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If Money, Health, and Relationships are the Big Three for Retiree Contentment, it’s Time to Create a “Happy Plan”

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What makes for a happy retirement? We’re sure that, no matter whom you ask, you’ll get differing answers, but odds are most of the responses will fall into one of three categories. Retirees want enough income to live securely; they want to stay in good health as long as possible; and they want to be surrounded by family and friends they care about.

If these are the building blocks of a happy retirement, then – as this 2021 article from GOBankingRates suggests – you need a retirement plan to help you achieve them. The article, written by reporter Gabrielle Olya, even gives this plan a name: a “Happy Plan.” We’re bringing this article, which we first presented a year ago, back for a second look.

A Happy Retirement is Within the Grasp of Most

“With the near extinction of pension plans, many of us will not be able to have a ‘dream’ retirement with no money worries at all,” writes Olya, “but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy one.”  She quotes this 2021 Parade article in which contributor Paula Spencer Scott proposes the idea of creating a “happy plan” for soon-to-be retirees. This plan, says Olya, “accounts for the three big contentment-makers in retirement: money, health and relationships.”

As we pointed out above, the ideal for how these three elements of retirement play out will vary considerably from one retiree to another.  In her GOBankingRates article, Olya decides not to take a stab at “health” or “relationships,” but she does share some views when it comes to money.  According to Olya, these seven steps will help you be happy in retirement – financially, anyway. Let’s consider these steps and see if we agree.

 

Step #1: Tie Up Any Financial Loose Ends

“In general,” the article suggests, “it’s best to pay off any debts you have before retiring.” That includes your mortgage, provided that being mortgage-free makes you happier and more secure. Reporter Olya talked with retirement planner Brandon Renfro who advises retirees to “be honest with yourself about what your concerns are going into retirement.”  That way, he says, “you [can] adequately address them so that they aren’t a constant source of stress.”

Paying off one’s house can be an emotional decision as well as a financial one. “Many retirees have a strong desire to have their house paid off before retirement,” Renfro told GOBankingRates. “It’s not always the most mathematically sound decision, but if it allows you to relax and enjoy your retirement then it may be worth doing.”

CPA Howard Dvorkin of the website Debt.com told Olya that gaining financial stability might require you to keep working a bit longer than planned. “That might mean delaying retirement for a couple of years, but you’ll be glad you did,” he said. Retiring with debt puts a strain on your limited savings and your Social Security benefits. “You worked hard and paid into Social Security for years to have a safety net for yourself — not your creditors.” Another huge plus of eliminating debt is that it can help you delay taking Social Security as long as possible, which provides a big, life-long boost to your monthly income.

Step #2: Eliminate the Fear of Running Out of Money

The advice from the GOBankingRates article on how to overcome this fear is, in our view, pretty skimpy. Retirement planner Renfro told Olya that one key strategy is to maximize Social Security. He also gives the not-too-creative suggestion that retirees make steady adjustments to their annual spending, something we suspect most would do in any case.

“Another way to mitigate this fear is to buy annuities,” says the article, as a way of creating a sort of do-it-yourself pension.  The GOBankingRates article quotes financial expert Herman Brodie who says that, when it comes to the fear of running out of money in retirement, “annuities remove that worry altogether.” Brodie cites research that shows how annuities can help increase retirement satisfaction and reduce fear and even depression.

This Money magazine article provides some of the pros and cons of annuities. Certainly, freedom from stress is a big plus. “Annuities can…be a decent choice as longevity insurance for those who fear outliving their money, or as an option for people who can’t stay calm through market volatility,” the article advises. “Some consumers are willing to pay for peace of mind.”

 

Step #3: Purchase Life Insurance

If peace of mind is the goal of a so-called Happy Plan, then life insurance might belong on your shopping list, says the GOBankingRates article. “Many people feel they don’t need insurance as they approach retirement,” financial planner Paula Brancato told reporter Olya. “They have enough savings, maybe even a pension, to live on. So why?” Brancato answers her own question. “If you have a spouse or anyone you care about, you may want to be sure they have something when you are gone, regardless of how much you need.”

Her argument is that the added security of life insurance helps retirees live more freely. “Knowing your family is taken care of, you can then spend more freely in retirement, even take on new financial risks, like opening the business you’ve always wanted,” she states. Besides paying for end-of-life expenses, the speedy availability of insurance payouts is a plus for survivors. “Life insurance funds can be available within 14 days,” Brancato adds. “Most investment accounts require four to six weeks to port funds over to your heirs.”

