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How to Write a Retirement Plan, A Step by Step Guide

Planning and preparation are key to achieving a successful retirement. How to write a retirement plan describes the best way to create your own road map. Let’s be blunt, if you were starting a business, you’d be a fool not to create a business plan. The same applies when it comes to your next phase of life.

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So, why doesn’t everyone make a plan?

Unfortunately, most folks spend more time planning their next vacation than their next 20 – 30 years. Either it’s too much work or they’re just too busy. It’s easier for them to figure it out as they go.

The problem with “winging it” is they tend to get bogged down in whatever is happening at the moment. Instead of seeing the “big picture”, they’re constantly in reaction mode.

By taking a more comprehensive view and documenting, you’re far more likely to achieve the things important to you.

How to Create a Retirement Plan

Whether you’re still a few years away or recently retired, there is no better time than now to write a retirement plan. Good intentions aren’t enough. Actually, formulating our thoughts and documenting them is the path to success.

Getting started is the hardest part. Grab a piece of paper and jot down the things that are important to you. Think in terms of the next three to five years. Keep in mind, things will change over time and nothing is written in stone.

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There is no set formula for how to write a retirement plan. It can be as simple as a one pager with bullet points. Then again, you might choose to write out a more detailed description of two or three pages.

If you’re married, include your spouse. After all, it’s their retirement too! In fact, by involving them your marriage may very well improve as, together, you align your hopes and dreams.

We all know life throws us curve balls. No one predicted COVID-19 which has turned life upside down for most of us. We’ve needed to adapt and remain flexible. Thus, your guide is not a one-time effort. As circumstances change, you should review and update it.

The point is to start thinking about what you really want out of retirement. This shouldn’t be an onerous time-consuming exercise, rather a thought-provoking process. It’s about your life – what do you want? Only by thinking it through are you able to formulate what is realistic and integrate all the moving pieces.

Benefits of Writing a Retirement Plan

One of the greatest benefits is the “peace of mind” that comes with documenting what you desire. We all have fears and only by addressing them, can we reduce anxiety.

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“I’m afraid I will run out of money” is one of the most common fears for retirees. Even those with robust savings may choose a frugal existence rather than enjoying the fruits of their labor. Instead of it being the best years of their life, they are wrought with the ever-present fear of outliving their savings.

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Personal Vision Statement

What is your personal vision statement?

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Now that your career has come to an end, many of us need to redefine what’s important to us. This comes down to our values and perception of how to make these the best years of our lives. Some values to consider include:

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Example: My Personal Vision Statement

I want to live a happy, fulfilling life and do more travelling.

To achieve this, my focus includes:

  • Living with no regrets – I’ll always do my best
  • Enriching my relationships with my wife, family, and friends
  • Becoming healthier by eating better and remaining physically active
  • Making a difference for others with valuable insights on our blog

Financial Health and Strategy

The majority of the population equate financial preparation with retirement planning. This is misleading as there’s a lot more to consider than how much money you have. Having stated that, having sufficient money is pretty darn important.

How much will you really spend in retirement? A popular misconception is the cost of living goes down after retiring. Some experts suggest you only need 55% to 80% of your annual income. This isn’t necessarily true unless you’re willing to make dramatic changes such as downsizing or relocating to a less expensive part of the country.

In addition, now there’s the cost of health care insurance.

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Most retirees witness an increase in spending during the “honeymoon period”. They take a few vacations or undertake a significant renovation project.

Generally, those first years tend to be the most expensive. You finally have time for all those things you never did during your working years. These are your most active years and you should make the most of your time while still in good health.

Nailing Down Your Finances

There are numerous excellent retirement calculators to determine your financial health. In a perfect world, all the numbers should line up to ensure financial security. Factors to consider include:

  • When will you retire? How about your spouse? Should either of you work a few more years?
  • What will be your sources of income such as pensions, social security, and investments? When will you apply for social security?
  • Paying off any debt.
  • Investment strategy and risk diversification.
  • Draw down method and how much you’ll need each year.
  • Emergency cash reserve for at least 6 months.

If you’re behind or struggling, this is when a good financial advisor may really make a difference. Especially for those without a solid grasp on managing investment portfolios.

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The financial markets fluctuate and a downturn may impact your investments. This is when an emergency fund of six months to a year is invaluable. The bottom line, you need to know how much you can safely spend to free yourself from fretting over money issues.

Health Matters

What are you going to do to keep in good health?

