5 things to do in the 5 years before retirement

5 Things to Do Before You Retire
5 Things to Do Before You Retire

The five years leading up to retirement are your last chance to pay down debt and seriously fund your nest egg. Taking care of a few odds and ends can make your retirement years more enjoyable. Here's how to boost your retirement finances during your final years in the workforce.

1. Tighten up your budget. Start living on your likely retirement budget a few years before you retire so you can ease into your more restrictive fixed income. Getting used to a smaller budget before you have to live on it can help make the transition easier. This way, if you find that the tight budget is too restrictive, you still have the option to delay retirement for a few more years and build up additional savings. What you don't want to do is start drawing Social Security, leave your long-term employer and tap into your retirement accounts, only to find that your retirement budget is much too strict for your liking.

2. Add catch-up contributions to your savings. Older workers have the option to add a catch-up amount to their retirement savings accounts. Try to max out your 401(k) and individual retirement account, if at all possible, during your final five pre-retirement years. If that's out of reach, fund these accounts as thoroughly as you can. The tax breaks and employer contributions these accounts often provide will give you even more padding for retirement.

Older employees with specific types of health insurance also have the option of adding extra money to a health savings account. Your health care expenses are likely to increase during retirement, and having this dedicated money for health care that follows you into retirement could help a lot with those bills.

3. Meet with a financial advisor. If you're not sure how you should best take distributions from your retirement accounts or if you will need to work part-time during retirement, a financial advisor can talk you through your options. A good fee-only financial advisor won't try to sell you any particular products. He or she can take a look at your current financial situation, get a feel for your retirement needs and help you make decisions about your annual retirement budget.

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4. Fix up your house. If you're planning to stay in your current home for your retirement years, now is the time to tackle major and minor repairs that might need to be taken care of in the next 20 or 30 years. Perhaps you need to replace your roof, re-run your gutters or revamp your appliances. If you spend the money to do these things now, you won't have to draw form your retirement savings to pay for them later. A few upgrades now can prevent the need for expensive and urgent repairs in retirement that will strain your fixed budget.

If you're planning to move or downsize shortly after retirement, use this time to get your home in shape to sell quickly and well. A higher home sales price can boost your nest egg and give you a higher standard of living in retirement. And if you find a new home that costs less, you will appreciate the smaller mortgage payments over many years to come.

5. Pay off your vehicle and home. On the verge of retirement, you want to be in as little debt as possible. This will help smooth your budget and make it easier to live a full life on a restricted income. Make extra mortgage payments so that you can pay off your home before or shortly after you retire. If you're selling, you'll have even more equity to carry over when buying a new home.

Also, make sure that you will have a reliable vehicle for the next several years, and get it paid off. If your family has two vehicles, consider whether you will still need two if you and your spouse are both retiring. Then, make the effort to pay down your vehicles so that you have even fewer payments coming out of your retirement budget.

It will take serious discipline and financial focus to get your nest egg in shape during the five years leading up to retirement. But a few sacrifices now will help you get your retirement off to a great start.

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