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4 steps to creating a retirement income plan that works for you

When it’s time to retire, creating a retirement income paycheck to replace your work paycheck requires careful planning. Here are four steps you can take to turn years of savings into income.

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4 min read |

You’ve been building your financial foundation for decades. So when it’s finally time to retire, replacing your work paycheck with a retirement income paycheck—and maintaining a sense of security—requires a solid strategy.

You likely have your own vision for retirement—you may want to golf every day, or visit family once a month, or sign up for ballroom dancing lessons. “Identifying your priorities and personalizing your strategy is a key part to turning years of contributions into retirement income,” says Heather Winston, financial professional and product director for retirement income solutions at Principal®.

Here are four steps to help you put those plans and priorities to paper and begin building a solid retirement income plan.

Step 1: Define what retirement means for you.

What do you envision doing in retirement—traveling, staycationing, working part-time? Those first active years of retirement may look a lot like the last years of work, in terms of spending. So it may be a good idea to customize your budget for the go-go years, the slow-go years, and the no-go years.

It depends on your personal situation. Winston says the first 5 to 10 years of retirement look different compared to when you’re in your mid-70s, and the picture can be significantly different when you’re in your early 80s and beyond.

If you have a spouse or partner, consider whether you plan to retire at the same time and whether your goals align. Your health and wellbeing may be a factor, and your needs may be different as the two of you age, so remain flexible no matter when you assume you’ll retire

Step 2: Analyze your financial situation.

Review your current asset allocation and how it’s working for you in your retirement accounts and investment portfolio. When you’re no longer saving but instead, spending down your accumulated assets, you still need some investments for growth. How much? It depends on both your tolerance (and capacity) for risk.

Also consider your expected income sources during retirement. Include both guaranteed income (like Social Security, pensions, and annuities) and variable income (like retirement accounts, a part-time job, and rental income). Make note of debts you’ll have in retirement.

Then estimate how long your savings may last—accounting for expected and unexpected lifestyle changes over the years. Keep in mind that healthcare costs are the largest unknown expense you’ll have and can impact the money you’ve saved.

Get a step-by-step guide, with a printable retirement budgeting worksheet. Read “Map out your retirement budget.

If this feels overwhelming, a financial professional can help.

Step 3: Evaluate your options and adjust what you can.

Don’t worry if you’ve done the math and your analysis shows you may not achieve your retirement goals. It’s never too late to make changes to manage expenses and boost savings, especially if you’re still working.

What you can do depends on your timing: Are you working another five years or more, or is your retirement date drawing near? Either way, here are some things to manage expenses and increase savings.

Step 4: Choose retirement income solutions.

After you’ve evaluated your current situation and goals, a financial professional can suggest retirement income solutions that make sense for you.

Your income plan could include:

  • savings from your retirement accounts, such as an employer-sponsored 401(k) or 403(b) plan or an IRA,
  • options like income annuities, individual bonds and other fixed income investments, mutual funds, and bank accounts, or
  • a combination of both.

“I also think it’s good to set aside one year of cash at the start of each year to supplement your annual income coming from other sources like annuities, pensions, Social Security, and rental properties, for example,” Winston says. “Keeping those funds in a more liquid account—such as an interest-bearing bank account or money market fund—could mean fewer concerns about market movements or creating a monthly paycheck.”

Pay attention to the details. Winston says when evaluating choices for generating retirement income, consider the differences in fees and expenses, as well as tax and legal implications (creditor protections and required minimum distributions), for each option. Also consider your risk tolerance and the length of time before you retire.

“By taking a planned approach to creating a retirement income paycheck, you help reduce your chances of outliving your savings. Because no one wants that, right?” Winston says. “Plus, when you know you can’t outlive it, you’re not afraid to spend your money and enjoy your life more.”

What's next?

Log in to your Principal account to see how you’re doing toward your goals. Don’t have an employer-sponsored retirement account? We can help you set up your own retirement savings with an IRA or Roth IRA account.