Step #4: Consider Downsizing to Save Money and Simplify Life

Downsizing is one of the bits of advice retirees hear most frequently, and the concept makes some sense. “Not only will downsizing save you money and help your funds to last longer in retirement, but it may actually make you happier depending on the lifestyle you prefer,” says the GOBankingRates article. With the kids out of the nest, that large, expensive home with all the accompanying work and expenses might be a burden, not a blessing.

On the other hand, in some places such as the Pacific Northwest where AgingOptions is headquartered, downsizing can be easier said than done. The availability of smaller homes in desirable locales is extremely tight, and prices have soared to record heights. In order to downsize successfully, retirees may need to relocate, as the next section suggests.

Step #5: Move to a City or State with Lower Taxes

This suggestion requires some careful planning, but the idea may be worth considering: leave your high-cost, high-tax city and move to a less expensive place. As the article says, a lower tax burden frees up more of your funds for living the lifestyle you want.

“The fastest, most efficient way to lower your taxes is to move from a high-tax city or state to one with lower taxes,” financial planner Brancato says. “You must consider all taxes, including income, property, sales tax, death, inheritance taxes and so on, and you must actually reside in the location you choose for at least six months a year.”  Our advice is to spend some time in the place you’re considering before you make a move. Once you relocate, it can be emotionally and financially tough to undo the decision if you discover you’re unhappy in your new town.

Step #6: Build In a Buffer

“You should create a financial plan for retirement that accounts for how much money you will need each month and where that money will come from,” says the GOBankingRates article. That plan needs to include “a clear-cut withdrawal strategy to avoid running out of money.”  With RMDs (required minimum distributions) back on the retirement to-do list after a one-year pandemic-triggered hiatus, you will likely need some good financial advice in setting up your withdrawal plan and evaluating it year by year.

The article also advises retirees to leave a cushion in your retirement budget. “To mitigate for any potential worries, you should also build a buffer into this financial plan that would cover any expenses outside of the anticipated monthly expenses,” Olya writes. One planner she consulted advises clients to build in at least a 10 percent buffer in your budget, so when accidents happen, medical costs rise, or tax rates go up, you’ll be better prepared.

Step #7: Meet with a Financial Planner

If all of this seems daunting, the article concludes, here’s some reassuring news: you don’t have to come up with a “happy plan” on your own. You should absolutely consult a certified financial planner and create a financial plan before you retire – and as we have advised repeatedly, we believe that plan should be in the form of a financial dashboard, so you and your advisor can run various “what-if” scenarios and see the results of your financial decisions. A financial dashboard helps you take advantage of opportunities, avoid errors, and live more securely.

Advisor Paula Brancato offers her suggestion. “Work with your planner and accountant to consolidate accounts, consider postponing benefits, deduct taxes from your IRA or pension as you withdraw, and plan for income,” she told GOBankingRates. “If you start early enough, you may even be able to create a largely tax-free income stream in retirement with Roths, life insurance, Roth conversions and other simple, flexible options, but you need to put most such plans in place well before your retirement date.” Contact us at AgingOptions and let us recommend the right financial advisor for your needs.

My Life, My Plan, My Way: Get Started on the Path to Retirement Success

At AgingOptions we believe the key to a secure retirement is the right retirement plan – yet statistics show that 70 percent of retirement plans fail. That’s why for nearly two decades we’ve been dedicated to the proposition that a carefully-crafted, fully comprehensive retirement plan is the best answer to virtually any contingency life may throw your way as you age.  Our slogan says it all: My Life, My Plan, My Way.

When it comes to retirement planning, most people focus on one fairly narrow issue: money. Financial planning is an important component of retirement planning. However, people heading towards retirement often make the mistake of thinking that a little financial planning is all that’s required, when in fact most financial plans are woefully inadequate. What about your medical coverage? What if you have to make a change in your housing status – will that knock your financial plan off course? Are you adequately prepared legally for the realities of retirement and estate planning? And is your family equipped to support your plans for the future as you age?

The best way we know of to successfully blend all these elements together – finance, medical, housing, legal and family – is with a LifePlan from AgingOptions. Thousands of people have discovered the power of LifePlanning and we encourage you to the same. Simply visit our website and discover a world of retirement planning resources.  Make certain your retirement planning is truly comprehensive and complete with an AgingOptions LifePlan.  Age on!

(originally reported at www.gobankingrates.com)

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