Retirement Ahead

Retirement Planning 101

Ashwin Dhanesha

Ashwin Dhanesha , CPA, EA, CFP, PFS, CFA, MBA |


Retirement planning is about planning to accumulate your retirement nest egg during your working life and distribute it wisely during your retirement years, so that it lasts your entire retirement. It is about thinking ahead and planning to realize the life you want to live in retirement.

Here is a brief overview of the steps involved in retirement planning:

Define your retirement goals: 
Defining your retirement goals is about determining when you want to retire and what kind of lifestyle you want to have in retirement. You must consider your and your spouse’s health, life expectancy, social security and Medicare eligibility, hobbies and interests in retirement, etc., while defining your retirement goals.

Determine your retirement income needs:
Defining your retirement goals will help you determine the income you will need in retirement. You must consider inflation, taxes, healthcare costs, other incremental costs, etc., while estimating your income needs in retirement. While the exact amount of income you will need in retirement depends upon your specific retirement goals, for most people, it is between 70% and 90% of their inflation-adjusted living wage in the last year of their working life.

Calculate your retirement nest egg needs:
A part of your retirement income will come from reliable sources such as social security, company pension plan, fixed annuities, etc.; the assets that you saved for retirement will need to generate the remaining income. The amount of retirement assets you need to accumulate before retiring depends on the portion of your total retirement income that needs to be generated by it. Keep in mind your risk tolerance, life expectancy, the inheritance you want to leave behind for your loved-ones, charitable giving, etc., while calculating the nest egg you need for retirement.

Accumulate your retirement assets:
The difference between the amount of retirement assets you have now and the amount you need to save before retiring can be accumulated by saving and investing a set amount every month until retirement. This save-and-invest phase is known as accumulation phase. If the amount required to be saved and invested every month is unreasonable/impossible to be saved, your retirement goals will need to be adjusted accordingly (postpone retirement, cut back on your current and/or in retirement lifestyle, work part-time or consulting in retirement, adjust estate goals, etc.). Identifying and utilizing the most beneficial saving, investment, and tax strategies, is the key to successfully accumulating your retirement nest egg. Your financial advisor can help you identify and implement the financial strategies that are most advantageous for your situation.

Manage retirement risks:
Your retirement goals may be jeopardized due to various reasons including failure of retirement assumptions(life expectancy, market risk, inflation, taxes, etc.), unexpected life events(divorce, major health issues, death of a spouse, etc.), and unusual economic events(stock market crash, housing market slump, deflation, etc.). Identifying and managing the retirement risks that are probabilistic and controllable in nature, both during accumulation phase and distribution phase, is essential to realize your retirement goals. Your financial advisor can help you manage your retirement risks using the most effective risk management tools and techniques ideal for your situation.

Monitor and update your retirement plan:
Retirement planning is not a one-time event but rather an ongoing process. Your retirement plan should always reflect your most recent situation and up-to-date retirement assumptions at any given time. For example, if you get a big promotion or buy a rental property, this new development in life must be reflected in your retirement plan, and your financial strategies must be adjusted accordingly. Monitoring your retirement plan’s progress on a periodic basis and updating it with new realities as they emerge, as you go through your life, is essential to ensure you remain on track to achieve your retirement goals.

Retirement marks the end of accumulation phase and the beginning of distribution phase of retirement planning. The distribution phase is also known as retirement income planning phase as the primary focus in this phase is on income creation and cash flow strategies, with a goal to ensure that your retirement nest egg lasts your lifetime. Your financial advisor can help you identify and implement various investment, withdrawal, and risk management strategies, that can meet your need for income and cash flow throughout your retirement.