As we age, health issues will creep up. Many of these are preventable with a healthier diet, daily exercise, and regular check ups. Some diseases are even reversible or can be better managed. It’s never too late to start living a healthier lifestyle.

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All the money in the world means little when you lose your health. If nothing else, this global pandemic reminds us how precious life is and how quickly everything can change.

Unlike the typical ‘New Year resolutions”, now you have time and hopefully the commitment to start making improvements. It might be as simple as cutting down on fast foods and taking a daily walk. Maybe a complete makeover is required with major lifestyle changes.

Healthcare Insurance Costs

Healthcare is one of the biggest expenses in retirement. Especially if you’re in your 50’s and will no longer receive employer benefits. Congratulations on retiring early! Make sure you factor the cost of health insurance into your budget.

Once you turn 65 years of age, you’re eligible for Medicare. That raises more questions and confusion. Unfortunately, none of us has a crystal ball to peer into our future health needs. Yet, you need to decide which plan(s) to subscribe to. See our Guide to Medicare for more information on making the best choices.

Relationships

While it might seem silly to add a section on relationships when figuring out how to write a retirement plan, this might be the most crucial aspect of retirement. The day you leave work, your social interactions dwindle. No longer are you surrounded by people and the majority of your work friends will fade away.

It’s a given your social circle will shrink unless you do something about it. That means getting out there and meeting new people. Perhaps taking a course or joining an interest group. If you depend solely on existing friends, over time they may dissipate. This could be because they move away, suffer health issues, or even worse.

There is a direct correlation between the quality of our relationships and life expectancy. This also translates into our overall happiness and contentment. For example, if you’re in a happy marriage, it’s highly probable you and your partner will work together to reap the joys. For more information, see the Most Important Ingredient for Retirement Happiness.

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Strengthening Your Marriage

One of the greatest challenges is too much “together time” with your partner. After years of going to work and being apart each day, suddenly being together 24/7 can strain even the best relationships. Any unresolved issues will bubble to the surface.

The most successful partnerships have open honest discussions understanding the concerns and needs of their partner. Often, one desires some personal space for time alone. Household chores such as cooking and cleaning may be more fairly reallocated.  

Your social interaction is not the responsibility of your partner.  In fact, it’s a good thing to have some separate interests and friends.

Meaningful Activities

Well before your final day, you should have a list of things you want to do. Ideally, these are interests that you find meaningful and fulfilling. Too many retirees find themselves feeling bored and restless. They never really thought about how they would fill their days.

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Now that every day is like a weekend, how do you plan on spending your newfound free time?

Popular advice is to find a hobby, get a part-time job, or volunteer. Another way of finding meaningful activities is to consider them in groups such as physical, social, mental and altruistic. From the Ultimate Guide on Things to Do When Retired and Bored:

  • Physical activities such as exercise, sports, and keeping active.
  • Social activities with your partner, family, and friends.
  • Mentally stimulation and learning new things. This could be taking a course, learning a musical instrument, joining an interest group, etc.
  • Giving back to others

Of course, some of these things are going to cost money. For instance, if you’re an avid golfer, the membership(s) and / or green fees can quickly add up. And if you do the same thing every day, after a while, it can become boring.

Closing Thoughts on How to Write a Retirement Plan

Creating a road map for your future emphasizes the value of capturing your thoughts. Planning and preparation help avoid costly mistakes.

More importantly, this is a life changing transition many people struggle with. By creating a plan, you’re far better positioned to achieve the retirement you deserve.

  • Some days I feel completely unable to plan ahead or budget in any sensible way, and it’s really frustrating.

    • Yes, it can be a little overwhelming. The first step is to start. Jot down some thoughts of what you want your retirement to look like. Basically, it’s a living document that you can add to later on. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Avatar Steveark says:

    I’ve been retired for five years and am loving it. However it did not happen by accident. I spent decades setting myself up for success, along with my spouse. We developed many shared hobbies, I designed a retirement part time career, we built an ample nest egg and eliminated all debt decades prior to retirement. Today we are best friends and buddies in our running, tennis, fishing, hiking and travel. Plus we have other friends to do things with so that we are not together 100% of the time. We are aligned on our goals and make decisions jointly. We are rarely bored. We stay in shape, my 65 year old wife is still running full marathons and we both play high level tennis. Volunteer work is a big part of my life and I consult for entertainment and mental challenges and money we do not need. I can’t argue with a thing in your post, it is pretty much how we’ve been successful at 42 years of marriage and 5 years of retirement.

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