(BPT) - Summer is vacation season. However, before the week or two of fun begins comes the hard part - planning and packing. There are so many things to consider depending on the type of experience a person wants to have and what they need to bring along.
Now picture preparing for a 30-year vacation. As life expectancy increases, that's essentially what retirement could be for many Americans. Their 'luggage' or financial strategy has to accommodate routine expenses like food and shelter, healthcare costs, lifestyle needs and perhaps even a legacy for loved ones or favorite philanthropy.
Yet research shows that when it comes to retirement planning, many Americans are flying blind. According to Northwestern Mutual's 2015 Planning & Progress Study, while not having sufficient savings to retire comfortably is a leading financial fear, more than a third of adults don't even know how much income they need to retire. The lack of confidence in financial preparedness may explain why Americans are increasingly delaying retirement involuntarily. The same study found that among those individuals expecting to work beyond the traditional retirement age of 65, six in 10 believe it will be from necessity rather than choice.
'Retirement should be synonymous with personal fulfillment - whether that means staying active professionally or enjoying a life of leisure,' says Rebekah Barsch, vice president of planning, Northwestern Mutual. 'In an age of ebbing social safety nets and rising costs, proactive financial planning is your ticket to having the flexibility to shape the retirement experience you've worked hard to enjoy.'
The good news is that it's rarely too late to take control of your financial situation. Barsch suggests considering the following 'retirement vacation checklist' to help assess whether your financial foundation can support your desired lifestyle through your life span:
* Determine your 'retirement destination' - Like an actual vacation, what you need to take depends on where you're going and how long you're planning to stay. So, if your goal is to retire as early as possible and lead a life of leisure without working for supplemental income, you'll likely need more resources than if you choose to remain in the workforce as long as possible or opt for some form of employment during retirement.
* Confer with your 'travel companion' ­-If you're retiring with a spouse or partner, it's essential to ensure your retirement lifestyle expectations and priorities are aligned. However, maintaining open and ongoing communication about financial matters may be harder than it sounds. In fact, Northwestern Mutual research shows that Americans prefer discussing death and intimacy over money matters. Overcoming this discomfort, especially for decision-making around difficult topics like long-term care, is vital as it could impact your significant other as well as your adult children.
* Consult an expert -While the Internet has empowered us to become a nation of DIYers, there are still some areas where professional guidance is valuable. Just like a travel agent is a key resource for navigating more complex travel itineraries, a professional advisor can objectively look at your finances and goals, share insights on the merits of various risk and investment solutions and devise a strategy to meet immediate and future needs.
'The benefits of being proactive are clear,' continues Barsch. 'Our research consistently shows that people who are disciplined about financial planning are happier in retirement and enjoy a better quality of life, which ultimately is what it's all about.'
For more resources and information to improve financial planning and prepare for retirement, visit NM.com.