There’s so much you really can’t predict about your retirement days. Will you be happily married? Living in a warmer climate? Traveling the world? Tending lots of cats? Maybe you can’t know exactly how you’ll be feeling at 62 or 75 or whatever your magic retirement age turns out to be. But even with a less-than-crystal-clear future, you can take steps right now to assure a happy retirement. And wherever you are in your work life, that’s where you’ll start. Here’s how:

One million dollars is a good guess of how much you’ll need

According to the Motley Fool, you can avoid being one of the 46 percent of Americans who worry they won’t have enough to retire by planning a specific amount now that you’ll need to retire. While that number can vary by person, a good starting point is, ah, $1 million. If that’s too staggering to even contemplate on your current retirement savings plan, you might want to draw up a scenario that’s more specific to you. A good starting assumption is that you’ll withdraw four percent of your base savings the first year after you retire. You’d combine that amount with whatever you think you’ll claim from Social Security annually in that first year and see if the total looks like something you could live on.


Another way to establish how much you’ll need to save before that big retirement party: subtract the amount you’re expecting to earn from Social Security from the amount you’ll need to have to spend after you retire. Make sure to include hidden expenses like a new car if you’ll be moving to a place with less public transportation than you had in your working life, or greens fees if you’re going to be a golfer now. Once you’ve got a decently reliable figure, subtract it from your projected Social Security benefit and then multiply the remainder by 25.

Choose a retirement age that won’t leave you broke

Take a deep breath before trying to figure out how you’ll save that type of money, remembering that interest accrual makes money grow faster.  But you still need to be realistic when you establish how much you’ll need to save to meet your financial goals before you retire. If you’re already attached to retiring at a particular age, maybe because that’s when your parents or friends retired, you may not realize there are reasons to be flexible with that choice.

For one thing, Social Security pays more over the life of your checks the later you retire, with increased benefits between 63 and 70.  In general, it’s more important to be able to meet your savings and investment goals than it is to retire on your preferred timetable.

Make more money

Easier said than done, right? But the years leading up to retirement are no time to slack off on producing income. Here’s why: If you make more money, you’ll have more to contribute both to IRAs and nonretirement investment accounts, which are taxable but can pay seven percent interest compared to the fractional interest you can earn in a traditional savings account.

Second, you’re not done amassing your Social Security earnings yet. The Social Security Administration bases your payments on your top 35 years of income. If you can have even a few stellar years of earnings, it could boost those checks considerably. Another nice thing about the income-boosting strategy is that you can take this step even if you’re in your 20s. The SSA adjusts the earnings it uses for inflation, so any high-earning year can aid your happy retirement.

While it might not be your ideal, you can increase your paycheck any number of ways, from taking a promotion at work to finding a side gig like Airbnb, Uber or online tutoring. You’ll be exchanging free time now for more security after retirement and the ability to live your life to the fullest.

Invest in your health

You would not be the first one to pay so much attention to the money side of reaching retirement that you’ve destroyed your health and can’t enjoy it when it’s time. If you start now to establish a work-life balance that allows for plenty of fresh air and activity, that’s the second type of happy retirement planning. Exercise at any age will help you control weight, combat heart disease and high blood pressure and even depression and stroke.

If you add more exercise to your life during your working years, you’ll be more likely to keep it up after retirement. That should also postpone or prevent the sort of high medical bills that accompany chronic diseases that are often preventable. To get a move on, literally, start stretching and walking during the day, even if you work a high-stress desk job (or especially if you work a high-stress desk job). Take the steps when you come in and return from lunch, for example, and walk before work, join a ballroom dance class, that sort of thing.

Also, work on staying mentally alert into your golden years. Recent research has shown that everything from exercise to eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help deter memory loss and build brain power. There’s also a health-finance tie-in. The longer you can put off assisted living, home health aides or nursing homes, the more money you’ll have to enjoy your retirement. And who wouldn’t rather have cruises and a tiny home for retirement instead of spending that $1 million installing handicap ramps and paying for adult day care?