Retirement might seem like a long way off, and it’s easy to prioritize other, seemingly more urgent, expenses. Brian Ford, Truist’s head of financial wellness, understands that feeling. “When I teach the benefits of saving for retirement, rarely does one of these sessions go by where someone doesn’t say, ‘Man, where were you 30 years ago when I really needed this?’”
Rather than put it off now and worry later, start your strategic retirement planning today. There’s even a simple trick that might motivate you to start saving for the future: envisioning your retirement.
Picture tomorrow to save more today
Financial services company Capital Group conducted an experiment asking half their survey respondents to envision their retirement years. Then they asked all the respondents how much one should save, per paycheck, for retirement. Those who were asked to picture their retirement recommended saving 31% more per paycheck than those who were not asked.1
“When you start to envision what that retirement lifestyle is, it becomes more concrete,” says Ford.
“There’s absolutely a benefit to envisioning oneself in the future,” agrees Truist’s resident expert on the psychology of happiness, Bright Dickson. “Martin Seligman [psychologist and director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center] calls this prospection.” Prospection, put simply, is the act of mentally evaluating possible futures. Doing this is said to fundamentally shape motivation and is an emerging field of research in psychology.2
So how do you start painting that mental picture of your ideal retirement? Start your retirement plan with these tips.
Write down your retirement dreams
Grabbing a journal and writing is a great way to approach envisioning your retirement. You can give yourself writing prompts like what you’re excited about for retirement, like relaxing or traveling. Ford says the next question to ask yourself is if you feel confident you’re on track to reach that goal.
Dickson agrees that when you’re planning for retirement, you can ask yourself questions like if you want to live at the beach or in the mountains, but what might be more important to ask is, how do you want to feel in the future. Do you want to feel safe and cared for? Do you want to feel free of worry?
She also suggests thinking about the other side of envisioning your retirement: not having saved enough. What does that feel like? How will you handle not having enough for retirement? “Sometimes, throwing in some of the potential negative consequences can be really motivating, particularly if they’re far off,” she says.
Talk about retirement with people you trust
If you have a significant other, Ford says discussing retirement with your partner is a good way to prompt yourself to imagine your retirement. It’s also a way to get an idea of how your partner sees your retirement and to work on aligning your goals. Once you’ve figured out some common goals for your retirement, you can adjust your savings for those goals. “Get that other person on the same page with this vision and say, ‘Look, if this is our vision, if this is what we want, we need to spend less here. Let’s envision this together,’” says Ford.
But you’re not limited to significant others—you can start a conversation about retirement and bounce ideas off any friend or loved one. Try suggesting ideas for each other’s retirement years. Your friend might see you experiencing retirement in a way you hadn’t considered.
Or talk to people in your life who are already retired to see how they approached their golden years. Ask what they wish they knew about strategic retirement planning. “Do you have an aunt, uncle, grandparent, or someone you trust?” asks Ford. He suggests starting a conversation with that person and ask, "Am I thinking about retirement the right way?”
Create a retirement vision board
Take the visual route, and piece together your own vision board for your retirement. You can craft an old-school one with poster board and a bunch of magazines or create an online vision board.
Start with a mental picture of how you want your retirement to look and feel, and then begin your search for visuals that support this vision. Let the images you find inspire you with new ideas, too. Gather all the words and pictures that ring true for you; then map them out on your vision board to create a design that appeals to you. Your vision board can be full of overlapping images or go minimal with just a few.
Once you’ve finished it, display the vision board where you’ll see it every day—next to your desk, as your phone’s wallpaper, whatever works for you. Take time to really look at your board daily.
Writing, talking, or creating: Use whichever envisioning tactic you find most appealing. “Any way in which you goal-set normally will probably work for this,” Dickson says.
Avoid the “someday scaries”
People might not think about retirement because it’s a long way off or doesn’t seem important yet, or because the thought of saving enough feels overwhelming. But don’t forget about the advantages of compound interest. Even if you save just a little now, the more you save over time, the more interest you earn, and the faster your nest egg grows.
If you feel like you aren’t on track for retirement or you just don’t know if you are, there are retirement calculators that can clarify this for you.
And if you’re not on track to meet your goal? Don’t get down on yourself, and don’t be afraid. “That’s just a math problem,” says Dickson. “The equation doesn’t work; you need to either adjust your retirement goal or adjust your contributions.”
Ford says the retirement calculator can motivate you to face reality: “If I continue on this current pace of saving and investing, does it look like I’m going to be somewhere within that universe?”
Plan for that great day
Strategic retirement planning puts your future into focus and can help you adjust your vision of how that far-off time will look and feel. Whether you picture your future or not, it will arrive, and you’ll either be ready for it or you won’t. Envisioning your retirement helps set the psychological expectation that that day will come, “and I want that day to be a great day,” says Ford.