If you're like most soon-to-be retirees, you're looking forward to leaving the rat race and moving into a comfortable lifestyle. But the golden years can lose their luster quickly if you don't consider all of the aspects of retirement. Here are seven things NOT to do when you retire:
1. DON'T live beyond your means. If you've been operating on a monthly budget while you've been working, there's no need to abandon this practice in retirement. You might need a budget now even more than you did before. After all, you won't have the same income from wages coming in. Rather, you're likely to be living on a fixed income that you draw from your investments, retirement plans, IRAs, and Social Security benefits. Splurging on things you really can't afford could do more damage than it would have before retirement.
2. DON'T cut things too closely. When you're fine-tuning your budget in retirement, give yourself some extra breathing room for unexpected expenses, such as repairs to your home or replacement of appliances. Try to save a little each month to build up a "rainy day" fund that you could use for emergencies. At the same time, just because you're retired doesn't mean you won't want to keep up with the latest technology or fashion trends. The trick is to create a budget that is generous enough to let you enjoy your retirement without putting your future at financial risk.
3. DON'T assume that you'll stay in good health. Even if you're in the pink of health now, there are no guarantees this will continue in retirement. To hedge your bets, make sure you have insurance that's able to provide plenty of protection. That includes health insurance, disability income insurance, and life insurance coverage that will cover your potential needs. Although Medicare can cover most regular health care costs, you'll also need supplemental coverage to avoid large out-of-pocket expenses. Factor the premiums for all of your coverage into your monthly budget.
4. DON'T become a couch potato. Once you no longer have to wake up and go to work every morning, it's easy to become sedentary, especially if you're not athletically inclined. But one of the keys to staying healthy is to remain active and vibrant. Find activities that interest you, and pursue your hobbies vigorously. And be sure to socialize with friends and family regularly. Spending your days watching TV and eating potato chips likely will shorten your life span.
5. DON'T leave investments on cruise-control. Maybe you've implemented an asset allocation strategy for the remainder of your working years and transitioning into retirement. If the plan was designed properly, it should be suitable for your situation and reflect your personal tolerance for risk. However, your situation and your preferences are likely to evolve, requiring an update. That's why it's important to revisit your portfolio holdings and strategies on a regular basis.
6. DON'T forget about taxes. When you're counting on your income to sustain you through retirement, keep in mind how much of your projected earnings will be eroded by taxes. For example, if you sell securities to raise cash, your capital gains will be taxable, although you may benefit from a preferential tax rate of 15% on net long-term gains (20% if you're in the top regular income tax bracket). Most distributions from retirement plans are taxable as ordinary income and even Social Security benefits are subject to taxation. However, qualified distributions from a Roth IRA at least five years old are completely tax-free.
7. DON'T stop saving for retirement. Just because you're retiring doesn't mean that you should stop saving for retirement. In fact, with life expectancies continuing to expand, the opposite is true. You can continue to take advantage of tax-favored savings vehicles, including employer-sponsored retirement plans and IRAs if you work at least part-time. For instance, if you quit your main job but work as a freelance consultant, you could set up a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) or another plan for your self-employed business. Note that plans such as 401(k)s and SEPs allow older workers to add "catch-up contributions" on top of the usual limits.
It takes a long time to build up sufficient savings for retirement but this can be undone quickly through a few costly missteps. DON'T make these mistakes.