Local financial advisors wish you knew these things as you plan for retirement

“This is really a major life change,” said one financial planner, “like having a baby or getting married.”|

What financial planners wish you knew about retirement goes beyond choosing sound investment strategies or fashioning healthy savings targets.

Advisers do recommend making wise financial preparations for the day when you leave behind that 9-to-5 job. Such plans can improve efforts to sock away enough money for your elder years.

But financial planners also want you to reflect on some big-picture questions: What do you want to achieve or enjoy in retirement? What do you hope to leave to your children and heirs? And will you have enough saved up if you live into your 90s?

All this reflection and planning takes work, they say, but the effort can pay dividends.

“It’s not just about the money,” said Michael Gorman, a certified financial planner in Petaluma with Creekside Partners. “This is really a major life change, like having a baby or getting married.”

Not making preparations “is kind of the worst thing you can do,” Gorman added. As you get older, “you’re going to stress.”

What do financial planners wish people grasped about preparing for retirement?

John Kamola, founder of JW Financial Advisors in Santa Rosa, said he wants people to think about when they want to retire and how they’d like to fill their days once they have “a whole week of weekends.”

“Imagine your perfect retirement,” Kamola said. “What does a typical weekday look like?”

Such reflection gets you thinking about what matters most to you, he said. But the goals you set for travel and other desired activities also can help when estimating the amount of money you’ll need to live on.

Among advisers, a common suggestion for both young and old workers is to get started - or to take the next step - in saving and planning.

One easy saving method is through a company retirement plan, such as a 401(k). Put a portion of each paycheck into the plan, and every year see if you can increase the amount.

If you start small and make gradual increases, “you won’t really notice the money out of your check,” said David Brown, president of Encore Wealth Management in Santa Rosa. But decades later “your friends will call you lucky.”

Another suggestion was to get some basic education about finance and investing.

Brandon Grundy, owner of Ridgeview Financial Planning in Santa Rosa, said he wishes more clients understood the basics of how the bond market affects the costs of mortgages and other loans.

In the low-interest-rate environment of the past eight years, money has been relatively cheap to borrow, Grundy said, “but it’s about to get more expensive.” That means those borrowing with variable interest rate loans should consider paying off the debt or refinancing it to a fixed rate.

Credit card debt remains the most expensive debt to carry because it comes with a high interest rate, making it the most important to pay off first, Grundy said. Also, he avoids taking cash advances with such cards because “it’s going to cost me through the nose.”

Plenty of good books and online materials exist on financial matters, Grundy said. One book he finds helpful for those starting out is “Investing for Dummies.”

Advisers urge workers to take a reasonable approach to investing and not seek quick wealth through seemingly magical methods.

Some older workers, hoping to make up for lost time, can be tempted to take big risks in search of quick money, Brown said.

“They have a tendency to be way more aggressive than they should be,” he said.

In contrast, he said, some younger investors may be too conservative in their investment choices.

“The older we get, the more conservative we should get,” said Tina Anders, owner of Anders Wealth Management in Petaluma.

Younger workers have decades to ride out the ups and downs of the stock market, she said. Anders, who recommends clients invest in index mutual funds rather than pick individual stocks, said she encourages investors to resist the temptation to sell during steep downturns in equity prices.

“The market’s on sale when it’s low,” she said. “Hang in there.”

Many advisers work on a fee-only basis, meaning they are paid for their advice but receive no compensation when clients buy certain investment products.

Not surprisingly, financial advisers see a value in crafting a financial plan.

A big aspect of such planning is budgeting, the tracking of income and expenses. It will help in calculating future financial needs.

Gorman said many clients are reluctant to look at expenses because they’re “afraid of what they’re going to find.” When they do, a common response is “I can’t believe what I spend.”

But such calculations at times also can ease minds. Anders said that has been the case for clients worried about spending too much of their children’s inheritance. After the clients compare expected living expenses, assets and the amounts they want to leave their children, she said, “a lot of times they realize ‘we can take more vacations.’?”

Part of planning involves preparing for a long retirement.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time you’re going to live longer than you think you are,” said Brown.

As such, retirees need to consider steps to avoid running out of money in their elder years. That includes having funds on hand near the end of life for higher health care and long-term care costs.

Retirement planning involves facing reality, Kamola said. If you better understand your financial situation, you can work to improve it.

“Because we can’t start making it better,” he said, “unless we take a look at it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285.

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