We all dream of a comfortable retirement, free of financial worries, in which we can indulge in various pursuits we never had time for when we were working. A "perfect retirement" might entail good health, a stimulating environment, opportunity to travel and pursue other enriching activities, and enough money in the bank to pay for it all.
However, a perfect retirement is not a god-given right; it takes careful planning and discipline over the years and decades leading to one's retirement date. Keeping oneself in good health, for instance, takes more effort as one gets older. But if, starting from a young age, you eat well, get sufficient exercise, and avoid bad habits such as smoking, you stand a much better chance of enjoying an active and rewarding retirement.
Likewise, saving money for retirement is a lifelong activity. Most employers offer 401(k) plans or some other retirement plan that encourages employees to save; many even offer matching contributions. Take full advantage of such savings programs, and if you believe you still might come up short, work with a financial planner, crunch the numbers, and determine how much more you might need to put aside each month. The earlier you get started, the less painful this process will be.
Other aspects of retirement can be addressed in the few years leading up to your retirement date. Where will you live, for example? If you're thinking of moving to another location altogether, or even a foreign country, then plan to spend at least a few months there, living as you imagine you might live as a retiree, before making a final commitment. How is the climate? What about medical care? Is there enough to do? Is there a university or college, if you want to pursue further study? What are the prospects for employment or volunteer work, if you feel the need to work in some capacity?
Perhaps most important, how will you want to spend your time in retirement? Traveling? Studying? Reading? Playing golf? Some combination thereof? Many new retirees find themselves at a loss -- they don't know how to spend their time, now that there's no need to go to work each morning. This lack of purpose can quickly lead to clinical depression and worse. Don't fall into this trap. In the years leading up to your retirement, spend significant time imagining what you'll want to do. What haven't you had time for during your working years? Formulate an action plan. During your first few weeks, you may just want to sleep late and watch television. But by the second or third week, have a plan to visit a travel agency, or a university admissions office, or an organization that accepts volunteer workers.
Our retirement years can be the most rewarding years of our lives, but it will not happen automatically. Be prepared with a concrete plan that addresses your health, your finances, your physical surroundings, short-term and long-term activities, and other issues. The resources at this website are a good starting point for your successful and rewarding retirement.