The Most Often Overlooked Step In Retirement Planning
When it comes to retirement planning, conversations often center around portfolio management and investment strategies—what I like to call the bling of the financial world. Generally, you sit down with an advisor and begin your work together by listing all your assets and expenses. They, in turn, provide you with a thick report of projected returns, inflation assumptions, and a—likely daunting—required savings number for your retirement nest egg. More often than not, they then offer a fancy investment product or strategy to push you towards attaining that staggering sum.
Starting a retirement (or any financial plan) with investment tactics is a little bit like going grocery shopping when you’re hungry. Driven by your grumbling belly, you start popping Cheetos and Little Debbie snack cakes into the cart without rhyme or reason because they look tasty or have appealing packaging; once you get home, you realize your pantry is overflowing, but you don’t have the right ingredients to make an actual meal, much less something healthy. Darn.
One of the most often overlooked steps in retirement planning is casting your vision of what you’d like your retirement to look like. Where do you want to live? Do you pl an to work part-time? What hobbies will you pursue? Is there a second home in the mix? A boat? A wedding to pay for? Maybe two? How often will you replace your cars? Once you’ve answered these questions, you can assign numbers to your dreams. Beginning with your vision is a fundamental difference between retirement planning and investment planning. Retirement planning allows you to use your money as a tool to further your goals rather than turning the investment of your money into a goal in and of itself.
Consider my journey as an example. Fresh from college, I started as a broker trading technology stocks. I got caught up in the money and excitement; after eight years, those felt hollow. Then, I began the CFP® program and joined a major firm to become a “professional.” I was driven to have all the answers and be respected (thus my many certifications). In 2003, I co-founded an independent firm in downtown Fort Worth with two partners. Each step of the way, I asked, “Is this who I want to be?” I always think about who I am becoming.
As I entered my mid-forties, the traditional time for a proverbial midlife crisis, mine soon arrived. I found myself haunted by the question, “What could I have done differently?” In response, I began my Retirement Answer Man podcast as a way to think out loud. It wasn’t just about sharing insights; it was a personal exploration of questions on my mind and those I heard often from my clients. Teaching others through the podcast forced me to become more organized and, most importantly, helped me identify major gaps in traditional retirement planning. Over time, these epiphanies led to the creation of Agile Retirement Management (ARM), a unique blend of project management methodology and financial planning. The process of creating not only allowed me to refine my ideas, it helped me grow as a person. I recognized that I wanted to help as many people as possible across the country for as long as possible.
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My vision shifted with this new maturity; now, I value time freedom and location independence. I stepped away from my business partnership, traded the prestigious downtown office space for a home office, and shifted to online meetings over face-to-face. Yes, I Zoomed before Zoom was cool.
Dream in 3-5 Year Increments
Casting a vision can seem like a daunting task. Remember, your vision is written in pencil, not Sharpie (and grab an extra eraser while you’re at it). It evolves, shifts, and adapts as you do. The journey toward a secure, satisfying retirement isn’t about grand gestures; it’s about the cumulative effect of consistent, thoughtful decisions. As your vision clarifies, it becomes your guiding light, helping you filter through the noise and make choices that align with your long-term goals. Your vision is your compass, guiding you toward where you want to go in retirement. It’s not a rigid plan but a flexible roadmap that evolves with your aspirations and life circumstances.
One of the core principles of our agile approach is planning in increments of 3-5 years. Let’s take my experience as an illustration. Initially, I was downtown, meeting with local clients. Years later, I’ve expanded my reach, walking life with clients across the country. This transition didn’t happen by chance; it resulted from intentional thinking and planning, making incremental adjustments along the way so my vision could become reality.
Retirement: More Than a Finish Line
Contrary to conventional notions, retirement isn’t about reaching a finish line and putting your feet up. It’s about gaining time freedom and creating the margin to pursue endeavors beyond the realm of traditional work. Fulfilled retirees are engaged in meaningful activities, whether or not they are receiving a paycheck. Retirement, in its truest sense, is about doing something that brings you joy, purpose, and fulfillment.
I always encourage my clients to dream big when casting a vision. By creating an ambitious vision, you increase the chances that some version of your dream will be manifested. As you conjure up your ideal retirement, consider those earlier questions:
- What are my values?
- Where do I want to live?
- What hobbies will I pursue?
- Do I want to travel?
- With whom do I want to spend time?
- What will I regret not doing?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope it will get your mental wheels turning.
The world of retirement planning is not just about numbers and investments. It’s about seizing your chance to create an identity and a life based on what you value most, freed from the dictates of work. So, envision your fantastic future, plan in increments (baby steps!), and embark on a retirement journey far beyond numbers.