirement. And the kind of life you'll be able to lead will depend in large part on how successful you are at accumulating savings.

It's essential to factor lifestyle considerations into your financial planning, especially in the ten years or so leading up to retirement. Here are four ways to do that:

1. Envision your future. As you enter the home stretch to retirement, you'll need to address big questions like whether to continue living in your current area or move to a new city or town like one of the 25 profiled in MONEY's Best Places to Retire.

But you'll want to focus on small-picture issues too, even down to how you'll actually spend the hours of each day once your work routine no longer provides the structure for your day.

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One way to sharpen your vision of the future is to rev up a tool like T. Rowe Price's Ready-2-Retire. Among other things, this tool allows you to pick different retirement activities (travel, pursuing creative interests, going back to school, etc.) and then prioritize them based on how important each is to you.

For a deeper dive, you may want to attend one of the growing number of pre-retirement seminars that can help you manage the transition from the work-a-day to retirement. For example, the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement in Asheville, N.C., offers two three-day "Paths to Creative Retirement" workshops each year where participants explore options for retirement and figure out which are the best fit with their goals and values.

2. Do a test drive. Once you have a sense of what your ideal retirement might be, give it a trial run to see if the fantasy squares with reality.

If your retirement dream is moving to a small laid-back town so you can kick back and relax, try renting a house there for a few months first. Who knows, the slow pace that seemed so appealing in theory may begin to drive you batty after a few weeks. It's better to find that out before you spring for a new home.

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3. Run the numbers. It's one thing to decide that your idea of retirement Nirvana is spending five months of the year in your urban townhouse, five in a beachfront cottage you plan to buy with your 401(k) and the remaining two months trekking around the globe.

But is that financially feasible? The only way to tell is to estimate the cost of doing each, and then seeing whether your resources (Social Security, retirement savings, pension income, etc.) can support it. If it appears the lifestyle you're considering would strain your finances or increase your chances of outliving your savings, you can scale back or work a few more years to boost your Social Security payment and your retirement savings.

4. Take stock of your "social" capital. According to a Pew Research Center study on what makes for a more satisfying retirement, people who were more socially connected felt better about their post-career lives.

Researchers found that retirees who were satisfied with the number of friends they had were almost three times more likely to be happy than those who were dissatisfied. Similarly, retirees who volunteered or attended some form of worship tended to be more content than ones who rarely or never did.

Just as you track your 401(k) balance, you may also want to assess the quality of your social network as you near retirement to assure that you'll have a large enough circle of family, friends and acquaintances you can turn to for companionship and support in your later years.

Focusing on finances alone may allow you to accumulate all the money you'll need to retire but you may not enjoy your time in retirement as much as you could.

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