Almost weekly, there are news reports on how government programs won’t be able to help you in your retirement. “Pension funds are drying up.” “Baby Boomers Deplete Services – Nothing Left for Gen X, Y, Z”. So now is the time to start planning for your retirement. Now is the time to take control of it, and put the responsibility back into your hands. It can seem like a huge task, but like everything else, if you work at it a little bit at a time, next thing you know, you’ll be done. Chances are you’ll turn to the web for information on planning for retirement and of course, there are millions of pages with advice and products to sell you about retirement planning. This article will give you a few key starting points to get you on your way without information overload.
Before we get too far into this, we’re not financial planners, advisers, accountants, or lawyers. This information is here to simply help give you a starting point into using the Web and technology to help you plan for the best retirement possible. If you have any deep questions or special circumstances, it would be best to contact a financial professional such as an adviser or accountant. Now that we’ve covered that, let’s get going.
To really get a grip on retirement planning, there are three questions that you must answer wholly and honestly — Where Am I Now? Where Do I Want To Be? How Do I Get There?
You might have the answers to a few of these questions, or none of them at all. You might think you know the answer, but you might not have taken the time to make sure you really know the answer. In any event, the answers to those questions are what will define your retirement plan.
Where Am I Now?
Where are you financially, right now? If you aren’t able to produce a net worth sheet while reading this, you don’t really know. You might know what you owe to others, and how much your monthly payments are, but you really need to get a grasp on your net worth. That’s the amount that will serve as your starting point on the journey to retirement. Some of us will start in the positives, most of us will start in the negatives. Don’t let that discourage you! The majority of us are right there beside you! Plus, if you’re less than 40, you’ve still got at least 25 years to turn that ship around. Ample time if you start now.
A handy little calculator that quickly lets you know what your net worth is, and how you compare to other American households. There are sites that let you compare your net worth to others for different countries. Simply do a search for net worth by age and income for your country.
When you sit down to fill out this worksheet, make sure you have the information you need close at hand. It can be frustrating to start something like this and then realize you don’t have the info or that you have to start digging around to find it. If you’re not exactly sure of the value of some of your things, it’s okay to estimate, but be realistic. Appraised values for valuables such as art and jewelry, are often inflated for insurance purposes. A good rule of thumb is that the cash resale value of something is about 20% of the insurable value. Use that number in the calculator.
If you’d prefer to use a spreadsheet to make these calculations, there are plenty of those available. Here’s one for Microsoft Excel, and one for Google Docs. Bakari also had a few suggestions with seven tools to develop a financial plan.
Where Do I Want To Be?
Sun Life is a large financial services company that provides a variety of products. Their My Retirement Café application is an interesting interactive tool to get you thinking about retirement by asking you simply questions like: What does retirement look like to me? How much will it cost? How will I pay for it? What could go wrong? Take your time and go through the entire process.
First, go through the My retirement lifestyle section and think thoroughly through all the questions. Be honest with yourself and be realistic. Unless you’re in the 1%, your retirement probably doesn’t include docking the 40-foot yacht outback of your mansion in Boca Raton. Even if that’s not the case, your retirement can still be very enjoyable. Address your needs and think of the things you do today that you’d like to continue doing. Perhaps you’re a gardener or a traveller, or you would like to volunteer with causes close to your heart. A realistic view of what kind of lifestyle you want in your retirement will better help you to make a realistic plan.
Particularly interesting and useful is the ‘How Much Will It Cost’ section. It has a very thorough calculator to help you figure out what your expenses will be in retirement. With categories such as housing, transportation, health & insurance, living expenses, entertainment and miscellaneous, you’ll cover the gamut of what you will need money for in your golden years. Knowing that will help you figure out how much you will need to save. Each calculator or quiz that you take also allows you to print it, so you have something to refer to offline.
The application asks and answers all the important questions that must be asked before you start setting your plan in stone. That’s really important because if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you ever get there, or know that you’ve gotten there? Yes, the app is ultimately an advertisement for their services, but you are under no obligation to them by using it. You don’t have to provide any contact information to use it, so you won’t get anyone from SunLife calling you. The site is a Canadian one, so there might be some references to specifically-Canadian programs such as CPP, QPP and such. You can ignore these for the most part, and still get a good idea about what your retirement will look like.
How Do I Get There?
