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Things to consider before retiring

9 minute
April 17, 2024
Planning for retirement
Early retirement

What retirement looks like is unique to you.

Achieving a happy retirement is as much about your purpose—what you want to do and where you want to do it—as your portfolio.

Consider these 3 questions before you retire

1. How should I spend my time?

When planning your retirement, it's important to remember that certain aspects of your life will change. For many people, work provides not only a steady income but also your social connections, purpose and goals, and mental stimulation. Losing access to those connections and benefits in retirement can be a challenge, but here are some ways to keep yourself connected and engaged:

  • Give back. Volunteering can be a meaningful way to spend your time. You can help others by using the skills you developed during your career, or even learn new ones.
  • Stay active. Poor health can derail the best-laid plans. Look for ways to build exercise into your postretirement days, as well as activities to keep your mind sharp.
  • Take classes. Retirement is a great time to finish your degree or simply learn something new. You can also choose from hundreds of online courses, some of which are free.
  • Start traveling. Maybe you'd like to do some cross-country RVing or are dreaming of a future international trip. Just keep in mind that traveling can be expensive. Make sure your anticipated retirement income aligns with your goals.
  • Be social. Much of what retirees miss about work is the relationships they've built. Make a plan to maintain your current relationships and build new ones.
  • Keep working. The 2023 Retirement Confidence Survey found that 73% of workers expected to do some type of paid work in retirement.1 Although the continued income is an incentive, you may choose to keep working because you enjoy the routine of it. Keep in mind that the job market is always changing, and it may hard to predict what jobs are available.

Avoid these pitfalls if you keep working

Even if you decide to keep working, you shouldn't put off certain retirement decisions. Avoid these missteps so they don't end up eating into your earned income:

  • Taking Social Security early and having part of your payment withheld.
  • Missing out on making additional IRA and retirement plan contributions.
  • Neglecting opportunities to complete Roth IRA conversions.
  • Not taking your required minimum distributions (RMDs).
  • Underestimating your taxes.
  • Neglecting to enroll in Medicare.
  • Triggering Medicare surcharges.
  • Failing to factor in health care costs.

Vanguard's Tax-Efficient Retirement Strategy can help guide you through your options for when to draw Social Security, and which accounts to withdraw from.

Need help with your retirement planning? Based on your eligibility, explore this offer further.

2. Where should I live?

Once you have an idea of what you want to do in retirement, the where may become clearer.

Here are a few options to consider:

  • Staying put. According to AARP, roughly 75% of people age 50+ want to remain in their current home.2 One reason to age in place is the cost savings if your home is paid off. However, you'll still need to plan on covering maintenance expenses, property taxes, and renovations or modification costs.
  • Moving away. You may want to consider living in another part of the country. Some states are more retirement-friendly than others, offering a lower cost of living, better access to health care, lower taxes, and more.
  • Going smaller. Downsizing is an attractive option if you want less to maintain. You could also realize a profit from selling your home and then reinvest that money back into your retirement savings. Just remember to account for any moving expenses.
  • Joining a community. If you're social and like to participate in organized activities, a retirement community might be right for you. And if you're concerned about how you'll cope as you age, try finding a community with graduated care services. Be aware that these communities often charge hefty up-front fees in addition to your monthly living expenses.

3. When should I retire?

Once you've figured out what you want to do and where you want to live, you also need to decide when you're officially going to retire.

Assuming you have—or will have—the money you'll need, here are a couple of other things to consider in determining when to retire.

Taking early retirement

Generally, an early retirement means retiring before the ages you'd qualify for Social Security or Medicare—62 and 65, respectively. If you have a plan for what you'll do with those extra nonworking years, the main thing to consider is whether you'll likely need to save more money.

Another important consideration in your retirement planning strategy is when to start taking Social Security. If you have income sources to fund the first few years of retirement, postponing your Social Security benefits can be profitable. Each year you delay retirement (until age 70), your Social Security benefits will increase by 8%, making it appealing to delay taking the benefit if possible.3 However, it's important to consider how other planning strategies in retirement could be affected by this decision.

Retiring earlier gives you less time to accumulate assets and means you'll be drawing on those assets longer. Once you've put together a reasonable retirement budget, you may want to test it out for a year or so. That way you can make any adjustments while you're still bringing in a paycheck.

If you're thinking of retiring early, consider meeting with an advisor so they can help you come up with a plan to make that happen. If you have a spouse or partner, you'll want to include them in your discussions and plans as well.

Retiring together or separately

If you're planning for retirement with a spouse or partner, it's good to think through different scenarios. Although you may picture retiring together, it might not be what works best for you both. You'll need to consider your ages, your individual jobs and incomes, and your ideas of what retirement will look like.

It's important to get on the same page well before it's time to start that next chapter. By working together, you can come up with a plan intended to maximize your monthly income benefit while still meeting your immediate spending needs.

Ready to complete your retirement plan?

Working with Vanguard Personal Advisor® gives you access to a personalized financial strategy focused on helping you reach your retirement goals. Based on your eligibility, explore this offer further.

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12023 Retirement Confidence Survey. Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald Research. 2023.

2"Where We Live, Where We Age: Trends in Home and Community Preferences." AARP. 2021.

3"Delayed Retirement Credits." Social Security Administration.

All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.

When taking withdrawals from an IRA before age 59½, you may have to pay ordinary income tax plus a 10% federal penalty tax.

Withdrawals from a Roth IRA are tax free if you are over age 59½ and have held the account for at least five years; withdrawals taken prior to age 59½ or five years may be subject to ordinary income tax or a 10% federal penalty tax, or both. (A separate five-year period applies for each conversion and begins on the first day of the year in which the conversion contribution is made).

This information is intended to be educational and is not tailored to the investment needs of any specific investor.

Vanguard does not provide legal or tax advice. This information is general and educational in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Tax laws and regulations are complex and subject to change, which can materially impact investment results. Vanguard cannot guarantee that this information is accurate, complete, or timely. Vanguard makes no warranties with regard to such information or results obtained by its use, and disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or any tax positions taken in reliance on, such information. We recommend that you consult a tax or financial advisor about your individual situation.

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