Retirement is more than just leaving work.
If you want to make sure that you’ll be able to retire when you want, retirees from Business Insider’s Real Retirement series have some tips from their own retirement experiences, from paying off your mortgage and other debts, to working with a financial planner.
Here are these retirees’ best pieces of advice for anyone who wants to leave work someday.
1. Find a good financial planner and work on your equity allocation
When one of his friends tell him they’re thinking about retiring, Dirk Cotton’s first advice is to find an expert. “Find a good a retirement planner, because retirement planning is incredibly complex,” he said. “They’re extremely helpful and worth the investment, and it’s worth it to start talking to them in the years before you retire.”
He also suggests focusing on your investments. “The major thing that I would say is, 10 years before retirement, you probably want to end up somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% to 50% equity allocation,” Cotton, who retired at 52, said. He said this is one of the big things that helped him retire comfortably in 2005 and get through the Great Recession.
“I weathered that storm extremely well,” he said, crediting this advice. “A lot of people had 100% equities when they were saving for retirement, and lost over 50% in a very short period of time.”
2. Make time for a yearly or quarterly retirement planning check-in
Bill Brown, who retired at 65, says one of the most helpful things he did was regularly set aside a few minutes to strategize. “I did this maybe once or twice a year,” he said. “You sit back and you mentally go through, ‘How am I doing? What could I change? What should I change?’ And then, you alter it.”
Doing this helped him and his wife realize they could be doing more to cover themselves with life insurance and long-term care insurance. It helped them to focus on the bigger picture of retirement planning, and keep on track to retire on time.
3. Start planning sooner rather than later
“I got a late start. From 33 to 43, those quarterly statements I got from a TIAA, I threw them away,” David Fisher, who retired at 65, told Business Insider.
“When I was in my early 40s, I opened one of my quarterly statements that I used to throw away. And I said, ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve got $30,000 to $35,000 in there. That’s my money.’ Then I became interested and retirement,” Fisher said.
If he could turn back time, that’s the advice he’d give to his 35-year-old self. “Invest early and invest as early as you can and put away whatever you can afford,” he said.
4. Start maxing out your retirement accounts and live within your means
Corky and Patti Ewing never made more than what is considered a middle class income in their California home. In 2019, they retired comfortably thanks to strategic saving and investment decisions. Corky told Business Insider he’d advise anyone wanting to retire to “max out their retirement accounts, their 401ks or their IRAs.”
To do this, he continued: “I’d tell someone to live within their means, because you don’t have to try to keep up with your neighbors.”
5. Prioritize your spending on experiences rather than things
Karen and Joe Stermitz sold their home in Washington to travel the world and live frugally after they retired in 2017.
“I would tell people just to be frugal. Things don’t bring you happiness, experiences do,” Karen said. She and her husband started a journey through South America in an overlanding vehicle in 2019.
“I don’t buy things; we don’t buy a lot of things. Get away from the focus of the things, and focus on experiences and living life,” she said.
6. Own a home you can afford
“Our home is key to our retirement,” said Bill Davidson, who retired at 54. He and his wife Rose moved from Oregon to New Mexico after he stopped working to travel, live affordably, and be mortgage-free.
They chose to build an environmentally-friendly home, which reduces utility expenses considerably. “If you reduce your utilities to almost nothing, that means you’re living in environmentally friendly, energy-efficient lifestyle,” he said.
“Our home costs about $300 per month,” he said. By owning a home they can easily afford and moving to live mortgage-free, the Davidsons are able to spend more on family and travel.
7. Keep your credit score up and live debt-free
“I did get a little good advice early on from my godfather about having perfect credit scores and never using credit to finance lifestyle,” said Fernanda Dorsey, who is now traveling the world with her husband, Jim, after retiring at 52. “Those pieces of advice were jewels,” she added.
“We’ve been basically following those two things, so we don’t have any debt. When we left work to travel, we had perfect credit scores, and that’s good,” she said.
8. Pay off your mortgage
“We were already debt-free, that was normal for us,” said James, who left his full-time job at 59 to work part-time from home. He and his wife had been living mortgage-free for about 25 years.
By not having debt, he was able to retire when the time was right, and take the opportunity without worrying about it. “When the clock ticked down to 59 and a half, I was 10 years in at work. That was enough to get an additional monthly check from the organization I worked for,” he said. “That was the logical time to go.”