Retirement Planning Doesn't Stop Once You Retire: Here's How to Plan

A grandfather sits with two young grandchildren on a park bench and thinks about retirement planning after he's retired.

It’s a common scenario in marathon running—and in retirement. After years, even decades, of careful planning and preparation, you see the finish line but stumble in the final steps and come up short of your goals. Equally damaging, you cross the line and claim victory, but then pay the price later because you have no plan for the next stages.

For many would-be retirees, the goal of getting to the proverbial finish line is so much of the focus that they often neglect to think about what happens after they make it. Meanwhile, the stakes are even higher after retirement. It’s arguably more important to make a holistic plan, set goals and regularly check-in to make sure you’re still on track.

In a recent survey by The Harris Poll on behalf of Fifth Third Bank, 35 percent of people ages 50 to 75 said they don’t have a documented plan for their retirement in place. Although four in five said they consider many factors in their retirement planning, those who aren’t thinking about the full picture are twice as likely to feel that they won’t be able to fully enjoy their retirement.

It’s impossible to turn back the clock, but careful planning can improve your outlook and ease some of your angst. Meanwhile, planning is even more important during times of market volatility. Here’s what retirees and soon-to-be retirees need to know about developing a plan, putting it in writing and routinely assessing and adjusting if needed.

Calculate Current and Future Expenses

As with any kind of planning, your first step should be taking stock of where you are, both in terms of expenses and income. You can make this as complicated or simple as you like, but in its most basic break out your expenses in two main categories: fixed and variable, and match them with appropriate sources of income.

For example, ideally, you could cover your fixed costs (i.e. housing costs or insurance premiums) with stable sources of income, such as Social Security and any pension income. Then you would cover variable costs with proceeds from your required minimum withdrawals (RMD) from your investment 401(k) or individual retirement accounts. (Note: the CARES Act waives RMDs for 2020.)

Whatever your approach, it’s important to look at your income and savings in the context of your expenses. This is true at any age but particularly when you’re on a fixed income. Having a holistic plan can help you get a better grip on your finances, set realistic expectations and make better decisions.

Envision and Write Down Your Goals

Many people associate goal-setting with the build-up to retirement—accumulating assets—not the other side of it. Yet, setting goals is a powerful tool at every stage. Don’t just think about your goals, imagine them in detail and write them down. You are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them, according to research led by Dr. Gail Matthews at the Dominican University in California.

Of course, your goals probably look different in retirement. During your working years, your goals might have included paying off debt and hitting a savings target. In retirement, it might include financial goals like “make a budget and stay with it,” or behavioral goals like “don’t react to market news, good or bad.” It might also include wellness goals, which can ultimately influence your financial health as well.

Put Your Financial Plans On Paper

It’s one thing to know what you want, and another to map out a plan to get there. In retirement, a key step to success is documenting your plans, including a strategy for when you’ll access your retirement funds and in what order.

In The Harris Poll study, only 33 percent of respondents had a documented plan for when to tap into retirement funds, while just 28 percent had mapped out the order.

Just as dollar-cost averaging is a proven strategy to systematically save money, retirees might consider taking their RMDs at regular intervals throughout the year rather than trying to time the market. Caveat: Following significant market selloffs, retirees who have adequate cash and cash-equivalents might consider putting their withdrawals on pause.

Identify the Right Tools for the Job

Fortunately, retirees don’t need to go it alone when it comes to planning and staying accountable. The Harris Poll research found that retirees and pre-retirees want to be an active participant in their retirement planning and management, but many overlook tools that can help them better do so.

Financial advisors can remove some of the guesswork of retirement planning. Just as a coach crafts a plan and holds athletes accountable, an advisor can play a key role in devising and sticking with a sustainable retirement plan.

While 62 percent of respondents surveyed in The Harris Poll worked with an advisor, there are still other options for staying on track during your retirement years. Whether you opt for a workshop, digital tools, human advice, or all of the above, planning can go a long way in helping you get the most out of your golden years.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank, National Association, and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank, National Association or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever. Deposit and credit products provided by Fifth Third Bank, Member FDIC.