Turning Your Retirement Wish into a Goal

Retirement sign with beach background

As the saying goes, a goal without a plan is just a wish.

Is that the case with your retirement goals? If so, you have plenty of company.

The TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies has looked into retirement goals and found them to be pretty much what one would expect. Across all age groups, travel is the most frequently cited goal for retirement, followed by spending more time with family and friends and pursuing hobbies.

One thing you’ll notice about each of those is that they all cost money and none of them (with the possible exception of a hobby) generate money. That has to come from somewhere else.

Meantime, a quarter expect they will need to support a family member other than a spouse after retirement, although that does decline with age—as, presumably, financial needs of family members fall away.

One alarming trend—especially given the erosion of defined benefit retirement programs and questions about Social Security’s ability to continue paying out at its current benefit levels—is the lack of emphasis on saving for retirement. It’s the top financial priority for only 26 percent of those in their 40s and just 37 percent for those in their 50s—and 37 percent for those in their 60s, when there’s not much more chance to save for retirement.

Other competing priorities include “just getting by” on current expenses, paying off consumer or credit card debt and paying off a mortgage.

The most commonly estimated dollar figure for what one needs to feel secure in retirement is a nice round $1 million. However, more than half just guessed at that figure, and just 10 percent used a formal process such as an online retirement planning calculator. And only half believe they are currently building a large enough savings account.

Only four-tenths say they have a retirement strategy, even an informal one, and among even those who do, “many are overlooking critical components in their strategies. While most are considering on-going living expenses and government benefits, few are considering factors such as investment returns, inflation, tax planning, contingency plans – and pursuing their retirement dreams.”

Not surprisingly, given the lack of a plan, the greatest fear for all age groups regarding retirement is outliving savings and investments. That comes before even declining health and concerns about the stability of Social Security.

At least there’s a certain level of realism. Eleven percent said they expect to need financial support from someone other than a spouse in retirement, an expectation that again declines with age, and a third expect their standard of living to decrease after retirement. Expectation of decreasing standards of living also increases with age.

That’s when the financial reality starts to set in of having failed to execute a plan to reach the goal.