The steps to retirement can feel a bit overwhelming at times. It is a stage in your life that always felt so far away. Then there is that moment. That moment that you realize retirement is rapidly approaching.
There are so many unknown financial variables. Investment risks and rewards and political climates, it is easy to see how retirement we get scared of the process.
Rob and I found ourselves at a point of frustration with the retirement topic. The way we handle big, seemingly impossible tasks is to break them down to a step process.
In this post, we will cover the 7 steps to retirement that we are following. These are steps really simplified retirement for us. I am sure these simple steps will help you too!
Let’s be clear before we get too deep into the topic of retirement. Rob and I are not accountants or investment gurus. Neither one of us sports a degree.
We are just empty nesters that feel the silence of our home and realize that our next significant milestone is retirement. If you are seeking investment advice, you are definitely on the wrong website.
Whew! Now that all of the awkwardness is out of the way, let’s get on with it!
Like many Americans, we are exploring our retirement options. We are working to clean up the financial messes that we have made over the years while we work tirelessly to build up a nest egg to “retire early.”
We are Gen Xers who have lived as if we would always be young, felt like we never made enough money to save, and have finally woken up to see our reality. The reality that we are one of the ill-prepared.
Retirement and the ill-prepared
When we look at the statistical information on retirement, the future seems a bit bleak. According to an article published by Money Magazine on December 1, 2016, “Some 41% of retirees have an annual income less than $25,000, and of those, only 21% receive income from a pension or retirement plan.”
The 2018 Planning & Progress Study published by Northwestern Mutual found that out that 33% of the Baby of the Boomer Generation has a total retirement savings of $25,000 or less. For us, Gen Xers, we have a front-row seat to the retirement planning of this generation. We watch in fears as our parents enter this stage of their life.
For me, I have watched my father financially flounder. His lifelong battle with addiction stole whatever was “good” in his life. His example terrifies me as I find an internal need to push forward. I need to make sure that our fate is not the same as his.
Overcoming the odds
Rather than becoming paralyzed with the statistics, the examples set by those we love, and our own years of mismanaging our money, we are on a mission of recovery and hope.
Hope that we will be able to take control of our financial destiny and make decisions today that will lead to prosperity for tomorrow.
Our focus is on the opportunities we have to build wealth and decrease the likeliness of not saving enough for our future. We are accepting the speed at which time passes, and we are living a now that will allow us to support the life we want tomorrow too.
For many, many years, I would joke about our early retirement plan. This plan was called smoking.
Armed with the idea that we could retire early because we would die early seemed pretty logical. We really did not require a big nest egg to take care of us for too long.
It was also a bit humorous to see the look on someone’s face when I shared our plans with them. It wasn’t until early 2018 that we no longer felt that was the best goal for our future.
Our son moving out, shook us up, and made us realize how time goes by so fast and how we are not as young as we once were. So now as non-smokers, we are trekking down a new course. We enjoy today and work toward overcoming our past.
FIRE – Financial Independence Retire Early
The FIRE movement has picked up a ton of attention over the past few years. From total disbelief to questioning the reasoning and rationale behind it. The internet has been abuzz about the FIRE retirement plan.
Why shouldn’t we all be questioning the sanity of the individuals wanting to retire at the ripe old age of 30?
For us, we will not question their sanity. We will find inspiration in the financial decisions which make early retirement possible.
We will remain hopeful that in the time we have, we will be able to secure our future. It is our hope that will push us to stay engaged and take action.
For Rob and I, we started our family when we were just kids. We selected a small, rural town that allowed us to raise our family in a community that we felt would enrich their lives.
The thing is, we look around, and those kids are no longer here. They are out chasing their own dreams as they make their own way. It is now that Rob and I sit and reflect and we ask ourselves if this is where we want to be for the rest of our lives.
How do these careers that we have made for ourselves fit in with our future goals?
It’s questions like these that provide the courage we need to chase our dreams.
Time for a change! 7 Steps to Retirement
It was early 2018 that we fell headfirst into the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover plan. We developed our first budget, committed ourselves to take charge of our finances, and began establishing goals to pay off our debt and build our wealth.
As we progressed through the journey of paying off our consumer debt, we began to see things clearer and started dreaming bigger and bigger.
To turn our dreams into reality, we developed a plan. We came up with seven steps to take before retirement.
In two short years, we have increased our net worth drastically and removed financial stress from our marriage.
Step #1 – Stop spending money on crap you do not need
I cannot figure out why the millennial generation gets such a bad rap. As a Gen Xer, I see an awareness, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a desire to live life to its fullest. The millennial generation is inspirational.
