Retirement countdown dos and don’ts  

5 mins readLast updated October 4, 2023by Kate Morgan

The closer you are to retirement, the more tempting it is to assume your finances are in the right shape, especially if you’ve already been saving for some time. But from making sure that your savings will guarantee you the living standards you want to making sure you have an emergency fund, it always pays to plan ahead. Here are some dos and don’ts for planning your retirement.

The importance of planning ahead

No matter what stage of life you are at, one of the golden rules of financial security is planning ahead. And when it comes to preparing for your retirement, the same applies.

From making sure that your pensions really are going to guarantee you the standard of living you’d like to moving to a smaller property, there are lots of things to consider in the years before you retire.

This means the sooner you start planning for your retirement, the more peace of mind you’ll have when the time comes.

So, what simple steps can you take in the five years leading up to your retirement that will make all the difference in the future?

Review your budgets and cash flow

The number one thing for pre-retirees to plan for is cash flow and budgets.

If you’ve been saving for a long time, it’s easy to think that there will be enough money, once you’ve made any necessary adjustments, to support your retirement.

And while this could certainly be true, it’s important to start planning now, instead of being surprised later.  

Knowing how much money you can draw on, weigh up your monthly expenditures and work out whether your future retirement plans will be affordable.

Also, be sure to leave some room for unexpected costs so your finances aren’t spread too thinly.  

If your plans fit in well with your current expenses, you’re on course for enjoying the retirement the way you want to.

If not, it’s a good idea to start working out how you can reduce some unnecessary expenditures or make adjustments in other areas.

Work out what your retirement will look like

Not everybody approaching retirement knows what they want their retirement to look like.

Whether you want to leave the workforce altogether, or are open to working a less stressful, part-time job to make ends meet, it’s a good idea to start thinking about how you want your retirement to look.  

And besides employment, consider what you might want to do with your free time.

You might want to travel a lot more, spend more time practicing a hobby, join a sports or social club, or even spend more time with your children and grandchildren.  

With a better idea of what your retirement will look like, you’ll be in a stronger position to start planning for the future financially.

Explore health and care options

Between leaving your final employment and Medicare benefits kicking in at 65, you could find yourself without any kind of health or life protection, however temporary that may be.

And with life expectancy for average Americans on the up, it’s possible that even your Medicare benefits won’t provide the long-term coverage you may need.  

To avoid a lapse in the coverage you need, you could explore certain life and care insurance options if you haven’t already.

If you aren’t already insured, your premiums could be high, but the last thing you want to impact your retirement is a stroke of bad luck that sees you seriously ill.

Plan your estate

You should update your estate planning whenever there is a substantial change in your finances.

In most cases, a will is enough to set your affairs in order.

However, if you want to understand how your estate will be impacted by taxes, such as Capital Gains Tax (CGT) and Estate Tax, it’s worth speaking to a financial advisor and exploring more in-depth estate planning options. 

Consider refinancing your property

If you’re not planning on downsizing to a cheaper property, it’s better to refinance your mortgage while you’re still earning a regular income than when you’re retired.

Lenders are more hesitant to lend to those living on retirement funds, making it more challenging to refinance once retired.

The same applies for any other large purchases you’re considering making. The sooner the better.

Don’t draw down too much money

One of the most common mistakes retirees make is drawing down too much when they don’t need it, and paying income tax on their hard-earned savings.

While pensions can provide a solid financial base for your retirement, those looking to a 401(k) or Individual Retirement Account (IRA) to supplement their retirement should be more cautious.  

With the exception of a Roth 401(k), where your funds will have already been taxed before you draw on them, any money you take from a traditional 401(k) or IRA will be taxed at your marginal rate.

Meaning depending on how much money you have drawn from different sources, you could pay income tax on your savings.

Plan ahead so you don’t use up any more money than you need to.  

Don’t file for social security too early

You can start claiming social security benefits once you reach 62.

But, for each month that you delay filing for your benefits, they will increase.

This amount will grow until the age of 70, by which point you could receive social security benefits at 132 per cent of your normal amount.

This helps you lock-in a larger stream of income for a longer period of time. 

Don’t neglect an emergency fund

Unexpected costs are a constant scourge, and the impact of unplanned costs and bills can have a major impact on your retirement.

Even if you have a comfortable amount of money to fall back on, be sure to keep a few months’ emergency funds in a safe place just in case you need them.

Consider building up an emergency fund from your regular income before you retire.

Planning for retirement is never easy. And no matter how much planning you put in, you always run the risk of not knowing all the options open to you and potentially not getting the most out of your money.

Let us help you put in place the right strategy for making the most of your retirement.

Content writer

Kate Morgan

Kate has written for leading publications and blue chip companies over the last 20 years.