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Published: Jan 01, 2018 6 min read
Mixed race couple looking out to sea from a jetty,
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Retirement, like all life stages, is a work in progress. Whether you've been out of the paid workforce for days or decades, there's always room for tweaks to improve your finances—and your fun quotient. "No matter what step you're at, take some time to say, 'what's next?'" advises Keith Lawrence, co-author of Your Retirement Quest.

Here are three steps for making your retirement even better in 2018:

Check Your Spending

It’s common to worry about your spending rate in retirement. A conservative way to ensure your money will last is to avoid dipping into your principal and instead let the income and investment gains your portfolio generates cover your living expenses, along with Social Security and any other income sources.

If your portfolio isn’t big enough to generate enough income, or the markets go into a prolonged slump, a general rule of thumb holds that you can annually withdraw 4% of your nest egg—regardless of its size—and never run out of money throughout retirement. While some financial experts have questioned the sustainability of the so-called 4% rule amid expectations of lower future investment returns, it’s still a reasonable starting point, many advisors say.

It’s important to note that this 4% should be enough to cover both your regular expenditures and one-time items like a new roof or a big vacation, says B. Kelly Graves, a certified financial planner in Charlotte. “Retirees should save up for the large expenses and build a kitty for them,” he says.

A tool like T. Rowe Price’s retirement income calculator can give you an estimate of whether your portfolio is on track to meet your spending goals in retirement. The tool estimates how much of your monthly income will come from your own portfolio versus Social Security, pensions and any other income sources, and projects how long your savings might last.

If your goal is to spend, say, $2,000 each month from your investments, you can ask your brokerage firm to set up a "paycheck": the firm will transfer the desired amount each month from your investment portfolio to a checking or savings account. (It's best to create a "cash bucket" for this purpose, so you're not forced to sell stocks in a down market to generate the needed amount.) It gives many retirees peace of mind to replicate the paycheck they got while working, says Jay Hummel, head of direct sales and service at American Century Investments.

Take That Big Trip

You want to ensure a sustainable spending rate in retirement so you don’t run out of money. But you don’t want to be so conservative that you miss out on the fun that’s your reward for a lifetime of hard work. If you’re not comfortable doing the math yourself, a good financial planner can assess your situation and give you permission to spend. (Certified financial planners have passed a rigorous exam and must adhere to a code of ethics.)

If your budget and your health allow, don’t delay checking big-ticket activities off your bucket list, Hummel says. That means, go ahead and take that wine tour of Italy, or the snorkeling trip to the Maldives that you’ve been dreaming of for years. “Health issues happen, family issues happen,” Hummel says, and folks wind up with regrets: “Boy, we really wish we could’ve done it when we had the opportunity to.” Since research suggests that experiences bring more happiness than things, you’ll be boosting your bliss in the process.

At the same time, proceed with caution on making big purchases, Hummel says. He’s seen retirees rush to buy second homes in places where they enjoy vacationing. But then they feel pressure to spend a lot of time there to justify their investment. This can lead to stress and marital discord, if one spouse wants to spend every vacation at the second home while the other wants to spend time with family members or explore new vacation destinations.

A better bet? Use the 6% to 8% of the home’s value that you would spend in annual carrying costs on the second home and stay in a hotel or a short-term rental instead, Hummel says. If you and your spouse both still love the location after test-driving it for a few years, then you might be ready to buy.

Make Some (Good) Friends

Loneliness can damage your physical health as much as smoking, research indicates. Feeling alone may also contribute to your risk of developing dementia. (It’s thought that loneliness produces an inflammatory response in the body that’s similar to what an illness might produce.)

To combat these health risks, you need “2am friends,” Lawrence says. Not to be mistaken for Facebook friends, “2am friends” are people who, as their name suggests, you can call in crisis in the middle of the night with the expectation that they’ll pick up and do their best to help. You need at least several of these friends and your spouse, while potentially a great source of support, only counts as one, Lawrence says.

Affinity groups are a great way to develop close friends. Choose something you love to do, whether that’s reading or restoring old cars, and chances are there’s a group devoted to it near you. Check the web site for like-minded people. Volunteering is another great way to make friends; is a site that connects volunteers with worthy causes.