For most of our lives, retirement is this thing that always lives in tomorrow. That can make it difficult to think about and plan for our future in immediate and actionable ways. Even if you have a plan in place, sticking to it closely or feeling an urgency to get yourself back on track may be challenging, simply because the destination seems so far away. If you’re ready to start preparing in the early stages of your journey, or have been on a path to retirement for a long while now, it might be helpful to think about retirement in more tangible, relatable terms.

I like to think about retirement like planning for a vacation.

Pick a Destination with Your Partner

You and your partner are in this together, and you need to be on the same page. Much like you’d choose a destination like Aruba or Italy for your next vacation, you should have a clear idea of where your future is headed. When the time comes to retire, where will you end up? What will your finances look like? Where will you be living? What kind of lifestyle do you want to lead? All of these considerations add up to the big picture of your future destination.

Define Your Budget

If your destination is the big picture, this is where things get more granular. Most of us save for months in advance for our vacations. We need to save for travel costs, lodging, activities, meals, spontaneous fun, and emergency medical funds – and that’s only scratching the surface. Retirement can be very much the same. We need to start unpacking our current costs – mortgage payments, healthcare bills, utilities, groceries, home maintenance costs, car payments and maintenance, leisure activities, travel, and other discretionary spending. Getting specific about these costs could help you define your retirement budget, clarify the income level you need to live comfortably, and maintain the lifestyle you want in retirement.

Plan the Dates of Your Trip

This is important. If you’re able to randomly decide to take a vacation and leave your return date open-ended, you can include me among those who are jealous of your situation. Realistically, that is not the case for most of us – in vacation or future planning. When planning for your retirement, having a firm end-date in mind directs how much you need to be saving and what kind of corrective action you need to take, and with what urgency if you get off track. Committing to a specific time makes it real – instead of a thing we’re constantly pushing back.

Make Travel Arrangements

This is where we decide how we’re going to get there. Without straining the metaphor, I would equate browsing for the right flight with your search for the perfect financial planner. The plan you and your CFP put together should be the plane that flies you to retirement. Just like your flight needs the right route, timing, and cost, so does your retirement plan. If you’ve already got a retirement plan firmly in place, think of your retirement plan as the car you’re driving down the road of retirement. If you want to make it to your destination, you need to be performing the regularly scheduled maintenance. That means going back and routinely updating your retirement plan as your situation changes, to keep your plan running at optimal levels.

Find the Right Accommodations

Just like you need to decide between the beach house or the condo for your vacation, you should decide what kind of living situation is right for your future. Your house might be too expensive for your retirement plan, and too burdensome for you to maintain later in life. You should thoughtfully consider if downsizing is right for you and your plan, and if so, plan when you want to leave your current home, and what will be the perfect home for you in retirement. Like anything, this transition should be meticulously planned. Downsizing could be the most pragmatic choice – both logistically and financially – for you and your retirement plan.

Pack-up and Prepare to Depart

I tell all my clients, it’s great to have a future plan in place, but it makes little difference if you don’t implement and execute the plan. Now you’ve thought it all through and have a plan in place. It’s time to pack up and get on the road to retirement.

Everyone’s situation is different. Just as we don’t all love the same kind of vacations, there is no one-size-fits-all retirement plan. I have made a career of providing answers to life’s most important money questions and I know what needs done to secure a successful future. Regardless of your starting point, my financial philosophy and strategies could help anyone get on the path to the financial future they want. Before we get there, we need to know where you are. My Retirement Quiz might clarify where you are and if you’re making smart saving decisions.

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