The new year is upon us and with it comes the time-honored tradition of making resolutions and setting goals for self-improvement. If you’re looking for ways to make personal changes that could impact your financial picture, as well as your health and well-being, consider the six suggestions below as a starting point.
Making the wealth and health connection
In the 6th Annual Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey, respondents from around the world weighed in on how they’re preparing for retirement. Traditionally, these types of surveys focus more heavily on financial matters. But now, more than ever, people are beginning to better appreciate the role of health in their overall retirement outlook and preparations.
The survey notes, “People see retirement as an active stage of life in which they aspire to stay socially connected, involved in their communities, and continue to work in some capacity. These changes open up the possibility for greater dialogue about the two elements necessary to prepare for retirement: wealth and health.”
To that end, the Aegon survey outlines the following recommendations with the potential to positively impact your wealth and health outlook.
1. Establish your retirement goals – and write them down
If you don’t already have a retirement strategy, it can be helpful to formalize an action plan so you’re saving and managing toward a specific set of goals. Understanding how much money you’ll need in retirement will dictate how much you’ll need to start saving today.
Talking with friends and family about retirement strategies may provide some insight and perspective. An online retirement calculator, like this Retireometer provided by Aegon, will show a snapshot of your preparedness. Of course, a conversation with a financial professional can outline specific considerations and steps to take.
2. Start saving early and make it a habit
No surprise, if you want money in the bank when you retire you’ll need to be disciplined about saving throughout your life. The good news is you’ll find no shortage of retirement savings vehicles.
For starters, take advantage of workplace retirement plans, especially where an employer match is offered. And if you receive a raise or a bonus, adjust your contributions accordingly. (Tempting as it may be, suggest not letting that extra income fall into the “fun money” column of the monthly budget.)
Making regular and automated deposits to a savings account can establish a cushion (emergency fund) and help you avoid tapping retirement funds should unforeseen circumstances arise. While traditional savings accounts don’t promise significant returns, you can still make your money work a little harder by shopping for competitive rates online. Just because the community bank down the street offers free donuts on Saturdays doesn’t mean they offer the best rates for your money. Don’t be afraid to shop around.
3. Think about your back-up plan
As you look at your long-term retirement picture, it’s worth taking into account some of the “what ifs” in life. What if you retire earlier than planned or what if unexpected events throw a major detour your way?
Maintaining the aforementioned emergency fund is a start, but you’ll likely want to account for a more significant plan B should you encounter an illness, disability or the death of a significant other. Preparing for incapacity by establishing advanced medical directives and powers of attorney can help your family avoid financial headaches should something happen to you. Consider life insurance as a potential means for providing some financial stability in the event of unforeseen circumstances – including, obviously, death.
4. Make your health a priority
Just as a formalized financial strategy is critical to achieving your retirement goals, so too is a plan for improving and maintaining your health. Unfortunately, the casual “I’ll try to eat better and exercise a little more” approach probably won’t yield significant or long-term results.
Seeking advice and counsel is important in establishing and solidifying a new routine you’ll adhere to for months and years to come. Consult with professionals including doctors, nutritionists, and fitness trainers to help create a plan that takes into account your current fitness level as well as your goals.
You’ll of course find no shortage of online resources to help guide you on your path to better fitness and improved health. The American Heart Association (AHA) offers these tips for getting started and finding success.
The AHA also offers this helpful article on the connection between diet and heart health with tips on how to eat well and keep it affordable.
5. Incorporate healthy habits (big and small) into your daily routine
Creating a concrete strategy for improved health and adhering to a schedule is important for establishing lifelong habits. But it’s also beneficial to look at the little, everyday things that can add up.
You’ll find the ubiquitous “stairs-instead-of-the-escalator” tip on just about every list. The Cleveland Clinic suggests sneaking physical activity into other aspects of your daily life. Things like parking further away from the entrance to the office/mall/grocery store, stretching and exercising while watching TV, and getting up to move every hour during the day may contribute to improved fitness levels. If you’re able to, try walking or biking to work at least one day a week. Another way to look at it: Whenever possible, take the path of most resistance. Your body will thank you.
While you’re at it, making adjustments to your snack routine can cut calories and help control weight. Ditch the chips and processed foods for healthier snacks like almonds, fresh fruits and vegetables, and low-fat cheeses. Real Simple offers this list of 25 healthy snacks to curb your hunger without blowing your diet. Just be mindful of portion size when snacking.
6. Invest in your greatest asset – yourself
There are plenty no- and low-cost ways for incorporating healthy behaviors into your life. But don’t be afraid to spend a little money if it’ll help you achieve your goals. If the monthly gym membership isn’t providing the motivation you need, consider signing up for regular fitness classes. An instructor and classmates can help hold you accountable to your new routine and provide a social outlet.
Wearable technology, like activity trackers and smart watches, may also provide added incentive to stay active. While they certainly can’t force you to work out, having a means for tracking physical activity, heart rate, and sleep patterns can be beneficial as you monitor your progress. PC Magazine offers this review and comparison of top-rated activity trackers on the market today.
As you create your list of steps to benefit your wealth and health in the new year, you may also find it helpful to think more specifically about the status of your current accounts. A yearly review of your retirement accounts, insurance policies, and estate plan can help you keep your affairs up-to-date. Transamerica’s Advanced Markets Group offers this useful “New Year Checklist: 12 Planning Points to Review.”
Things to Consider
- In establishing your retirement strategy, seek counsel from friends, family and, of course, financial professionals.
- Start saving early and often by making regular and automated contributions to retirement savings accounts and other savings vehicles.
- Make your health a priority in the new year and take the necessary steps to get in shape and maintain your fitness.
- Look to doctors, nutritionists, personal trainers, and other professionals to help you establish an appropriate strategy for your age and fitness level.