There is an enormous push from this generation through the minimalist movement to identify what brings true happiness to life. Once we stopped spending money on crap we didn’t need, it became easy for us to see all of the opportunities around us to improve our lives.
The focus of minimalism is on improving the quality of life by owning fewer items. It’s about escaping excess and clutter and focusing on what really matters in life (i.e., not stuff). – Natalie Bacon
The first step of improving your financial health is to heed the example of this insightful generation. If you do not take this step of living on less, you will forfeit your ability to improve your financial forecast.
Start honestly evaluating needs versus wants and get in touch with what true happiness is. Happiness is not found in what we wear, what we drive, or where we live.
Happiness comes from taking care of our soul by living our dreams.
Step #2 – Pay off debt
For Rob and me, our debt payoff journey is our proudest financial accomplishment in our 26 years of marriage. We demolished $50,000 worth of consumer debt in six months. We went from spending every penny we made to what Dave Ramsey would call scorched earth.
When we started our journey to pay off our debt, we were seeking flexibility in our finances so that we could make career decisions that would allow us to spend more time with one another. Since we tackled our consumer debt, we have found a relief that we never expected.
Our life entailed debt for so long that we had become desensitized to the stress that our debt brought into our lives. It was with the removal of this debt that we had a taste of freedom. It was this taste of freedom that is now driving us to live better.
The decision to settle your debt not only helps you today, but it also prepares you for your next big move: retirement!
Our Debt Pay Off Guide:
- How to Pay Off Debt Without Any Money | Paycheck to Paycheck
- 11 Things We Did to Pay Off $50,000 Worth of Debt in 6 Months
Step # 3 – Breaking bad habits
When we quit smoking in 2018, it was like saying goodbye to a friend of twenty-something years. Like it or not, that is what addiction is. It is your friend. It is your coping mechanism, and your reward system all rolled into one.
There are so many aspects of our lives that are better now that we have let go of this habit, yet for some reason, we continue to hear the addiction taunt us.
Breaking a bad habit is a critical part of any successful journey. Although smoking may not be your demon, look deep, fight hard, and kick the addiction that is holding you back.
The thing that we often forget is that everything in our life has a chain reaction. Sometimes seemingly unrelated elements in our lives impact us in unexpected ways.
For Rob and I, the monthly cost of smoking was very apparent; after all, this is not a cheap habit. On a bigger scale, it was stealing from our future.
We knew deep down inside that we were impacting our health, our future health, and our quality of life. The need to save appeared to be a senseless task. We had to get over that so we could move on.
The stop smoking process was a very personal process that no one could have told us to do other than ourselves. So dig deep and find the habit that is holding you back, then say goodbye to it once and for all.
Step #4 – Build up an emergency fund
Shit happens. That is life. Your emergency fund is that tool that reminds you of your needs and wants. The only time that you pull from your emergency fund is if the sky falls, or at least that is the way we look at it.
Having an emergency fund is the money that offers you peace of mind.
In an article published by The Atlantic, author Neal Gabler tells his story with money management in his post The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans, Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them
The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
Well, I knew. I knew because I am in that 47 percent. – Neal Gabler
In this article, Neal highlights many critical points in time and decisions that were put into action that lead to the current condition of our economy. The one thing that I will not agree with is his closing line: “What so many of us have been suffering for so many years may just seem like a rough patch. But it is far more likely to be our lives.”
All I can say is…paying off debt and building a healthy emergency fund cannot be accomplished if you are a sissy-la-la. These actions are character building, life-changing events that shape your life into the life you want. It is the decisions that you have to make during this time of self-discovery that affirm the notion that life is what we make it.
Learn about an emergency fund:
Step #5 – Meet with a financial planner
So this step is a step to retirement that I would hate to see you pass up! Hiring a financial advisor is the step that will make sure that you stay on track.
For Rob and I, we committed ourselves to completion of steps 1-4 before hiring an advisor. We made this decision so that we could gain control and get a better understanding of our finances before we went to see a professional.
Our way of thinking is:
- Legal: If we had legal issues, we would hire a lawyer.
- Dental: We visit our dentist every six months for our dental hygiene maintenance. We make this investment so that we can keep our pearly whites.
- Doctor: When we are sick, we go to see a doctor. Annual checkups are also a good idea.
- Auto Issues: Car repair is a skill that requires a certain know-how and tools to get the job done. If we are having problems with our automobiles, we seek assistance from a mechanic.
- Fine Dining: If we want something delicious to eat, we go to a restaurant (cooking is not a strong point in this house)
- Financial Advisor: When we are trying to plan for our financial future, we must hire a financial planner.
