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4 Steps to Making Sure You're Ready to Retire

Maurie Backman, The Motley Fool

Retirement is a milestone many people look forward to, but if you go in unprepared, it's a decision you'll likely regret. If you want to enjoy your golden years to the fullest, take the following steps to make sure you're ready for them.

1. Map out a budget

You may be planning on a certain lifestyle in retirement, but how much will it actually cost you? The best way to find out is to set up a budget for your golden years that maps out your different expenses, from housing to transportation to food to healthcare. That way, you'll know how much income you'll need access to. Creating that budget might also allow you to make smarter choices for your retirement. For example, if you see that staying in your current home will force you to spend too much money for comfort, you may instead opt to downsize or relocate.

2. Assess your savings

Hopefully, you're approaching your golden years with savings in a dedicated retirement plan, whether it's an IRA or a 401(k). But how much money will that actually give you on a monthly or yearly basis? Figuring that out is crucial if you want to avoid financial struggles as a senior, so once you have your budget mapped out, you'll need to see if your savings can support the lifestyle you're hoping for.

Senior couple dancing on the beach

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

The best way to evaluate your savings is to establish a yearly withdrawal rate you're comfortable with and see what it gives you. Many financial experts suggesting removing about 4% of your savings balance annually, as doing so increases your likelihood of having your savings last 30 years. This means that if you're sitting on $800,000 in savings, you'd be looking at $32,000 in annual income.

Of course, your IRA or 401(k) might represent just one source of retirement income; there's also Social Security, as well as income from a part-time job you might choose to hold down. Be sure to tally up your total anticipated income when determining whether you're ready to leave your career behind.

3. Have a strategy for claiming Social Security

Even if you have a healthy amount of personal savings for your golden years, you'll still want to make the most of your Social Security benefits. That's why you must put some thought into when to file.

You're entitled to collect the monthly benefit your earnings history entitles you to at full retirement age, which, depending on your year of birth, is either 66, 67, or 66 and a specific number of months. However, you can claim benefits as early as age 62 or as late as 70. Filing at any point before full retirement age will reduce the amount you get to collect each month, while waiting beyond full retirement age will boost your benefits for life. Also, you technically don't have to sign up for Social Security by age 70, but there's no financial incentive to wait past that point, since you can't grow your benefits by delaying them any longer.

There are different factors that should go into your filing decision. First, how badly do you need the money? If you don't have enough savings, delaying benefits to boost them could make sense. Your health should also play a role, though, because if you have reason to believe you won't live a very long life, then it generally pays to claim benefits as early as possible (assuming you're single; if you're married and have a spouse who's likely to outlive you, that rule-of-thumb changes). The point, therefore, is to understand the implications of taking benefits at different ages and land on the one that makes the most sense for you and your family.

4. Know how you'll spend your days

The last thing you want to do is retire and end up bored and miserable. Seniors risk falling victim to depression when they lose their sense of routine and struggle to fill their days in a meaningful way. Rather than let that happen to you, come up with some engaging activities in advance that you're likely to enjoy. You might sign up for classes at a local college, volunteer for an organization you support, or turn a hobby you love into a side business, whether it's crafting, baking, or gardening.

Retirement can be a truly wonderful period of life -- as long as you're ready for it. Follow these steps to help ensure that you don't leave the workforce prematurely and regret it after the fact.

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