If you have already retired or if you can count the number of years until retirement on your fingers, then please heed this friendly warning: Unless you’re already making the most of your current retirement-planning strategies, then it may be…
DUBUQUE, Iowa—Chuck Andracchio believes retirement is meant to be enjoyed. And, to him, the key to that enjoyment is creating and having the the ability to retire debt-free.
The native Dubuquer and longtime Dupaco Community Credit Union member retired in 2018, shortly before his 66th birthday. Since then, he’s spendt his days working out with his 95-year-old mother, playing euchre, fishing and hiking with his good friend, and volunteering at the Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens.
In other words, Andracchio is doing what he always planned to do–soaking-up retirement.
Andracchio and his wife, Dawn, have been meeting with Suzan Martin-Hallahan, CFP®, a financial consultant at Dupaco Financial Services, for the past dozen years to, among other things, create and follow a financial game plan to retire debt-free.
“I had all these wonderful plans and hobbies lined up that I wanted to do when I retired. We built our home near the arboretum so I could volunteer there,” Andracchio says. “The one thing I didn’t want to have lined up was debt. If I had debt in the back of my mind, it would be a burden.”
How did the Andracchios manage to retire debt-free? Here are five steps they followed to retire happily with their debt paid in full:
|1| Think about a few tomorrows from now.
Enjoy the present—make memories and take some trips—but don’t forget about tomorrow (or a few tomorrows from now), Andracchio says.
Think about ways you can save money today so you have funds available for the other stages of your life. An emergency savings fund is a great place to start.
“Hindsight is always 20-20,” Andracchio says. “So many young people don’t take the time to think about the future. You really need to remember that there will be a day you’re going to be retired.”
|2| Take advantage of your employee benefits.
At every job he worked along the way, Andracchio took advantage of his companies’ 401(k) retirement plans. His wife has done the same as she continues to work toward her own retirement. Even if the company doesn’t match your contributions, it’s an opportunity to save for your future—with a bonus of potential tax benefits.
“You have to take advantage of those company 401(k)s,” Andracchio says. “And if there’s any kind of a company match, that’s icing on the cake.”
As your pay increases over the years, challenge yourself to put away even more in your 401(k) or other savings avenues, Andracchio says. You’ll thank yourself later.
|3| Find a trusted financial adviser.
Don’t try to plan for your financial future alone. Find a trusted financial adviser, and make sure you’re comfortable with that person, Andracchio says.
Be up front and honest with your financial planner. Lay out your assets and debts, and be open about your retirement goals and timeframe.
“I hate to say, ‘Put all your eggs in one basket,’ but you really have to go against that adage. A trusted financial adviser has to know all of your assets and goals,” he says. “It’s a matter of opening up, because each plan is different for every individual and family. And you have to execute and stay on goal.”
The Andracchios meet with Martin-Hallahan about twice a year and touched base more frequently as Andracchio approached retirement. The couple continues to meet with Martin-Hallahan to plan for Dawn’s retirement down the road.
“We both think the world of Sue. We followed her plan, and we executed the plan,” Andracchio says. “Retirement is really nice, especially when you have everything lined up personally as well as financially.”
When Martin-Hallahan first reviewed their finances several years ago, she wanted them to scale back on paying off some of their debt so they could build an emergency fund to access in retirement. The couple continues to build that fund today—using it for emergencies, vacations and, most recently, new cabinetry in their home.
“Having that fund available is a very comforting feeling,” Andracchio says.
|4| Pay off your mortgage biweekly.
Over the years, the couple aggressively paid off their mortgage, taking advantage of biweekly payments, in advance of Andracchio’s retirement.
Not only do frequent, automatic payments shorten the term of the loan by allowing you to hit the principal more often, it also reduces the amount of interest you pay your lender.
How does it work? With biweekly payments, you end up making one extra payment each year, compared to monthly installments. So when you make biweekly payments on a 15-year mortgage, for instance, you’ll actually pay off your mortgage in about 13.5 years.
In addition to biweekly payments, the Andracchios put extra money toward their principal whenever their budget allowed.
|5| Plan for your physical security, too.
Preparing for retirement requires more than just a financial plan.
Andracchio has been retired for about nine months. And he says it’s been critical to have some hobbies and a plan for your physical security during this new stage of life.
He stays busy by working out three times a week with his mom at Stonehill Franciscan Services, playing euchre every Tuesday, fishing and hiking as time allows, and spending a lot of time at the nearby arboretum.
“If you plan to retire, you better have something to do to occupy your time,” he says. “That’s why I joined the health club the week I retired. And now I see all these senior citizens staying in shape at Stonehill. They’re in great shape, because they go and do something.”