Planning for a long retirement requires pre-retirees and retirees to thoughtfully consider many decisions that can significantly impact their financial security. One effective way to engage with these decisions is to answer thought-provoking questions, a technique shared in a recent report from the Stanford Center on Longevity that explored how pre-retirees and retirees can improve their retirement decisions.
The goal is to inspire you to investigate how you can answer these questions effectively and, along the way, identify solutions that can work for you. With this technique in mind, here are five questions to ask yourself, along with suggestions to help you start your explorations.
Question #1: What will you do when the stock market crashes?
If you’ll be retired for 20 years or more, it’s inevitable that you’ll need to survive a handful of stock market crashes. It’s a matter of when, not if, although nobody can reliably predict when the stock market will crash and when it will recover.
Suggestion: Explore strategies that will give you confidence to ride out stock market crashes without panicking and selling your investments at the bottom of the market. Develop sources of retirement income that won’t drop when the stock market drops. Examples include Social Security, pensions, annuities, bond ladders, withdrawals from reverse mortgages, and interest income from guaranteed investments. Try to cover most, if not all, of your basic living expenses with these protected sources of retirement income.
Hopefully your research and decisions will produce this answer to the above question: Don’t sell your investments, but carefully monitor your investments and adjust any of your spending that depends on your stock market investments.
Question #2: How will you pay for your medical bills?
Most people’s medical insurance changes significantly when you leave your employer’s health care plan and sign up for Medicare. Medicare has substantial deductibles and copayments, and it doesn’t pay for hearing aids, dental bills, and vision expenses.
Suggestion: Make thoughtful choices for Medicare and select either a Medicare Supplement Plan or a Medicare Advantage plan that pays for expenses that traditional Medicare doesn’t cover. Some of these plans might cover a portion of your expenses for hearing aids and vision expenses—part of your homework is to understand your plans to see if they do.
You may also want to buy a separate policy for dental expenses or budget to pay for those expenses out of pocket.
Question #3: Do you have a financial advocate who can help if you’re no longer able to manage your finances on your own?
As you age into your later years, you become more vulnerable to financial losses due to making mistakes or becoming a victim of fraud or exploitation.
Suggestion: Develop a plan to protect yourself and your family. Start by identifying someone you trust who can help you manage your finances when you need assistance, which is the first step in the Thinking Ahead Roadmap: A Guide to Keeping Your Money Safe as You Age. You’ll also want to organize your finances to make it easier for your financial advocate to assist you.
Question #4: If you’re married or have a life partner, what will happen when one of you passes away?
When you think about it, it’s inevitable that one of you will outlive the other, often for many years. Have you thought about whether the surviving spouse or partner will have enough money to continue to support themselves throughout the rest of their life?
Suggestion: Understand how your household’s retirement income and living expenses will change when one of you dies. In many situations, retirement income drops significantly but living expenses don’t change very much, which can cause the surviving spouse or partner to struggle. You’ll want to develop a plan for making sure the surviving spouse or partner will have enough income to cover their living expenses. For example, you’ll want to estimate the amount of retirement income the surviving spouse would receive from protected income sources mentioned previously in Question #1, as well as regular withdrawals from investments.
Question #5: What kind of work could you do for income?
Most retirees will have significantly lower income compared to their working years. As a result, many will need to supplement their retirement income by working for a period of years after they leave their full-time work.
Suggestion: Explore ways to make money that are enjoyable, provide valuable social contacts, and still allow plenty of time to enjoy your retirement. Most retirees don’t need to make nearly as much money as when they were working full time, so you can be creative with exploring work that can help you make ends meet.
Of course, there are many more questions you should be asking yourself regarding your retirement to ensure you have the retirement you’re hoping for. The above list can help you get started or help you refine plans that you’ve already made.
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