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7 things I do now to prepare for a successful retirement

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These days, as my retirement time draws closer and closer, I have a new mantra. With everything from my money-saving strategy to my work plans, I’m constantly reminded: Finish strong!

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t always heed the advice of financial experts in my youth. From following my heart in a career choice that I was told early on would be more exciting than lucrative, to my habit in the early 2000s of refinancing my mortgage whenever I needed help. extra money, I’ve often done exactly what the financial advisers say you shouldn’t do.

I can’t say that I regret anything. My career as a journalist has been fascinating and fulfilling, and these home refinance decisions have helped me live a better life, raising my son as a single mother from an early age, forging a strong bond with him during regular trips to discover the United States. , Mexico and Canada, and helping him through his university years.

Yet, over the past 10 or so years, I realized I had to get serious. I adopted the attitude that there is still hope for us latecomers in retirement planning.

With a bit of catching up in mind, here are seven things I’m doing now to prepare for a successful retirement that will include lots of travel.

1. Keep an eye on my social security account

For years, I practically ignored the letters I received each year from the Social Security Administration. But a few years ago, I decided to take a closer look online. I found it easy to create a secure account (explained in this PDF).

Once you have an account, the SocialSecurity.gov website offers a wealth of information about your expected benefits, lifetime income history, and your full retirement age (FRA). It also includes a handy sliding scale that lets you determine what your advantage would be now, a year from now, or at any random date in the future. I found it helpful in letting me know what to expect and how to adjust my 401K and retirement savings schedule accordingly.

The author near Sedona, Arizona (Photo credit: Cindy Barks)

2. Accept freelance writing assignments

As a news enthusiast and career journalist, I have long been immersed in politics, government, and world news. I love it. But about 7 years ago I decided I needed another writing tool. Because I have always traveled at every opportunity, I decided to start a travel blog. To tie in with my location in Arizona, as well as my interest in places near and far, I called it NearandFarAZ.

It’s a labor of love, but I soon realized that I didn’t like trying to “monetize” my blog. I liked the idea of ​​freelance writing and soon landed an assignment with a trail magazine on a historic trail in my community, which led to a variety of wonderful writing opportunities focused on hike over the years. A few other freelance assignments also came up, then in 2019 I started writing articles and taking pictures for The journey awaits you and have since written over 150 articles.

Besides being one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had, freelance writing has given me an extra source of income while I plan my retirement strategy. There are many other side gig opportunities (educating online, selling online, or renting a spare room or second home) that would serve the same purpose. I wish I had started earlier!

Pro Tip: If you love your side job, like me, it could be a great source of extra income when you retire.

3. Pay off my mortgage sooner

I was aware of the financial advice that suggests that if you have a low interest rate on your mortgage, which I did, you might want to prioritize growing your savings before paying off your mortgage. For various reasons, I gave up on this strategy a few years ago and started putting all the extra money I had into my mortgage.

At the start of 2021, my mortgage was paid off about 4 years ahead of schedule, and I have to say it gave me a huge sense of freedom. Of course, everyone’s situation is different, but for me, the morale boost of having my house paid off was worth going against conventional wisdom.

4. Take a free course on retirement strategies

I recently participated in a free two-night course on retirement planning that was offered at my local public library. A quick internet search will reveal many opportunities for in-person or online courses. The course I took was sponsored by a nonprofit organization and provided information on tax trends that could affect Social Security benefits, as well as financial pitfalls to avoid during retirement.

The course also came with a chance to meet one-on-one with the fiduciary financial advisor who led the class. The meeting turned out to be a very useful assessment of my finances and retirement prospects. I’ve since made a few adjustments to my savings based on that advice, like switching to a Roth IRA rather than the tax-deferred programs I was focusing on.

The author using his points while traveling in the Czech Republic
The author using his points during a trip to the Czech Republic (Photo credit: Cindy Barks)

5. Save credit card points for future trips

I have accumulated and used tens of thousands of credit card points over the years and have been able to cover the majority of the costs for major trips like the one I took to the Czech Republic in 2018. Recently, however, I focused on accumulation rather than use. My theory is that during my working years, I have a little more income to pay for plane tickets and hotel rooms.

I’ve accepted several new airline and hotel credit cards over the past few years, and have been happy to see my point balances add up. I hope to have plenty of points and miles to use in my early years of retirement.

Pro tips: It is important to remember that this strategy involves some risk, as some experts predict that the value of credit card points will decrease in the coming years. Some have already done so, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for pending changes. Credit card holders should also check if and when their points expire. In addition, it goes without saying that you should pay your balance regularly in order to take full advantage of the advantages of credit card points.

The coastline of Portland, Maine
Portland, Maine (Photo credit: Cindy Barks)

6. Search for possible retreat places

While I don’t tend to go to places to check out their retirement potential, I often arrive at a destination and think, “This would be a great place to hang out.

A few of my favorite places in the western United States are the city of Paso Robles on the central California coast, the Oregon coast, and my all-time favorite city, San Francisco. On the East Coast, I loved Portland, Maine, and Virginia Beach, Virginia. I already live in one of the most popular retirement destinations in the country, so I could always choose to stay in Arizona as well.

I realize that many things will go into this decision, including the cost of living, which tends to be higher near the ocean and in larger cities, and the location of my family members. Still, having spent my whole life in landlocked places, it would be wonderful to be a short drive from the beach!

The Open Road and the Nevada Mountains
Photo credit: Cindy Barks

7. Keep traveling because you never know

For me, one of the great benefits of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to take advantage of travel opportunities when they arise, because you never know when the scenario will change.

Although the pandemic forced me to cancel two dream trips to Sicily and Florida early on, I have since been able to take trips to Nevada, Virginia Beach, Vancouver and the central California coast over the past last 2 years. Each of these trips occurred during a positive window of the pandemic, followed by periods when travel became more difficult again.

So my advice is to keep traveling when you can and don’t put off your travels until you retire. Although I hope to travel Continued after retirement, I just don’t see the logic in postponing travel altogether.

Overall, while I know it would have been better to start planning my retirement sooner, I remain hopeful that it is possible to recover from the early missteps and shape a successful retirement by taking more steps. late in life for finish strong.