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Balancing retirement savings with the rest of your financial life

Retirement is not a magical event that happens on its own, nor is it something that is beyond your reach. It does, however, require some thought and savings. 

To succeed in your retirement planning, you’ll need to consider your goals and priorities. Most of us are balancing multiple goals including retirement savings, college savings for our children, paying off our own student loans, vacation costs along with monthly expenses such as a mortgage, rent, utilities and so on.  The key to successful planning is to organize your financial life and manage it from an overall perspective rather than focusing on one aspect at a time.  You’ll want to look at the forest, rather than the trees.  

The next step after identifying goals and priorities is to create a cash flow statement (budget).  This will help you understand what your income and expenses are. You can download a cash flow statement fillable PDF (here). 

You should also consider a full financial plan, that you either work out with a qualified professional or put together yourself. If you do it yourself, it doesn’t hurt to have a qualified financial planner review your plan at least once. 

The best time to start is now. The earlier you start saving, the more money you will have. And at some point, age and health will play a part in when you retire from the work force or have to trim your hours worked. The average American will spend 20 plus years in retirement. 

There are two parts to retirement planning: The first is determining a rough timeline for when you’d like to retire, and the second part is making sure you are on track to have enough money saved for retirement.

Your Retirement Timeline

For most of us, there is no set age for when we have to retire. We can choose to retire “early,” which is usually considered before age 65, or to keep working. Age 65 is no longer a standard or mandatory retirement age. Some people retire well before 65, while many others continue to work either because they need the money or they like what they’re doing.

How much will you need to have saved for retirement?

This is, of course, the most important question and the one that is subject to endless debate. There is no firm, one-size-fits-all answer, because there are so many unknowns, including longevity, rates of return, and unforeseen expenses. Therefore, when you are planning for your retirement, it is best to be conservative, as it is better to have too much money in retirement than too little.

Use the retirement tracker worksheet from GET READY! (download here) to give you a general idea of where you are currently with your retirement planning and help you plan out any changes. Having your retirement planning in focus is a key factor in organizing your financial life and your estimated retirement financials.

If you need help organizing your retirement plans, you can download the following worksheets from GET READY! on my website: Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), Self-Employed and Small Individual Retirement Accounts, Employer Retirement Accounts: 401(k), 403(b) and 457 Plans, Pension Plans, Other Employer and Group Retirement Plans and Social Security.

It’s important to recognize that for most people, Social Security benefits alone will not be enough to fund their retirement. A sound retirement plan consists of more than just Social Security.

Tip: There are many retirement savings calculators online that you can access. Use these calculators at your discretion, however, as they will each provide different results. Remember that you must enter accurate information to get useful results.

Why this is important:

Many adults are struggling to save for retirement. Even among those who have some savings, people commonly lack financial knowledge and are uncomfortable making investment decisions.

  • Thirty-six percent of non-retired adults think that their retirement saving is on track, but one-quarter have no retirement savings or pension whatsoever. Among non-retired adults over the age of 60, 45 percent believe that their retirement saving is on track.
  • Six in 10 non-retirees who hold self-directed retire- ment savings accounts, such as a 401(k) or IRA, have little or no comfort in managing their investments.
  • On average, people answer fewer than three out of five financial literacy questions correctly, with lower scores among those who are less comfortable managing their retirement savings.

From the Federal Reserve report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2018. 


  • Order your Social Security Statement annually from the Social Security website (here). This is a free service.  
  • Get the basics on retirement planning and pension benefits, such as how Social Security works, retiring from the civil service, and managing a private pension from USA.gov
  • AARP Social Security Resource Center. Resources on eligibility, when to claim, benefits and more. 
  • Retirement Plan Contribution Limits (IRS)
  • Review the different types of retirement plans to find the right account (Nerdwallet). 
  • Retirement planning centers from Fidelity, Schwab and Vanguard. You do not need to be a client to use their resources. 
  • Assess whether your retirement portfolio will cover basic living expenses and health care costs in retirement with the RISE score (here). Note: this is from a group of financial services companies that promote the use of lifetime income solutions (annuities). 


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