Plotting The Next Chapter
Focus first on the retirement lifestyle you want, then run the numbers
(MONEY Magazine) – As a MONEY reader, you've no doubt paid plenty of attention to the financial side of retirement planning. But have you given the same amount of thought to how you'll actually live once you stop working? Not just pondering hazy notions like, "I want to do all the things I didn't have time to do during my career," but focusing on the nitty-gritty details of activities that will fill the hours of each day when you're no longer in the work force?
Lifestyle planning is crucial to both a financially secure retirement and an emotionally satisfying one. After all, if you hope to go gallivanting around the globe, you'll need a lot more cash than if you plan to, say, play golf all day or putter around your garden. Besides, you're likely to spend 20 or more years of your life in retirement, so you want to make sure that time is fulfilling.
How do you do this type of planning? Start with three steps:
• Move beyond generalities. The more specific you can be about how you want to spend your time on a day-to-day basis, the better your chances of turning that vision into reality. At the three-day workshops Ronald Manheimer runs at the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, he gets near-retirees to focus on the details of their post-work lifestyle via an exercise called "Mansions of the Soul." Participants receive a blueprint of a house in which each room is labeled with an activity, such as leisure, work, volunteering and lifelong learning. They then write down how many hours a day they now spend on these pursuits and how much time they'll devote to them when they retire. The idea isn't to impose a rigid schedule; it's to get people to focus seriously on how they'll fill their lives when career and commuting no longer soak up huge amounts of time. You can perform a version of this exercise yourself by creating a detailed log of your daily activities now, then jotting down a similar hypothetical schedule for retirement.
•Do a reality check. When Jim and Marcy Hegglund retired seven years ago, they moved from San Francisco to a gated community in Hilton Head, S.C. But the couple hadn't spent much time in Hilton Head before moving there and soon realized they'd made a big mistake. "Everyone was the same age, color and economic status," says Marcy. "The lifestyle seemed one-dimensional." Within a year or so, they relocated again, to the small but culturally rich city of Asheville, N.C., where they feel more comfortable.
Moral: Do some legwork to ensure your retirement dream is as appealing in reality as it seems in fantasy. Spend a month or two in an area before relocating there. Thinking of turning a hobby into an online business? First take an adult-education course on running a small business and consult others engaged in similar ventures to determine whether you're really up to the effort involved.
• Crunch the numbers. Finally you need to gauge whether your lifestyle decisions are financially feasible. A lakefront cottage may seem like a terrific retirement retreat, but if the additional expenses would greatly increase the odds that you'll outlive your savings, you may need to rethink the dream. To find out whether you can really afford your ideal retirement scenario, work up the price tags on various lifestyle options and compare the results with your projected retirement income and savings—on your own or with a financial adviser.
Ideally, you'll begin this kind of lifestyle planning within 10 or so years of the time you plan to retire. Postpone it much longer and your retirement may indeed turn out to be an adventure, but not one you'll necessarily enjoy or be able to afford for very long.