In my day job as a financial planner, I speak with a ton of federal employees who are within a couple years of retirement who are cramming money into their Thrift Savings Plan account as fast as they can. They are all trying to make up for lost time and do some last minute prep.
I have to admit that in some areas of life, last minute cramming is my go-to method, like taking tests in college. I knew that I would forget much of what I studied if I prepared too far in advance, so I just waited until the last minute.
The bad news though is that the 11th hour cram doesn’t work that well in retirement planning. To be honest, it actually doesn’t work much at all.
11th hour retirement planning is less planning and more just finding out if you have to work longer than you want to or not. It becomes less about creating your dream retirement and more about accepting whatever benefits you can get.
And the worst part about last minute prep is not that your retirement benefits probably won’t be as good as they could be but that you are leaving a huge portion of your life up to chance. Will you be able to afford your dream lifestyle and maybe that boat as well? Maybe. I don’t know but do you?
Planning for Retirement
The best thing to do is to start now regardless of where you are in your career. Start by thinking about what kind of retirement you want and then you can plan backwards from there.
Now I know that some people don’t like the word “retirement” because they honestly don’t know what they would do if they didn’t have work everyday. That is totally okay. At least for me, retirement is much less about not working and much more about not having to work. So for those that don’t like the word “retirement” then we’ll call it “the day that works becomes optional.”
Regardless of what we call it, think about what an ideal day looks like for you. What would you like to do or to see? What would you like to not do ever again? Who would you like to spend your time with? Do you want to travel the world? Golf 6 days a week? Read for hours a day? Buy a beach house?
For many of us, it may be hard to describe a perfect day. That is okay. For some, the most important thing they want in retirement is the ability to do whatever they feel like in the moment.
These types of questions are the backbone of the retirement plan that I build with my clients and should be a big part of yours as well because when it comes down to it, no one really cares about how much money they have in retirement or in life; what we actually care about is what kind of life we are able to live and create for our family. If we are able to enjoy a life that we absolutely love, then we don’t really care about how much money we have in the bank.
Now, I am not saying that we shouldn’t be prepared financially. All I am saying is that we prepare financially to create an incredible life, not the other way around.
Once you have an idea of what you’d like your life to look like, then we can start finding the best strategies to get there. This is when we start looking at your TSP, pension, Social Security, and all your other benefits to maximize and optimize them for your goals, but these are just tools, not the end goal. Even if I found the perfect TSP allocation and made 5 million dollars in the stock market, it would not matter at all if I wasn’t happy at my job or in my relationships.
My hope with this article is that a few more feds will be a little better prepared for retirement and maybe they will be a little more motivated to put more money into their TSP, but I hope they don’t do it for their TSP’s sake. I hope they do it to create a life that they love; a life that excites them and that they are passionate about; a life that they just can’t wait to get up every morning to live.