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Fine-tuning your retirement goals

What is the ideal retirement picture from your point of view? Living at a beach house on Maui? Or perhaps your dreams lean more toward spending several months each year touring Europe. Or, maybe retiring to a beach house on Maui plus spending several months per year touring Europe is more your speed?

Maybe you can. And maybe you can't.

How do you determine? For that matter, how can you distinguish between retirement goals that are realistic and those that are fantasies?

Setting priorities
That beach house in Hawaii sounds wonderful, but you will want to be able to eat as well. In other words, man (or woman) cannot live on ocean views alone. And if you consider that, in addition to a roof over your head, you might need to pay heating bills, utilities, own a car or two, and possibly pay for medications, travel and day-to-day living, the beach house might drop from the top of your priority list ... or maybe it won't.

Financial planner Marjorie Randles, with The Practical Planner in Argyle, N.Y., says that to help clients decide, "You prioritize. You and the client talk through what's important. It's really important that the client own the priorities."

Maybe the beach house is your top priority. Maybe putting your kids through college is up there. Or maybe a vacation home in your own state or a time share somewhere warm for a few weeks in the winter ranks high on the list. Whatever the priorities are, they need to be yours, not someone else's.

Where are you now?
Before you can figure out where you want to go -- or where you're able to go -- you need to determine where you are now. What is your income? What are your expenses? What do you have in savings and in investments? What can you expect to make between now and retirement?

Financial planner Patrick Collins Jr., president of Greenspring Wealth Management in Towson, Md., says, "We have a pretty strict process that we go through with clients in developing a plan. It's something anybody can do, but step one is taking an inventory of exactly where you are now."

Once you've nailed that down, Collins suggests conducting a rough disaster estimate. "What are the potential risks that could occur that could derail the plan? That's the first step to taking an inventory to exactly where this client is now." He addresses those risks by suggesting that clients purchase, for example, life or disability insurance, to ensure that they can continue to provide for their families in the event of misfortune.

Life stages
Your stage of life will influence where you are in your retirement goals and what your priorities are, financial and otherwise. People in their 20s, for instance, are generally just getting on their feet with jobs and family and aren't making much money or putting much into retirement. Their retirement goals may be a bit fuzzy -- unrealistic or nonexistent. However, those who somehow manage to begin saving for retirement at this stage will have a much better chance at achieving retirement goals that may crystallize later on.

Next: Retirement is just around the corner.
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