Now that you know where you are and where you want to go, you need to figure out how to get there! This process is somewhat similar to planning a trip. If you want to go from Akron to Osaka, you’re going to need an airplane. If you want to go from Toronto to Montreal, a train would be fine. So how does this analogy translate to your finances? Simple. If you’re starting out in the hole and you want to have a house and cottage by retirement, you’re going to need to ramp up your jet engines where it comes to your finances and savings. If you only have to go from above zero to maintaining a similar lifestyle in retirement, you can keep putting along with just a few tweaks to your current financial plan.
There are as many sources of information about financial planning as there are different financial situations. Let’s take a look at a couple of situations.
Net Worth Less Than Zero
If you have a negative net worth, seriously sitting down and coming up with a retirement plan should really take a back seat to debt elimination. If you owe money on anything but a home, education, or a car, chances are that you are putting out money at relatively higher interest rates for something that will depreciate. Sure, cars depreciate, but many people simply need a car to get back and forth to work. Take a look at the debt-elimination spreadsheet on Vertex42.com and work with it. There are spreadsheets there for Excel, OpenOffice and Google Docs.
You might be surprised at how soon you really could be out of debt with a good plan. Or you might be horrified at how much you’re paying for your debt with your current lack of a plan. If you want to learn more about debt-elimination, some terms that will give you good search results are snowball or avalanche debt repayment.
Net Worth Above Zero
If you’ve got a net worth greater than zero, you’re doing fairly well — assuming you’re under 40. You’ve got a good 25 years to get together what you’re going to need in your retirement, so make the best of it. Still, take a look at debt-elimination as mentioned in the Net Worth Less Than Zero section. If you have a positive net worth, but still owe people money, you’re probably spending money that you don’t need to spend. Eliminate that debt. At this point, research your investing options and learn how to make your financial situation even better. Of course there are many resources on the web for learning about this sort of thing. Here’s are a few.
Arguably the most popular person when it comes to this field is Dave Ramsey, an American entrepreneur who doles out common-sense financial advice daily on his radio show and podcast. His information is very U.S.-centric when it comes to government plans like 401(k)’s and Roth IRA’s. He is overtly Christian yet that is really irrelevant to the advice he gives — his general information is applicable to almost everyone. The language is plain English and the atmosphere is a positive one, as he shares success stories from his callers. There is something viscerally motivating when you hear a caller give their best “Freedom!” yell when they’re finally debt-free.
Mint is an absolutely amazing web site for personal finances. First off, it’s free. Second, it’s as secure as doing online banking with your own bank. That’s a good thing because you can integrate it with your online banking so it updates all of your accounts as soon as you make a transaction. You will know, to the second, where all of your money is.Third, it has a very strong community of people discussing personal finances and everything related to that, from budgeting, to frugal ideas, to investment options.
Mint is truly a one-stop financial planning site that can get you ready for retirement. Currently, Mint is optimized for the US and Canada. If you like to get Mint out of the way, here are nine more financial web tools. If you’re in the UK, take a look at MoneyDashboard.com.
For greater specifics on government sponsored retirement and retirement-savings plans, check out your federal, provincial or state websites. Often people get their information about these programs from office chatter or whatever is on the news. When it comes to your retirement, you should really go straight to the source. Many government websites have the detailed information that possibly only an accountant or lawyer can understand, yet many of them also have guide sheets that explain the important points in everyday language.
By taking the time to read up on these programs, you could add thousands to your retirement savings. You may even find programs that you’re eligible for that you’d never heard of before. For example, in Canada, if you have lived outside of Canada for an extended period, you may be eligible for a pension from that other country. Or, if you are from another country and lived in Canada for an extended time, you may be eligible for a pension from Canada.
Many of these government websites also have various tools and calculators to help you plan your retirement funding, all free to use of course. Simply do a search for the word ‘retirement‘ followed by the name of your country, province, or state and you should find all the information about government retirement plans that you need.
Summing It Up
Everything covered here is to give you a quick start on your retirement planning. There can be a lot to learn about personal finances and retirement and it will take time. Hopefully you have that time and you’re getting on top of this situation at a young age. All the more reason to teach kids about money management.
This article is by no means exhaustive, nor is it authoritative. We’re not financial planners or advisers, we’re just people like you sharing what we’ve learned in hopes that it will help you too. That is ultimately the point of MakeUseOf – to help others use technology to make a better lifestyle for themselves and to share that information amongst writers and readers alike. We look forward to your comments, suggestions, and questions in the comments below. After all, we’re all in this together!