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 Know Your Retirement Options

Regardless of where you may be along your career path or working life, there will come a time when you plan to stop working. Your individual retirement experience will reflect your planning and preparations, or lack thereof. When it comes to saving for retirement, sooner is definitely better than later but it is never too soon or too late to start gathering your resources.

Where to Begin

Before you set out a plan to create financial reserves for your retirement years, it makes sense to spend some time first reflecting on how you envision enjoying life after you stop working. If you have been in a hard charging career in a big city where there is only one speed-fast-you might be dreaming about moving to a rural setting to smell the roses and watch the sun set. Perhaps you are in a service industry and all you want is to be situated in an environment where you do not have to worry about maintaining a lawn, clearing away snow, or doing any of the mundane chores of life.

Everyone has dreams. As children, the dream may be to rule as king of the world. As adults, the dreams become tempered with everyday pressures and responsibilities. Somewhere along the way the idea that you will live long enough to finish the work phase of your life will begin to take shape. The best chance of having your dreams become reality is to think about your goals, describing them in as much detail as possible, and to be flexible. For instance, you may have the urge to travel. Is your idea of a great trip reading a book on the beach in Florida, or one in which you are bouncing across a desert in Africa chasing lions?

Do you want to be retired at a young enough age to be able to climb Mt. Everest, or does swinging in a hammock under a palm tree and sipping a drink just about define perfection? Do you desire a life of adventures, or do you want to be living near your children and grandchildren so you can cheer your grandson's soccer team every Saturday morning?

Try asking yourself the following questions. It is a good idea to write down the answers and keep them in a safe place with your other important documents. Review them regularly. Your responses may change depending on the context of where you are in life at that time.

  • At what age do I expect to retire?
  • What are my health prospects?
  • How long do I realistically think I might live?
  • Do I expect to retire at the same time as a companion or spouse?
  • How much income will I need?
  • How and where will I want to live?
  • What are my top three favorite activities or hobbies?
  • Do I expect to have a luxurious retirement or have a simpler one?
  • Do I expect my family to take care of me if I am unable?
  • Do I have a checklist of things I positively want to do or accomplish before I die?
  • How do I rate my chances of meeting my goals, on a scale of 1 to 10?

There are absolutely no right or wrong answers in this exercise. It's your life to live as you wish. The one catch to making your dreams come true might be whether or not you will be able to afford them.


Is "Retirement" the Right Word?

The commonly used term for life after a career is "retirement." It may be, however, that this time of life will not be an ending so much as a new beginning. After you have reflected on the questions mentioned earlier, it is entirely possible that you will find that you have too much energy to turn off the "go" button on your work life. You may find yourself unwillingly and prematurely at the endpoint of your major work efforts. This could be for a whole host of factors, including:

  • Mandatory retirement age dictated by your employer
  • Health restrictions
  • Elimination of your job as a result of a merger or acquisition
  • A family crisis needing your attention
  • Factory or store closing

If you find yourself facing a premature ending to your work cycle in one environment, you may discover opportunities to develop interests or hobbies into income-generating endeavors in a new or related field. Even if external factors are not the driving force for ending one career, you might be feeling a strong urge to try something new. Your many work and life experiences, talents, and interests can lead you on to new fields to explore.

For example, if you have done clothing alterations for decades and your employer decides to close its door, you may be able to launch a small business that offers clothing alterations. You will probably have made contacts and friends over the years with similar talents and interests who could help you.

Or maybe you have always loved fixing car engines, but you've been stuck in the fast paced culture of an architectural firm for decades. You could work out an arrangement to gradually cut back on your hours and fill the extra time getting some grease on your hands. Before you know it, you may be off and running in a new direction.

Another reason to keep working may be that you need the income, both for current expenses and to continue saving money for the time when you no longer can, or want to, work.

The U.S. Department of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration recommends the following ten steps as a starting point to prepare for your retirement:

 1) Know your retirement needs.
 2) Find out about your social security benefits. Call 1-800-772-1213 or go to
 3) Learn about your employer's pension or profit-sharing plan.
 4) Contribute to a tax-sheltered savings plan.
 5) Ask your employer to start a plan if one is not offered.
 6) Put your money into an individual retirement account (IRA).
 7) Don't touch your savings.
 8) Start now, set goals, and stick to them.
 9) Consider basic investment principles.
 10) Ask questions.

Keep these guidelines in mind as you move forward with your retirement savings plan.


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