Wealth Column: Retirement planning by decade

Bruce Helmer and Peg Webb, financial advisers at Wealth Enhancement Group and co-hosts of “Your Money” on KLKS 100.1 FM on Sunday mornings.
Bruce Helmer and Peg Webb, financial advisers at Wealth Enhancement Group and co-hosts of “Your Money” on KLKS 100.1 FM on Sunday mornings.

Even if you are close to retirement, it can seem like a vague concept.

You know you should be doing something. You read the horror stories about people retiring with nothing. But what do you do?

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to retirement, there are some decade-by-decade guidelines you can follow to make sure you are taking the right steps at the right time to give yourself peace of mind.

20s – Don’t Hamstring Yourself

We know. You don’t want to hear it. Your 20s are about getting education and experience, settling into your career and, yes, having a little fun. Stop nagging me!

We can’t. Time is the most powerful ingredient in your retirement stew. Interest compounds over time, and the little bit your save now will have a tremendous impact later. Get in the practice of setting aside a little bit each month. That practice will stick with you throughout your career.


As importantly, don’t dig yourself into a hole. Make sure the money you are spending on education is netting a return on that investment. Don’t bury yourself with credit card debt. The difference between paying interest and earning it is huge.

30s – Build the foundation

Now it’s time to start thinking about your retirement plans and goals. If your employer offers a 401(k), begin by maxing out your employer match, and try to make a gradual increase every year.

If you did get yourself into debt in earlier years, make it a priority to pay off your loans, especially if they are high interest. The debt you pay off now is interest you won’t be paying in the future.

40s – Reassess and diversify

Now it starts to get complicated. Your career path is well along, and you have a little more financial flexibility on paper. But your kids are growing and thinking about college. At the same time, you might be thinking about helping your own parents.

Now is a good time to reach out to an adviser, if you haven’t already. They can help you start to diversify your portfolio in terms of risk, but also to avoid getting hit with a huge tax bill when you retire.

50s – Protect and grow your assets

Now you should be thinking defensively. Make sure you have an emergency fund with at least six months of living expenses, so you don’t have to tap into your retirement assets or take on credit card debt. If you are behind in your retirement savings, use catchup provisions to put more into your 401(k).

Review your estate. Make sure you have set your beneficiaries and have your health care directives in order. This is also a good time to think about long-term care insurance.

60s – Check and double check

Set a retirement age that offers a little wiggle room based on market performance. Decide when you are going to begin taking Social Security and make sure your reported earnings are accurate.


Look at your large expenses (such as your mortgage) that you will be carrying with you and be realistic about how that might impact your timeline. Then, think about the kind of retirement you are going to want.

Do you want to travel? Spend more time with grandkids? Make sure you are retiring with the funds available.

Of course, this is only a partial list, but the time is now to make sure you are meeting certain retirement benchmarks. If you aren’t meeting them now, it will be more difficult to meet them in the future, so be proactive, work with your adviser, and get your timeline in order.

Bruce Helmer and Peg Webb are financial advisers at Wealth Enhancement Group and co-hosts of “Your Money” on News Radio 830 WCCO on Sunday mornings. Email Bruce and Peg at Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Wealth Enhancement Advisory Services, LLC, a registered investment adviser. Wealth Enhancement Group and Wealth Enhancement Advisory Services are separate entities from LPL.
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