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Understanding the Phases of Retirement Planning

By Jess Peterson

During the daily grind of our working years, the promise of future retirement can be somewhat of a proverbial carrot on a stick, motivating us to keep plugging along. We plan, save, and dream, often approaching retirement as one single phase of life. But since we are now living longer than ever before, our retirement could span 30 years or more. Depending on when you began your career, that’s almost as much time as you’ve spent working. (1)

The journey to and through retirement occurs gradually, like successive chapters in a book. Each chapter has its own obstacles, celebrations, and decisions to be made. Starting with your pre-retirement years in your 50s, here’s what you need to know for each stage of your retirement. 

Chapter 1: Your 50s

At this stage of life, retirement becomes less like a far-off dream and more like a forthcoming reality. You begin to seriously think about when you can retire and how to take the right steps to retire comfortably.  

During your 50s, you will probably launch your kids into adulthood and experience your highest earning years, which gives you more to work with. But that extra money you aren’t used to having can result in “lifestyle creep,” where your expenses grow along with your pay raises. (2) These increased expenses may not always be nonessential either, as you might become responsible for increased housing costs, education expenses, healthcare costs, and even eldercare costs. 

Despite these financial strains, the inflow of new money into retirement accounts must not cease; your retirement plan assets should not be drawn down through loans or withdrawn too early. Rather, these should be the years where you maximize your retirement plan contributions. If you are over 50, you can make catch-up contributions to beef up your nest egg. 

Chapter 2: Your Early 60s

You are so close you can almost taste it. Now you are starting to think about the many details that make up the process of retiring and the financial and lifestyle decisions involved. 

If you find yourself in this phase, it’s time to get realistic about the near future. Do you know what you will do next? How will you make it a reality? For example, will you be able to keep up with your current expenses while on a fixed income? Be sure to test out different budgets to make sure your finances are set. Do you want to volunteer or start an encore career? Start mapping out the details now. If you do not have a set plan for the next chapter of life, a phased retirement may give you more of an opportunity to figure it out.

This is also the time to dial down risk in your portfolio, especially if a bear market occurs right before you retire. You will have little time to recover from a downturn, so be sure to shift your investments to a more balanced asset allocation, almost an even split between stocks and bonds. You are no longer seeking growth alone, but with retirement becoming a shorter-term goal, you need downside protection as well. 

Chapter 3: Retired Life Begins

The first year or so of retirement is akin to a “honeymoon phase.” You have the time and perhaps the money to pursue all kinds of dreams, so the key is not to spend wildly. Lifestyle creep also affects new retirees, and free time often means more chances to spend money. 

When it comes to your investments, your portfolio looks very different than it did when you were in your 20s and 30s. Bond funds and fixed income make up a majority of your investments. Your focus is on generating income to live on and preserving what you’ve worked so hard to save. However, you should still have some exposure to the stock market. If you retire at age 65, there is a good chance you have a 30-plus-year retirement ahead of you. As such, you should keep some allocation in stock funds for their growth potential. 

Up until now, you’ve probably received healthcare coverage from your employer. When you retire, it’s a new ballgame. Medicare eligibility begins at age 65. You have plenty of choices for your Medicare plan, such as original Medicare coverage, prescription drug plans, and supplemental insurance. Your premium costs will depend on your coverage choice and your income. Medicare can be complicated and overwhelming, so if you are in this chapter, start researching now to make informed choices. 

Chapter 4: Mid-60s Through Late 70s

This is the chapter where restlessness can start to set in. If you didn’t make concrete lifestyle plans before retiring, you might get bored with your all-leisure, all-the-time lifestyle and decide to volunteer or work on your own terms, health permitting. 

It’s also the time when people begin to worry about how their retirement savings is growing smaller. You may want to adjust your retirement income strategy or see if new streams of income can be arranged.

Chapter 5: 80s and Beyond

The last chapter of retirement is one frequently characterized by the sharing of legacies and life lessons, a new perspective on the process of living and aging, and deeper engagement (or reengagement) with children and grandchildren. This is also the time when you should think about your financial legacy and review or update your estate plan so that when you leave this world, things are in good order and your wishes are followed.

Which Chapter Are You In?

No matter your current stage of life, it’s always beneficial to partner with an experienced financial professional—someone who can offer objective advice and answer your questions about income, investments, wealth protection, and wealth transfer. We at Peterson Wealth Management would love to help evaluate your options and create a financial plan that will carry you through every life phase. Schedule your no-fee consultation now!

About Jess

Jess Peterson is an investment advisor representative at Peterson Wealth Management, an independent, full-service financial advisory firm committed to providing personalized, unbiased advice. With over 12 years of experience, Jess serves his clients by developing strategies for the myriad of financial challenges and opportunities they face as they move through life, educating and empowering them so they can make informed decisions that get them closer to their goals. Jess is known for building strong, long-term relationships with his clients built on trust, and he works tirelessly to reduce their financial stress so they can focus on the things they love. Jess graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science. When he’s not at work, you can find Jess staying active by running in various events around Northern Nevada and racing motorsports around the country. He enjoys visiting Tahoe, playing hockey, and snowboarding as well. To learn more about Jess, connect with him on LinkedIn. You can also watch his free webinar on 7 Unexpected Risk to Your Retirement (& How to Plan for Them).


(1) https://www.ssa.gov/planners/lifeexpectancy.html
(2) www.forbes.com/sites/camilomaldonado/2018/08/23/slippery-slope-lifestyle-creep/?sh=2fcc19bb4576#787187524576