While watching the season opener for the San Francisco Giants, it dawned on me how planning for retirement is in many ways similar to the great American pastime. The good players are all about practice, attention to detail and doing the right things over and over. They may not always get it right, but they do more often than not. Planning, preparation and a little luck are key ingredients to any successful baseball player's career. The same applies to those of us suiting up for our retired life.
Getting up to bat. If you want to have a reasonable chance to realize a fulfilling retirement, you need to prepare. Just as the pros train and practice and rehearse their roles, the retiree to be must do his part to hone his skills and improve his odds. Very few natural athletes exist who can be successful with no preparation. So it is with planning to retire. A meaningful retirement lifestyle is not just going to happen. You need to do those things early on to prepare your way and better assure your success. And you want to start while you are young enough and still able to adapt to obstacles that may arise. The more prepared you are for your future, the more likely you are to make it all the way around the bases.
Reaching first base. Once you understand the importance of planning for retirement, you begin taking those first steps that propel you down the baseline. You take an honest look at what you will need to save to fund your lifestyle for the next 20 or 30 years. You realistically calculate your expenses, taking into consideration not just what it will take to survive, but also enjoy your second act. You begin thinking about when is the best time to start collecting Social Security and how you will provide for health care costs as your journey continues. You take a closer look at your hobbies and interests to see if they will be enough to keep you actively engaged for the coming decades. Before you start your run, you would like to proactively address as many variables and concerns as possible.
Rounding second and third. Your journey around the bases continues as you do the right things to provide for your retirement. You increase the level of savings in 401(k) plans, hopefully enjoying a bit of matching contributions from your employer. You do your best to pay down significant bills such as mortgages and education and car payments. You consider the possibility of downsizing or moving to a new area. You begin to consider the inevitable impact of growing older and perhaps investigate long-term coverage should you need it down the road. As you move forward, your picture of exactly what it will take to live the life you hope begins to crystallize.
Before you can round third and head safely to home plate, do your best to think of all the possibilities you may face. No one wants to deal with unexpected problems when you are so close.
Sliding into home plate. Finally, you are just about there and ready to make your final dash. You have prepared as best you can for everything financial as well as all those important nonfinancial things that will make the quality of your retired life exceptional. You are the right age, possess the right attitude, are secure -- if not perhaps a little anxious -- and you look forward to all you will do with the freedom to spend your days as you choose. You are ready.
Few of us will be lucky to step up to the plate and with one swing of the bat address all the needs we will encounter in retirement. Despite our best preparation, it is conceivable we may strike out a few times before we get a hit. But if we learn from each experience and can make little adjustments here and there, our likelihood for ultimate success improves and our batting average goes up. It is all about persevering, taking those smaller steps that get us ever closer to the goal and not getting distracted or picked off along the way. And there is little better than arriving safely home with your second act raring to go. Batter up!
Dave Bernard blogs at Retirement-Only The Beginning.
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