Financial Planning Checklist: Preparing for Retirement

About the Author

michael mcgrath

true Michael McGrath, MS, CFP®, CLU®

Regional Director/Partner
Valencia, California


  • Information presented is general in nature and should not be viewed as a comprehensive analysis of the topics discussed. Content does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice nor is it intended to supplement professional individualized advice. Asset allocation and diversification do not assure or guarantee better performance and cannot eliminate the risk of investment losses. Future financial conditions and events can never be accurately predicted. No analysis, plan, or report has the ability to accurately predict the future.
  • Working with a qualified advisor and/or diversifying your portfolio do not guarantee investment success, and does not ensure that a client or prospective client will experience a higher level of performance or results.

Author: Mike McGrath 

The idea of waking up late on a Tuesday morning and having nothing to do other than lunch with a friend and/or a long hike sounds like a pipe dream when we are in our 20s and 30s.  If we were smart enough then (or had proper guidance advice), we would have started saving then--at least what little we had left after mortgages, braces, and car repairs.  However, as we move through our mid-40s into our 50s, our unpreparedness feels like Monday evening when we aren’t quite ready for Tuesday morning to arrive.

As the passive thoughts of a long-off retirement progress into a serious and somewhat panicked conversation about what we need to save, how we will spend our non-working years, and the legacies we all want to leave, the magnitude of it all may feel overwhelming.

At this juncture, the best advice is to simply break it down into manageable pieces and focus on them one at a time.  Each element of our planning, if done correctly and/or with the advice of a qualified financial planner, will build upon the previous piece, ultimately establishing the foundation we need the most: peace of mind.

While I would start with the “softer” portions of retirement planning (or financial planning in general), such as a discussion of how you want to spend your time, what goals have ultimate importance, or the kinds of charitable endeavors in which you want to engage, we can’t ignore the blocking and tackling aspects of knowing and understanding our investments and retirement accounts.

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Most of my clients want to understandably focus on what they have saved and, more than that, how to maximize what they have saved.  Narrowing that further, one of the largest retirement-related assets most of us have is our 401(k) account(s).  So, it seems appropriate to discuss some best practices when it comes to maximizing these accounts while simultaneously looking at the aspects of retirement planning of which we can control.  After all, markets come and go, portfolios go up and down (and hopefully back up again), and life changes.  However, if we can discipline ourselves to focus on what we can influence and stick with the program, we can develop the sense of security  we all crave.  With that in mind, here are some thoughts for consideration specific to addressing one’s 401(k) and retirement readiness:

Retirement Readiness, a Pre-Retirement Checklist: 

  1. Allocation:  The financial media has spilled a lot of ink over the years giving general advice about how we should allocate our 401(k)s.  Some of these even break down to specific formulas, like subtracting your age from 100 and using that number as the amount of equities one should own in his/her portfolio.  Keep in mind, these are, in fact, general rules of thumb and are not intended to replace personalized advice.  I would recommend you look at all of your assets and view them as one cohesive portfolio.  Then, allocate your 401(k) as a portion of that portfolio strategy.
  2. Plan Fees:  Review your Summary Plan Description and discuss with your plan administrator what exactly you are paying in fees within the 401(k) plan.
  3. Fund Fees:  Look up the funds in which you are invested as well as those of the other fund options you have and make sure you are using funds with reasonable fees.  I would emphasize here that they need not necessarily be the cheapest fees.  Cheap doesn’t mean good value.  Good value means good value.  Review with your plan administrator.
  4. Contributions:  Review your budget and determine how much more you can save through your 401(k) plan.  As you are approaching retirement, we need to have a focus and a discipline to invest as much as we can.  If possible, max out the salary deferral contributions and, if appropriate, the catch-up contributions allowed when we are over 50.
  5. Matching Opportunities:  Find out what, if any, matching contributions your company makes and at least contribute that much to the plan.
  6. Plan sponsored advice:  Often, plan sponsors offer advice to participants which can help distinguish between a good investment allocation and the optimal one for you .  They can also answer questions about how mutual funds in the plan are invested and other portfolio or market-level information.  This can help create confidence in your decision making and can lead to better outcomes.
  7. Hire an Advisor:  During a transitional time, such as pre-retirement, this may be the best opportunity to hire a qualified and professional financial advisor to address the many interlocking issues that come with this period.  Having a trusted advisor to discuss everything from hopes, dreams, and fears, down to insurance coverage, trust documents, and investing strategy can be invaluable.

Retirement planning is an opportunity to cast a new vision, seek out new adventures, and develop a meaningful final phase of your life.  To accomplish this, we need to follow our hearts, but also dot our I’s and cross our T’s.  Following some of these practical tips can be a part of what brings us the priceless gift of peace of mind.

I'm always happy to help.

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