In previous sections we discussed various retirement accounts and their tax features. Setting up retirement accounts is a necessary but not sufficient condition for retirement planning. Proper preparation includes increasing contributions to accounts over time, monitoring progress toward CMP (critical mass principal), drafting estate planning documents, budgeting, and managing debt.
Often overlooked are non-financial considerations such as deciding where to live and how to keep busy and vibrant over several decades as a retiree. As noted earlier, our focus in this book is on the financial considerations. Your employer may offer information or workshops on the non-financial elements of retirement planning.
Get an Early Start
We’ve already established that compounding works in our favor over long periods of time, allowing even small investments to grow significantly.
Begin saving and investing for retirement as soon as possible. Modest contributions are a lot better than nothing, and they help you develop good saving habits.
Formulate a Retirement Budget Forecast
Maintain a current budget reflecting all income and expenses to ensure you live within your means and generate the savings needed to reach CMP. In addition, develop a budget forecast for your retirement years.
In retirement your budget will look different compared to your working years. Your income will likely be lower, and your medical expenses will likely be higher. Many of your outlays will be lower or completely gone. In particular, commuting costs, formal work clothes, and business meals will be things of the past. You will likely have finished paying off your mortgage and kids’ college education, and assuming you’ve compiled a sufficient nest-egg, you will no longer pay for disability and life insurance. You will also no longer pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, unless you still have some earned income.
As an empty-nester you may downsize your house or relocate closer to desired support services such as medical facilities or family, and leisure activities such as a golf course or swimming pool.
Giving some advance thought to these differences gets you thinking about the relevant issues and provides an opportunity for discussion with your spouse, partner, and or children.
Quantifying healthcare costs in retirement is challenging but there are some metrics one can use. For example, Vanguard provides ranges of estimates for Medicare Parts B and D costs, as well as total annual healthcare costs on its website.
Steadily Pay Down Debt
As you enter middle age you are in your prime earning years. This is the time to tackle any outstanding debts and pay them off. Debt is a drag on your household wealth development, especially if interest rates are high. In the current low-interest rate environment I’d consider any debt with rates over 5% to be high. Aggressively pay down this debt.
Line-up Alternative Retirement Income Sources
In addition to traditional investment income such as interest on bonds and dividends and capital gains on stocks, you may receive income from other sources in retirement, including:
The benefits of having such income sources include the income itself, but also extend to intellectual stimulation and social connection from remaining involved in medicine and or business.
Draft and Update Estate Planning Documents
Ensure proper estate planning documents are in place. I address basic documents such as Wills, Trusts, and Powers of Attorney in the estate planning chapter of this book.
Don’t Succumb to Guilt
Many medical households face the following conundrum: If we have extra cash, should we: fund our children’s college plans, pay down our own debt, or invest in our own retirement plan?
The reflexive emotional response is to pay for our children’s college education. The response may be partly motivated by guilt; we feel that paying off our own debt or investing in our retirement are selfish choices.
But the mathematically correct answer is to invest in yourself first.
To understand this assertion remember the power of compounding concept we learned in the time value of money section of this book. The most powerful compounding benefits accrue to investments over many decades. The contents of our children’s college savings plans won’t last for decades because they’ll typically be used up within 8 to 10 years. In contrast, our own retirement funds will have many decades to grow. Thus, there is much greater long-term upside to our household from paying down our debt and investing in our retirement.
Further boosting this argument is the possibility that our child(ren) will qualify for loan forgiveness, obtain a scholarship, or may not attend college at all, in which case our efforts to bend over backwards and invest everything in 529 plans will have been misplaced.
Another factor is that our children have their entire careers, spanning four to five decades, to pay down their own debts, while we have substantially less time: all the more reason to pay down our debts first.
Yet another strong argument in favor of building up our own assets is that if we prepare well for retirement we’ll be able to leave our children a substantial inheritance. That inheritance could be used to pay off their debts, should they still have any.
Furthermore, by steadily paying off our debts and saving for our retirement we’ll experience less stress (unless we succumb to the aforementioned guilt). Our children will be better off living in a home with less anxious parents. Lower anxiety may also help to safeguard our own marriage or partnership, which is also pivotal for our children’s emotional wellbeing.
Finally, consider that giving our children responsibility for their financial future, which includes learning to pay off debts, helps them mature and prepares them to be independent.
 See https://investor.vanguard.com/retirement/planning/health-care