Just like all of the professionals listed above, this service will cost you. If done right, the return on your investment will be totally worth it. Financially and emotionally.
Hiring a financial advisor
Hiring a financial advisor is a very personal decision. Their job is to review your finances from a holistic standpoint, listen to your goals, then analyze financial resources and opportunities that you have available to you. It is then their job to devise a roadmap to help you reach your destination.
We always try to emulate the actions of those we see as the most successful. For us, word of mouth was a critical step in selecting a financial advisor.
We were seeking someone that could help us stay on track and help us to develop actionable goals without our emotions getting involved.
Speak to your friends and colleges and see who they have hired to help them with their finances. It is a big decision, and who you hire will have a long-term impact on your financial health.
We look at these steps as lifestyle changes. They are our commitment to our future! These steps let us know that we are actively involved in making our life what we want it to be. We are making sure that our children will not have the burden of taking care of us during retirement.
Step #6 – Fully fund the Health Savings Account (HSA)
In 2014 my company downgraded our health insurance. The decision to downgrade our healthcare was supported by The Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac tax” or High-Cost Plan Tax (HCPT).
The company that I work for downgraded our “Cadillac” insurance and replaced it with a Moped.
As far as business goes, it was a sensible business decision. The HCPT promised a 40% excise tax on employer plans that exceeded annual premiums of $10,200 for an individual and $27,500 for a family by the year 2020.
For our family, it was shock and dismay. With this downgrade came a new to us method of health care financing called a Health Savings Account (HSA). As a newbie to high deductible insurance, Rob and I did not look into the benefits of an HSA.
Boy, are we kicking ourselves now! At that point in our lives, we were spoiled with our “Cadillac” insurance. We were so spoiled that the sense of entitlement prevented us from really investigating this HSA thingy!
Please do not fall victim to our stupidity!
An HSA is an extremely powerful tool that allows you to pay for your healthcare with TAX-FREE MONEY! The HSA account has the tax benefits of both the 401k and the Roth IRA with the one caveat that the money can only pay for healthcare.
- Your contributions are pre-taxed just like your 401k, and so you get to benefit from income tax savings today.
- Just like a Roth IRA, the growth of the money in your account is tax-free.
- Then when you withdraw money to pay for qualifying medical expenses, the money comes out tax-free.
Since two known variables in life are death and taxes, it great to find a savings method that avoids one of those!
The HSA plan is such a great deal that it does come with a cap. If you are under 55 years old, you can deposit $3,500 for an individual and $7,000 for a family in 2019. If you are 55 and older, you can stash an additional $1,000 worth of tax-free money.
The money that you contribute to your HSA is your money. When you leave your employer, you take that money with you. Our goal is to utilize this savings for our health care expenses that we are sure to incur during retirement.
Step #7 – Develop alternative income streams
Think big! We are not talking Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) or the misguided get rich quick misinterpretations of the book Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki. I am talking about thinking outside our comfort zone and going for it.
The type of alternative income stream that I am referring to is that in which Gary Vaynerchuk preaches. It is that tough love, dig deep, don’t complain message that speaks to our vision.
The fact of the matter is you need to be willing to eat shit, bleed, get laughed at, judged, snickered at, whispered behind, bet against, misunderstood and put down … If you believe in yourself and what you are doing and are acting like life is long and if you do the right things it plays out so DO YOU. – Gary Vaynerchuk
Working our butts off now so that we have choices in our future is our current course. I have spent 13 years working for the same company. Rob has invested 27 years of his life with the same company.
At 43 years old, I do not want to spend the next 22 years of my life doing the same thing. To continue working for the same company, in the same house, and not be able to experience anything else. Twenty-two years is a long time. But time goes by so fast that we do not want to sit idle and not have taken a chance.
Empty Nestin’ is just that for us. It is our opportunity to try something different and work toward our future so that we can turn our dreams into goals.
Enjoy life to the fullest
A few years back, we lost Rob’s mom to cancer. It was like losing a hero and a friend all at one time. She was a mother first and a traveler second. She loved to be out on the road as she was one who lived for the journey and not the destination.
It was her death two years following her retirement that woke something inside of us. Retirement was something that she saved for with such vigor. She was my first real experience of knowing someone committed to living a minimalistic life.
She saved her money by not purchasing the stuff, and she invested in her experiences and her future. Unfortunately, she was unable to go on all of the trips she wanted to go on. The example she set was to spend money on the important things in life. It is by following this philosophy you will be able to maximize what life has to offer.
Go out there and live life, create your journey, and find the funding to make it happen!