Plan now, thrive later: Keys to retirement success

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For 30 years, Dave Bernard worked with startups in Silicon Valley, assembling sales teams for various small companies. He enjoyed being a jack-of-all-trades and meeting a lot of people through his work.

Then in 2010, Dave unexpectedly lost his job after his company was acquired and his department phased out. “I was 53 years old and wondering, what if I don’t get another job after this? Retirement’s really not all that far down the road.”

Dave had been planning on retiring around age 62, and found himself having to adjust that plan. He and his wife had saved using 401(k)s and IRAs, and had always tried to live frugally, knowing that money would no longer be coming in at the same pace during retirement. “Our big focus was to get rid of those expenses hanging over our heads,” Dave says. “That meant getting the mortgage paid off. The kids’ college. Get the credit cards cleaned up.”

In the meantime, Dave’s wife continued working, which provided them with healthcare and added to their savings. Dave started looking for a project to keep busy while he sought out another job. He decided to start a blog on retirement. “I figured that would be of the most use to me going forward because what I would learn, I could actually apply to myself and to my situation,” Dave says. He launched his “Retirement – Only the Beginning” blog back in 2010 and has worked on it ever since.

Dave eventually found another job and went back to work for a few years. He advises others as they begin approaching retirement—including those who may find themselves unexpectedly unemployed, like he did—to focus on the numbers first. “Break out your spreadsheet and figure out, OK, what are my costs, what are the expenses we have to deal with? Where’s my income going to come from?” Dave says. “See if you can identify if you’re going to have a shortfall. And if you are, while you’re still working, that’s the time that you can take some active measures and fix it, whether that means pushing for a raise or getting a second job.”

As he started blogging, Dave learned another important lesson. “You want to look beyond the financial. What are you going to do to have a fulfilling, exciting, fun retirement beyond the money?” He stresses the importance of taking the time to plan not only for your finances, but also for how you might be spending your time. “What are you going to do to avoid being bored? Try new things and don’t be afraid to explore.”

Dave retired permanently about a year and a half ago. He loves his relaxing lifestyle, and he especially enjoys being able to dedicate more time to fitness and taking hikes with his wife. “When you’re working full time, you don’t have time to do much besides catch up on your sleep and play with the kids a bit and then get ready for Monday,” he says. “Now, I started studying French. I’ve got a wonderful garden going on outside. I’m becoming kind of a history buff. Now I’ve got the time to do all these things that I love to do, so I am just doing it.”

The financial confidence that came from smart spending and saving translates into Dave’s fulfilling retirement. “You have to get the financial side taken care of on the front end if you want to be able to enjoy that non-financial side, just keeping busy and engaged and exploring life.”

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