The Most Important Retirement Questions (That Aren't Financial)

August 17, 2023 | David Edmisten, CFP®

A 2019 article in US News and World Reports highlighted 13 of the most asked questions about retirement. As one might expect, several questions focused on finances:

How much money do I need to retire?

How much will I spend in retirement?

• When should I take Social Security?

How much will I pay in taxes in retirement?

• Should I take my pension as an annuity or a lump sum?

• Should I pay off my mortgage before retirement?

How should my money be invested once I retire?

While answers to these questions are certainly important for your retirement, they should not be the top priority in your retirement planning. 

Decide what you want your retirement to look like, so that you can make good financial decisions to accomplish your vision.

The most important retirement questions to ask first are:

• What will I do in retirement?

• When do I want to retire?

• How would I like to spend my time in retirement?

• Who do I want to spend my time with when I retire?

• Where will I go when I retire?

• What would l like to accomplish when I’m retired?

The lifestyle questions above are sometimes harder to answer, but they are important for two reasons.

First, taking time to think through and visualize a great retirement can be uplifting and give us motivation to act to achieve it. 

Think about how excited you can get when planning for a big vacation. You know when it’s coming, you can picture yourself having a great time in a new location. You have the energy to pack, make arrangements, wrap up work projects, even deal with traffic and long lines, because you are energized by your vision of how you’ll enjoy the experience of that vacation.  The same is true for planning your retirement.

Second, once you have a clear vision of how your retirement looks, the answers to your financial questions become very clear.

When you know what your retirement is going to look like, you can determine how much you'll need to spend to enjoy that lifestyle. You can calculate how much you'll need to have saved to support that spending. 

Decisions on paying off your mortgage and when to take Social Security or pension benefits become much easier. You can forecast your retirement spending and back into which sources of your savings or income can support it. Your investment strategy can be based on creating cash, income and growth to fund your lifestyle.  Even tax decisions become clear as you determine which accounts should be used, and in what order, to create your retirement lifestyle.

If you’re approaching retirement, spend more of your time deciding how you want your retirement life to look.  Be specific. Give it much thought and attention. 

The clearer your vision is, the easier it will be to answer all the financial questions needed to achieve it.

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About the Author:

David Edmisten, CFP®, is the Founder of Next Phase Financial Planning, LLC, a financial advisor in Prescott, AZ. Next Phase Financial Planning provides retirement, investment and tax planning that helps corporate employees retire with both financial and lifestyle security.