Labor Day is right around the corner. The weather is starting to turn a little cooler, college football returns and the kids are back in school. For me, it’s always been the kids going back to school that really marked the end of summer. Gone are the late bed times, my flip-flops and lazily sitting outside listening to baseball on my transistor radio (ok, I made that one up).
If you have school-age kids, starting right around Labor Day, you will be bombarded with parent/teacher conferences, emails from the school and the dreaded lists of required back to school items.
Now some of the items on the list make sense to me. Pencils and pens and calculators all seem like they’ll get put to good use. But does my 6th grader really need six different colored pocket folders? And not just any pocket folders, he needs the shiny ones with two pockets and a way to hold loose-leaf paper?
And whatever happened to highlighters coming in just one color? He has to have 8 different color highlighters for goodness sake. And four boxes of tissue? Really? He’s going to use his sleeve anyway…
So all this got me thinking: did my parents go through this with me? When I asked them, they just laughed. You see for us, going back-to-school-shopping meant buying clothes, not supplies. Two pairs of pants, three shirts and a new pair of sneakers. Maybe some new socks and underwear. And then they would send me to my first day of school in my new clothes and a box of new #2 pencils. That’s it.
So, what happened? Is it a conspiracy to sell more stuff? Are the schools that strapped for cash that they can’t provide basic tools to their students (the answer is yes, but that’s another topic)? And is all of it really necessary?
But rather than complain, I decided to look at the glass as half-full and then ask myself this question: shouldn’t every person have a Retirement List that they go through every year, much like a Back-To-School List? And knowing that the answer is yes, what should this Retirement List look like?
Well, as a seasoned financial professional, here is a Retirement List for you to think about at least once a year. And while the time of the year is less important,
I recommend that at the same time every year you:
- Review your current financial situation by assessing your income and assets versus your expenses and liabilities. Make a spreadsheet.
- Determine a realistic amount to contribute regularly to your employer-sponsored qualified retirement plan, e.g., a 401(k) plan. Of course, if possible, you want to maximize allowable contributions and take advantage of the company match, if offered.
- Make a real plan toward reducing your debt. Pay off the highest interest rate bills first and your large bills as soon as possible. Curb your spending somewhere – maybe your daily Starbucks run – and apply that to your debt. And avoid taking on any new debt that could carry over into retirement.
- 4.Consult with a qualified professional about your life, health, and disability income insurance policies to determine the amount of coverage for your current and future needs.
- Review all of your investment statements over the past year. Compare your returns with the returns of major market indices – think S&P 500, MSCI EAFE International and 30-day Treasuries. Make sure you know what drove your performance. Knowing how the markets performed is good, but knowing how you performed and why is critical. Was it one mutual fund that made up most of your gains or losses? Do you know why? If not, find out.
- Determine how much you can expect to receive in retirement from pension plans, veterans’ benefits, or Social Security. To get an estimate on your future Social Security benefits, visit www.socialsecurity.gov.
- Make a list of which expenses are likely to decrease after you retire (clothing, commuting, etc.) and which are likely to increase (medical, travel, etc.), and then make sure you plan accordingly.
- Schedule a visit with your financial professional. And before you go, make sure you’ve completed items #1 – #7 first.
If you adhere to this Retirement Checklist, you may see your savings increase as you work towards your retirement goals. And best of all, this exercise should only take you about the same amount of time as it did to do all your back-to-school shopping.