Most of the financial advice you see focuses on telling individuals what they need to do to be a success in retirement.
But it’s just as important — maybe more important — for people to know what not to do.
Indeed, there are mistakes you can make that cannot be undone. I’m not exaggerating when I call these blunders significant, because they really can considerably impact your retirement plan.
When people ask me what they should do to help safeguard their future, I start by urging them to avoid these three potentially damaging situations:
1. Not having an emergency fund.
Any plan for retirement should include an emergency fund — money you can access immediately.
What will you do if your health changes? What if your spouse or one of your kids has an emergency? Will you have money set aside to cover those costs?
A 2015 Bankrate survey found that just 37% of Americans had enough in savings to pay for a $500 to $1,000 emergency. Most financial planners suggest having enough cash to cover at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses.
It’s also wise to have a flexible plan (and planner), so you can make changes if your situation requires it. When you fly, they show you where the exits are before you ever leave the ground. If you take a cruise, the crew always runs a lifeboat drill before you leave port. You should have the same attitude toward your retirement journey.
2. Living too long.
OK, so living too long isn’t exactly a mistake, but failing to plan for a long life is a huge one. Some people think they won’t make it to 70, so they don’t plan past it. Others truly believe they’ll live to 100, yet they don’t plan at all.
The biggest fear we hear from retirees is that they’ll outlive their money. Maybe that’s why so many struggle with moving from the accumulation phase (saving it up) to the distribution phase (taking income).
Your retirement income plan is key to making your money last. And part of that is planning ahead and budgeting for inflation, health care costs and possible changes in your living situation as you age. There are some great financial strategies and tools to help you deal with these issues, but you have to move past fear and denial and put them in place while it makes sense — and while you still can.
3. Dying too soon.
It’s not something that most of us have a lot of control over, but your passing can still be a burden on your loved ones if you make the mistake of failing to prepare for it. Death takes a toll on those left behind, emotionally, of course, but also — almost as certainly — financially. Pensions, Social Security and other benefits are often lost or cut in half when a spouse dies, though the survivor may live for decades longer. How will your loved one get along without you?
Or what if you’re disabled? An illness or disability that requires nursing care can greatly affect the best-laid retirement plans.
There are products that can help back you up under both circumstances — including some life insurance policies that offer accelerated benefits if you become ill or disabled but will pay death benefits if you stay healthy and never require long-term care. Those products can help preserve your assets, keeping your estate intact and giving you the confidence you deserve in retirement.
A solid plan can help mitigate even the worst mistakes. Talk to your financial professional about putting safety nets in place now, before you dive into retirement.