Retirement planning is an intimidating activity. It doesn’t matter if you’re setting up your first 401(k) in your twenties or wrapping up a career in your sixties. Projecting decades into the future and trying to make the necessary preparations for those extrapolations is difficult.
The good news is that no one is alone in feeling overwhelmed by preparing to retire. And for veterans, there are additional variables in play compared to the civilian population. Along with the camaraderie of knowing that we’re all trying to put ourselves in the best position to retire, there are also many resources available to help.
Here are a few of the best places to start planning for your retirement. They can help you answer some of the most important questions, create a retirement plan (or evaluate an existing one), and keep your feet on the straight and narrow as you guide your life toward a happy and healthy retirement.
The Importance of Preparing for Retirement
Before we dive into the specific resources, it’s important to remember why we plan and prepare so intensively for so long in order to retire. It’s true that life can feel short, but when you live through each minute of every day, it doesn’t take long to discover that life takes a while to live. Quite a while. In fact, humans are living longer lives with each passing year. WHO reports that global life expectancy has increased by more than 6 years in the last two decades. It also points out that healthy life expectancy hasn’t kept up with that trend. In other words, we’re living longer, but our basic needs remain a priority — and an expense.
In order to live a happy and fulfilling life right to the end, it’s important to look ahead and prepare in whatever way we can. That doesn’t mean that you’ve failed unless you’re retiring on a yacht. It simply means it’s important to look ahead and plan with whatever resources you have available. With that in mind, it’s important that you take the time to slow down and think about your retirement rationally.
Ask the Right Questions
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you get into the nitty-gritty details of finding resources and making plans:
- How do you see your retirement from a 10,000-foot view? Back up and look at your entire retirement. Sure, you can’t predict everything, but what can you predict? When do you see yourself retiring? How long do you think you’ll be retired? (Hint: the average length is around 18 years.)
- What kind of lifestyle do you want to live? Your lifestyle will significantly impact how you save for retirement. If you’re working a minimum wage job and you want to retire with a lifestyle like Jeff Bezos, there’s a serious discrepancy there. How do your retirement lifestyle expectations match up with your resources? What do you need to do to sync them up?
- Where do you want to live? The place that you live can also make a big difference in how your retirement plays out. Each geographic location comes with different living expenses. The same goes for the kind of house you live in and even the country you call home. How can moving help you maintain your lifestyle?
- Have you addressed the paperwork? It’s easy to set money aside, pat yourself on the back, and call it a day. But there are many other details that need to be addressed. Have you covered things like estate planning, writing a will, and filling out any other necessary documentation?
- How flexible are you? The world is always changing — and the ripple effect often impacts long-term things like retirement. On top of that, retirement, itself, involves multiple stages that require different living decisions. How flexible are you as you prepare to navigate those choices, potentially over the course of multiple decades?
Asking these kinds of questions can help you get in the right headspace as you research and set goals. Now that you’ve set the stage and put yourself in the right mindset, let’s take a look at some of the best resources to help guide your retirement planning.
Best Resources to Help Guide your Veteran Retirement Planning
1. Select Your Preferred Online Sources for Research
The internet is a vast place. A Google search for the term “retirement planning resources” yields nearly 300 million results. Parsing through the sheer quantity of options can make it tempting to write off online research as an option from the start. However, this is a resource that you don’t want to underestimate. The world lives online. You can use the internet to hear different opinions, follow thought leaders, and track current events.
The key to utilizing the internet in retirement planning is to identify the resources that are useful for you. In other words, what online publications and resources answer your particular needs? Which ones resonate with your perspective?
You can start with basic retirement resources. Sites like Due, Nerdwallet, and Bankrate offer accessible, generic retirement information with slightly different presentations. They can help you get comfortable with terminologies, like a 401(k) or an IRA. From there, you can look for more niche publications that can help expand your understanding and shape your views and opinions.
