Retirement is a major goal many workers keep their eye on throughout their career.
However, once people actually reach retirement age, they are often in store for some financial surprises — despite decades of preparation.
For today’s retirees, that is compounded by new uncertainties brought by on by historically high inflation and recent turbulence in the stock market.
Ideally, those who enter retirement already have a plan they have developed with a reputable financial advisor. But even for those who do, retirement can take some time getting used to, according to members of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council.
“That transition from having a paycheck to not having a paycheck is full of anxiety,” said Jude Boudreaux, a certified financial planner and senior financial planner at The Planning Center in New Orleans.
“We just need to learn and establish what the new normal is,” he said.
Recent retirees who are feeling lost should start by identifying what really matters to them, according to Blair duQuesnay, a CFP and lead advisor at Ritholtz Wealth Management in New Orleans.
“People don’t spend much time figuring out what brings them the most joy in life,” duQuesnay said.
Saving and investing to accumulate money toward retirement are great habits to have while you’re working. But once you retire, you have to find a new set of habits and skills, she said.
For most people, what matters most is their connections with family and friends, and spending time with those people. Realizing that can help retirees place less emphasis on the numbers on their statements, duQuesnay said.
Much of the financial anxiety new retirees face in figuring out exactly how to replace their paychecks can be managed, according to Cathy Curtis, a CFP and founder of Curtis Financial Planning in Oakland, California.
Curtis said she sets up either monthly payments or the lump sum equivalent of a year’s worth of expenses. Most clients choose monthly payments, she said.
Starting to spend down your portfolio while the market is down can be nerve-wracking, duQuesnay said.
It helps to remember that retirement is not the end date, she said. Because it is uncertain how long the portfolio will need to last, it is important to plan for a long life.
Market selloffs during corrections or bear markets are to be expected. Ideally, a retiree’s portfolio projections will already have planned for these types of declines.
“I don’t think the market environment is one where you do nothing and completely pull back,” Boudreaux said.
“You want to just look at how you can be smart and selective about some of the choices you want to make,” he said.
One key move for most retirees may be to rebalance, Boudreaux said, as retirement portfolios tend to lean either too conservative or too aggressive.
As inflation has soared to historic highs, it would be wise for retirees to do a reality check on just how much higher prices have affected their spending, Boudreaux said.
By evaluating the last month or two, retirees can see whether their spending is in line with their expectations, or if it has been more or less.
When it comes to big-ticket items, it may be best to wait.
“Be cautious with purchase decisions right now, especially around cars or homes,” Boudreaux said.
Even amid market and inflation challenges, there are strategies retirees can use to get ahead.
By delaying Social Security for as long as possible — up to age 70 — retirees may increase the size of their monthly checks. From full retirement age — 66 or 67, depending on year of birth — to age 70, benefits grow 8% per year, Curtis noted.
As those checks are adjusted annually for inflation, having a bigger benefit base will also mean bigger increases. In 2023, estimates show the cost-of-living adjustment could be 8.7%, well above the 5.9% boost beneficiaries saw in 2022.
By carefully planning for Medicare eligibility at age 65, retirees can try to mitigate their exposure to income-related monthly adjustment amounts, or IRMAAs, that prompt additional charges for Medicare Parts B and D based on modified adjusted gross income, Curtis said.
Another bright spot: Retirees may now have a tremendous opportunity to travel, Boudreaux said.
As the dollar has become stronger, the cost of a trip to Europe may be significantly reduced.
Moreover, new fare sales and lower gas prices may also make it more appealing now to book a flight or hit the road.