Determining your retirement goals requires an assessment of your current financial situation, calculating how much you think you’ll need post-retirement, and then figuring out what you’ll need to do to reach those goals. It’s not an exact science, and everyone’s retirement goals will be different.
However, there are some common things to consider, and a general set of steps that you can take to try and figure out your goals and calculations.
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Putting Retirement Goals Into Perspective
Before you dive into figuring out your retirement goals, it may be worthwhile to recap the tools that can help you reach retirement. There are different types of retirement accounts, for instance, such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs) or employer-sponsored retirement plans, like 401(k)s. IRAs and 401(k)s have their similarities and differences, but both are designed to help people save and invest for retirement.
Using one or either of those vehicles may or may not help you reach your retirement goals. It may be best to seek the advice of a financial professional to help you sort it all out.
You should also know that retirement goals are personal. As mentioned, not everyone will have the same end-goals in mind. There are things to think about: How much risk are you willing to take when you invest your money for the future? How much time do you think you have before you actually want to retire? What do you want your day-to-day lifestyle to look like once you retire?
Again, only you will be able to answer these questions. But they’re important to help you gain clarity and perspective on your post-retirement life, and can help you calcify your retirement goals.
With all of that in mind, here are some steps you can take to help you determine your retirement goals, starting with getting a grasp on your current financial situation.
Step 1: Assess Your Current Financial Situation
One step you can take to determine your future goals is to get a solid picture of your present — somewhat like a personal audit. A careful inventory of your current expenses, income, taxes, and savings — more or less a look at your personal budget — can give you an honest picture of where you are, as well as a realistic look at where your money is going each month.
Once you’ve determined your day-to-day financial picture, you can create a list of any current retirement savings you already have, such as in aforementioned 401(k) accounts, IRAs, or high-yield savings accounts. Total up that number, because you’ll be able to subtract it from your goal.
Step 2. Use a Retirement Calculator
A retirement calculator can help you figure out your overall 20-year lump sum goal by working with variables such as your current age, salary, and savings, your desired retirement age, and how much you save per year.
Here’s where you can change up the numbers and consider several scenarios. If you were to retire at 67, for example, how much money would you need? What would happen if you were able to up your yearly savings by just 3%? You might even calculate the amount of money you’d need to save to retire early.
Step 3. Digest Your Enormous Number
The number may be larger than you anticipated, and that’s okay. It’s probably better to be honest about what you need to reach to retire. So, calculate your number, digest it, and move on.
Step 4. Break Down Your Number
It may be helpful to break things down into easier-to-tackle chunks, and make annual or monthly goals to hit. To do this, you could subtract your current age from your intended retirement age, then divide that number by the total. That’s your yearly goal. If it’s still overwhelming, you might divide that number by 12 for your monthly goal. Go as far as you need to make it palatable.
For example, if your total number is $800,000 and you’re 30 years from retirement, that breaks down to around $75 a day. But that doesn’t mean you have to put that much into the bank by yourself. A next step you could take is finding the retirement savings plans that will do the most to grow your money.
💡 Quick Tip: How much does it cost to set up an IRA? Often there are no fees to open an IRA, but you typically pay investment costs for the securities in your portfolio.
Step 5. Choose the Right Retirement Plan(s) For You
Most workers these days don’t have pension plans, but there are other options. If your employer offers a 401(k) matching plan, one of the easiest ways to grow your retirement nest egg is to contribute the max amount of money each paycheck that your employer is willing to match.
The contributions are automatically deducted from your paycheck pre-tax, and since you never see the money, it can be much easier to just pretend like it was never there to begin with. For the self-employed, or for diversification, traditional or Roth IRAs are also specifically designed to help your savings grow.
The biggest advantages of 401(k) and IRA plans are their potential tax savings. However, they can come with yearly contribution limits that may not mesh with your retirement objectives. In this case, a general investment account is another possible consideration for growing your wealth. While it likely doesn’t come with tax advantages, it doesn’t come with contribution limits, either.
💡 Quick Tip: Look for an online brokerage with low trading commissions as well as no account minimum. Higher fees can cut into investment returns over time.
If investing in the market leaves you feeling wary, or you don’t like the idea of not having access to your money until you reach a certain age, another option to consider is a high-yield savings account.
Step 6. Stick To Your Goals
You’ve calculated your retirement goal. You’ve determined a plan to reach it. And now it’s time for arguably the hardest part: Sticking to the plan.
For as many investment or retirement accounts as possible, you might consider setting up automatic contributions to withdraw every payday. The more you can automate, the less you’ll be tempted to move things around.
One move you may want to consider, however, is rolling over funds from an old 401(k) to a rollover IRA, so you can better manage your retirement savings overall.
Determining your retirement goals isn’t an exact science, as everyone will have different goals, risk tolerances, and time horizons to take into consideration. With that in mind, though, there are some general steps you can take to determine your goals, and to create a plan that will help you reach them.
You can also use a variety or combination of different investment accounts, like IRAs or 401(k)s, to help you reach your goals. It’s likely going to be a multi-pronged approach, but with a proper plan, you can maximize your chances of success.
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