For example, Veteran.com offers many targeted resources for veterans that can help to enhance your retirement. Let’s face it, financial planning for retirement can get complex. It’s nice to find a niche publication that provides helpful information that can improve your financial situation. You can also look for useful resources specific to your post-military industry or age group. If you want to use the internet as a retirement resource, make sure to find quality sites that meet your particular circumstances and proclivities.
2. Find a Good Retirement Calculator
One of the simplest retirement tools out there is a calculator. And yet, it can be one of the most comforting resources to have available over the years.
As you work hard to save money and manage your wealth, it’s always reassuring to have a calculator that you understand within reach. This can help you crunch the numbers and get a mathematical reassurance that you’re doing the right things.
Even if your number-crunching reveals that you’re not on track, it’s better to know, then to go years in blissful ignorance only to find that you’ve been missing opportunities.
There are many solid retirement calculators out there. Each one has its own strengths. They also vary in their user interface.
Here are a few calculators that we’ve built to help you during or getting close to retirement:
Find one that you’re comfortable using and then bookmark the link so it’s always close by.
3. Take Advantage of Your Current Job
Often the best retirement options come through your employer. Many jobs come with retirement perks that can supercharge your retirement efforts.
This starts with basic services, like giving you a 401(k) option. This may seem an automatic perk, but that isn’t always the case. If you have an employer-sponsored retirement plan available, it can save you lots of time and trouble that goes into setting up a similar plan on your own.
On top of that, many employers offer matching contributions. These match either all or part of your retirement savings up to a point. For instance, an employer might fully match up to 5% of your income. That means, if you set aside 5% of your pay, say $250 a month, your employer would put another $250 into your 401(k). For those actively involved in the military, there are strong retirement options outside of traditional, employer-sponsored 401ks. Thrift Savings Plans (TSPs) are available to active service members and operate very similarly to 401ks but with very low fees. You can contribute money to a TSP either on a pre-tax or post-tax basis (traditional or Roth). By taking advantage of this option while enlisted, you can have a strong retirement base. After your service period ends, the funds will continue to grow and you can contribute to your employer-sponsored 401k, if applicable.
Regardless of the specifics, if an employer is offering to match contributions in any way and you’re not taking advantage of it, you’re leaving money on the table. Make sure to take everything that they offer if you can. This is a great way to maximize your job-related retirement resources.
4. Select a Financial Advisor You Trust
Financial advisors can be a pain in the neck to work with — especially when they contact you out of the blue because they pried your information from a previous client. However, that doesn’t mean a financial advisor can’t help you.
On the contrary, having a trained financial expert by your side can be an invaluable resource when retirement planning. The important thing is finding an advisor that you can trust. One of the best ways to make sure you find a good advisor is to ask the right questions upfront. Inquire about things like qualifications and investment philosophy. Make sure they are familiar with benefits available due to your veteran status. Address compensation. Figure out which services they provide.
You can even ask them personal things, like what they like about their job. The answers to these kinds of questions can help you gauge if a person is worth working with over the long term. Having a good financial advisor on call is one of the best ways to make sure that your retirement remains optimized and on track over the years.
5. Think Beyond the Money
Retirement resources should never revolve exclusively around money. Remember the questions you asked yourself at the beginning of this article? Many of those have more to do with things like lifestyle and living space than cold, hard cash.
Sure, your life savings make your retirement possible, but at a certain point, you have to look past the numbers. When you do that, it’s helpful to have the right resources nearby to help. For instance, Retirement Wisdom offers a vast collection of retirement-oriented books. These can help guide everything from maintaining a youthful mindset to continuing to impact the world outside of the workspace. On top of that, there are many blogs and online resources that go beyond the bank statements and balance sheets. Look for online resources that can help you hone the right traits and cultivate a mindset that will allow you to thrive in retirement. Search for testimonials from other service members who have first-hand experience with the emotional and practical aspects of retiring as a veteran.
There are many elements that you want to address when you plan your retirement. Make sure that you ask the right questions and gather the best resources. That way, whether you’re retiring tomorrow or in 30 years, you can rest in the fact that you’re doing the best you can to have a successful retirement.