You’ve saved for years. Now that retirement is here (or near), how do you create an income plan from your savings? There are five steps.
We, as an industry, constantly talk about the need to save for retirement. Put money into your 401(k), contribute to your individual retirement accounts, and one day, when you are ready to retire, that savings become income for you. How does that actually happen? We walk our clients through a structure that seems to work well. Here’s a general overview.
1. Determine how much you need to spend to live a life you enjoy. This is always our first question. The answer ultimately drives the rest of the decisions. How much money do you need each month to cover your essential expenses, and to also cover the fun things that you’d like to do in retirement?
Tracking this spending for the first few years of retirement is critical, since expenses can run higher than expected. You should be aware of these fluctuations and make adjustments accordingly.
2. Make the most of income sources other than your savings. There’s a tremendous amount of benefit that some smart planning can do for you. For example, choices like when to start taking Social Security can cut your retirement income by 25% or boost it by an additional 32%. Married couples can use strategies like claiming spousal benefits to increase income substantially.
If your income comes in the form of rental properties, then do you need to factor in expenses for maintenance? Should you hire a property management company so that you don’t have to take phone calls from tenants while you’re on vacation? Run through the numbers for your personal situation and make the right decision.
3. Decide how much risk you are comfortable with. Your level of comfort with risk determines how you allocate your portfolio. In retirement, people usually don’t want much risk. Our clients often express a concern about markets and fluctuation. Yet the reality is that for a 30-to-40-year retirement with inflating expenses every year, some allocation to growth assets is helpful if not necessary.
4. Figure out how much income you need your savings to generate every year. The amount is your total estimated expenses minus your Social Security, pensions or real estate income. Once you know how much you need each year, you can then begin to formulate a distribution strategy, which we will cover in more detail in an upcoming post.
5. Identify how much you want to leave to your heirs. For some clients, this is a top priority; for others, they want to spend as much as possible while they can. Like most planning questions, there are no right or wrong answers. If you plan to leave behind a substantial inheritance, just be aware that it might place limitations on your income.
These are the five simple but important steps that decide your ability to live the life you want in retirement.
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H. Jude Boudreaux, CFP, is a fee-only financial planner and founder of Upperline Financial Planning based in New Orleans.
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