Middle and old age can bring dramatic changes to your life, many of them unexpected. Although you can never predict what the future will bring with complete certainty, it is likely, for instance, that a day will come when you can't work to support yourself or that you may fall victim to a health condition that runs in your family. Having a plan for your life at age 55 – which falls just 6 years short of the average U.S. retirement age – will offer you valuable peace of mind.
Read More: 10-year Financial Goal Planning
Employer Sponsored Retirement Plans
Speak to your employer's human resources representative about getting enrolled in a 401(k) plan. 401(k) accounts allow you to contribute a certain percentage of your paycheck to an account which a designated portfolio manager will invest in stocks and bonds – and from which you can begin withdrawing, penalty-free, at age 55. Contribute as much of your paycheck as you can, keeping in mind that a single percentage can make a significant difference in the long run.
For example, if you earn $5,000 per month and are 35 years old, a 4 percent paycheck contribution – $200 per month – will result in a 401(k) balance (not accounting for interest or employer contributions, both of which increase your account balance) of $48,000 by age 55 whereas 5 percent – $250 per month--will net you $60,000, a 25 percent increase over time.
Consider opening a Roth Individual Retirement Account at your local bank. IRAs are savings accounts which provide you a secure place to set aside money for retirement and manage it individually.
Physical Examination and Proactive Lifestyle Changes
Schedule yearly physical exams with your internist or general practitioner. Be open with him about any long-term medical concerns you have – for example, if diabetes runs in your family – and any health problems you are currently experiencing. Follow any directives he gives you to correct unhealthy behavior or habits you have. Like saving financially, making positive health changes to your life – even in small increments – can have huge benefits later on.
Debt Consolidation and Refinancing
Meet with a representative at your bank to discuss your mortgage and other financial obligations. Ask her how much you'll need to pay per month in order to pay off your mortgage and other large debt obligations by the time you're 55. Keeping in mind that the average U.S. retirement age is 61, doing this will remove a substantial burden on your income for your last ten working years, income you can funnel directly into a 401(k), Roth IRA or other retirement savings account if you choose.
Read More: What is the Purpose of a Financial Plan?
Setting Your Goals
Set long-term professional and personal goals. For example, if you're 30, can you see yourself working for your current employer in 25 years? Or perhaps you're 45 and have always dreamed of seeing Italy or Greece, but have never even been to Florida. Spelling out your dreams and aspirations is the first step to manifesting them into reality. By doing so, you set yourself up for regular accomplishments and ensure you will continue to move forward in your life as time passes.
Although the age of 55 may very well end up being the prime of your life, achieving a good number of goals before you get there will lessen the chance of you bringing any regrets or unfulfilled wishes with you.
Robert Schrader is a writer, photographer, world traveler and creator of the award-winning blog Leave Your Daily Hell. When he's not out globetrotting, you can find him in beautiful Austin, TX, where he lives with his partner.