In working with federal employees, there are two main approaches to planning for retirement that I have seen. The first are those that know exactly what type of retirement they want and they plan for and use their benefits and investments to make their dream happen. The second however, are those that want to know what benefits they’ll have in retirement so they can plan their retirement accordingly.
In other words, some people are proactive in planning the retirement that they want and others are more reactive to the benefits that they end up being eligible for.
In my experience, the first approach proves to be much more effective over time.
Define the Dream
For some things in life, it is much more obvious that we need to clearly define our goal. For example, if we are going on a road trip, it is impossible to know where to go unless we know exactly where we want to end up, and once we have a destination, we can adjust our plans based on the weather, traffic, and road maintenance in order to have a great trip.
The same is true for retirement. Before we know what our dream retirement is it can be very hard to know which direction to take to be able to get there, but once we know what type of retirement we want, it is much easier to adjust your retirement benefits in a way to support that goal.
But I do know that defining your dream retirement is often much more difficult than planning the destination for a road trip. For many of us, even if we do give it tremendous thought, it can be hard to know what we’d want to do with our time when work becomes optional.
That being said, a great place to start is to define what sort of income you’d like in retirement. Even for those that struggle to define their ideal retirement lifestyle, defining an income goal is often very doable. Many people I work with simply want about the same amount of income in retirement as they had (after payroll taxes and savings) while working.
Give it a Date
Knowing what type of retirement you’d like is a great start, but the next step is setting a date of when you want to stop working. For some, this date might be just as soon as possible.
But I know that many people (myself included) enjoy what they do enough that it can be harder to pin down a date to hang it up. For these people, it is still important to set a date to make sure you are able to retire if you don’t actually retire at that specific date.
Setting a date for retirement is less about actually retiring on that date and more about being financially ready to retire. That way, you know that work becomes optional at that point.
Make a Plan!
Now that you have a goal, you need to make a plan to get there.
One of the best places to start is the 3-legged stool of income for FERS employees. This includes:
- Your FERS Pension
- Social Security
- Your TSP
Once you have a clear idea of what your pension and Social Security income are going to be, you can then figure out how much income your investments (your TSP) needs to produce to cover any gaps.
By going through the process, you should have a much better idea of where your TSP balance needs to be as well as if you need to work longer in order to bump up their pension income.
This article is far from comprehensive as there are many areas (taxes, estate planning, insurance, investments, etc.) that I didn’t touch on but are essential in planning for retirement. That being said, getting the planning process started can be invaluable as you progress through your career and approach retirement.