Plan, What Plan?
I think the most common mistake people make when discussing any complicated problem is assuming that everyone is operating under the same basic premise or even underlying paradigm. Look at retirement planning for example. What do you think of when someone says the word retirement? I imagine being able to sit around my house with zero financial worries. I also assume I will have the financial power to help members of my extended family in the event of an emergency. I bet my wife imagines some sort of travel arrangements, though I personally would be fine if we never went anywhere now, let alone when I am older. To this end, the most important part of retirement planning is deciding what you personally want from your retirement.
What kind of lifestyle do you want to have when you are retired? Considering most people live their lives constantly balancing a budget and worrying about short and long term costs, if you asked them if they wanted to spend their later years in the same way, they would probably say no. However, they have no plan to get theirs. Yes, once your children grow-up and you downsize your living arrangements, your monthly bills in that area will be less. But do you have any idea how much health insurance costs when you start pushing 80? If you want to be a frugal spender for your entire life that is fine, but make sure you examine what life will be like when you are pinching pennies.
This is a big one, because many people fail to communicate expectations with their spouse at a time when they have enough leeway to resolve conflicts. As I said earlier, I would be fine moving into complete hermit mode when I get older, while I expect my wife is going to want to travel. Assuming we decide to go with her plan (not to large of an assumption given the way things operate now) how are we going to travel? Are we going to fly or drive? When we get there, where are we going to stay? Are we going to sleep on our children’s couch, or are we going to stay in an expensive hotel. Maybe we are going to be one of those couples that sells their house and buys an RV, traveling from relative to relative, spending the night in their driveway.