For decades, you’ve collected paychecks from an employer. But after you retire, you’ll be paying yourself — that is, withdrawing money from the nest egg you’ve saved.
Unfortunately, many retirees, flush from having sudden access to a large sum of money, overpay themselves early in retirement. Some folks deplete their savings at a stage in life when it’s difficult to recover financially. You can avoid this situation by creating a retirement income plan.
Part budget, part roadmap, a retirement income plan is a strategy for drawing on your assets and benefits at a sustainable rate and in a way that will be most advantageous to you. Ideally, you should start designing your plan about five years before you retire, but it’s never too late.
Ready to plunge in? You can take the steps below yourself, although enlisting the help of a financial advisor is a good idea. An advisor can help you navigate decisions you’ll encounter as you design your plan since many choices will impact your tax liability, cash flow and bottom line down the road. Be sure he or she is professionally certified and won’t earn commissions on your investments.
As with any budget, first get the facts on paper, starting with the money you’ll need each month in retirement. Make a list of projected costs: mortgage, insurance, utilities, property taxes, food and other monthly expenses. Don’t forget line items that will change after you leave your job, like medical insurance, travel and new hobbies.
Also consider large future expenses you’re likely to face — home repairs, replacing cars, and especially medical costs. Even with Medicare, most experts recommend that retirees budget heavily for their own health care.
Next, what sources of income do you expect to have? List these, too: Social Security benefits, pension benefits, retirement savings accounts, and other investment or cash accounts. Use the best estimates and projections you have.
Gauge your withdrawal needs
Part of your monthly expenses may be covered by sources of fixed income, such as Social Security and possibly annuity payments from a retirement plan. What expenses remain that you’d need to finance with personal savings?
Compare that amount with your total nest egg. To ensure your money will last the rest of your life, experts recommend that you withdraw no more than 3 to 5 percent of retirement in the first year of retirement, then adjust that amount each following year for inflation. Would your budget require more than that? If so, you risk overpaying yourself. You may need to save more for retirement, reduce your expenses, consider part-time work, or adjust your investment strategy.
Do an investment check-up
Your investment strategy needs a thorough review as you prepare to move from the “earning” years to the “spending” years to make sure your assets are allocated appropriately. While you’ll probably still need to invest in some stocks for growth, it’s also time to start moving money you’ll need in the next several years to more stable investments, like money market accounts. That can protect you against extreme market losses when you can least afford them.
Review your plan periodically
Life will evolve and your financial needs may too. After you retire, revisit your plan every two to three years or upon a major life event that affects your finances. Make adjustments as needed.
Paying yourself the right amount in retirement isn’t a game you want to guess at. The stakes are too high. With a solid plan, however, you can move forward with confidence.