5 Questions to Ask When Saving for Retirement

Developing a detailed plan for retirement savings is a necessary endeavor, but a complicated one. There are simply a lot of unknown factors involved when you’re projecting your financial outlook and needs for decades to come. And the truth is, no one gets it exactly right; there’s always a need for little adjustments now and then. Nevertheless, it’s important to set up your initial retirement savings plan as effectively and comprehensively as you can.

In order to do this, you should at some point take the time to consult with a financial advisor or investment specialist with experience handling retirement portfolios. Before you even reach that step however, it’s a good idea to ask yourself a number of key questions having to do with your financial outlook and plan.

We’d start with these five.

1. What Will Your Retirement Look Like?

In a prior post on how much money you’ll need to retire comfortably, we touched on the importance of figuring out what sort of retirement you imagine. Specifically we posed questions about what kind of lifestyle you envision when you’re through working, and how many years you plan to spend in retirement. Together, these considerations help you to form a broad vision of what you want your retirement to look like.

So, while this is a pretty big first question to consider, it’s mostly one about imagination (within reason). What age do you want to retire at? Is there a particular place you’d like to live? Do you plan to travel or take on any new hobbies? Even before you get into too many financial specifics, you should ask yourself these questions in order to work out a vision of what you want.

2. Where Should You Invest?

This is a more pointed question, and one you should definitely go over with a professional advisor or investment manager (unless of course you happen to have personal expertise in this area). With that said however, sensible retirement investment does tend to be broken down in some standard, general ways. Most notably, it is common for a retirement portfolio to begin with the “Rule of 100,” which is the simple trick of subtracting your age from 100 to inform risk balance. The number you get represents the percentage of the retirement portfolio that should be put toward riskier assets (like stocks and commodities), with the rest protectively stashed in stable areas (like cash and bonds).

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The idea is that if you’re younger, you give your portfolio more time and ability to grow, whereas if you’re older you protect more of your assets. It’s not an exact formula, but it’s a starting point from which you and a professional advisor can strategize.

3. What Major Financial Changes Will Occur?

We tend to think of retirement in relatively stingy terms. Saving and investing are about making sure there’s enough money to cover living expenses without income during what could be a fairly long period of your life. What we don’t always factor in when thinking this way, however, is that there can also be fairly significant financial changes that occur at the outset of retirement. Perhaps you’re considering selling an old family home and moving into a new or smaller place.

Maybe you’re looking into retirement destination countries and considering spending a few years abroad. Perhaps there’s even a special car you always said you’d buy when you retired, or some other luxury such as season tickets to a favorite sports team’s games. These are fairly major financial changes, and any money you hope to make (say from selling a home) or spend should be factored into your planning, at least in loose estimates.

4. What Sort of Taxation Should You Plan For?

The question of taxation during retirement can vary from one country to the next, so in this regard there isn’t necessarily a universal answer. Often though, retirees will have to pay taxes on income from sources like pensions, as well as on withdrawals from retirement savings plans.

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Naturally, any additional income can also be taxed as it would for for anyone else (if, for instance, you end up turning a hobby into a part-time job). Taxation for retirees is usually pretty straightforward, but should also be factored into your planning.

5. How Much Should You Save?

Finally, there’s the core question of how much you should be saving. This is not the same as asking how much you’ll ultimately need, where you should invest it, or what expenses you should factor in. Rather, it’s about figuring out a baseline percentage of your income that you should strive to put away for retirement.

Generally, the recommended savings start at about 10-15% of earnings, beginning in one’s 20s. Naturally however this can vary depending on when you get started, what your income situation is, and the details of your plan. Even so however, you should do your best to figure out a number and stick to it as best you can.

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