We often say that your journey to becoming and living debt free is a marathon, not a sprint. Once you’ve set your goals and nailed down your budget, becoming debt free can feel like a whole lot of hard work. Then, when you move on to saving for retirement, you’re looking at decades of disciplined saving before you can enjoy your reward.
That’s when a lot of folks start to wonder, What’s it all for? No one else is worried about their debt or retirement. Why should we?
That’s a dangerous place to be. You’re just one 12-months-same-as-cash deal from being back in debt and deciding where you are is good enough —even though it falls far short of your original goals.
I have a solution to help you win this battle, and I promise it will be fun. You’ll learn things about yourself and your spouse that you never knew before. And, if you do it right, it could unleash an intensity that will push you to meet and even exceed your financial goals.
What is this magical, all-powerful solution? It’s your dream—your retirement dream. You need to define, in detail, your ultimate retirement lifestyle. Not the retirement you think you can afford, but the retirement you think is nearly impossible to achieve. What do you see yourself doing? Where are you living? Are you working? How much? You need to walk around in your dream retirement and see what it looks and feels like.
Step 1: Take Your Spouse on a Retirement Dream Date
I’ve found that when you define your dream retirement, you’re much more motivated to work for it. Abstract dreams are too foggy, too intangible to stick with you while you wait 30 years for the payoff.
So how do you go about dreaming the right way? First of all, married couples must dream about retirement together. There’s often a disconnect between couples on this topic because they’ve never talked about it before. You might be surprised to learn that your husband doubts whether you’ll be able to retire at all. Or that your wife is afraid that the two of you will be bored once you give up the nine-to-five daily grind.
So set up a date night where you and your spouse will talk about nothing but your retirement dreams. Put everything on the table. In this conversation, you’re not concerned with how much you do or do not have saved for retirement. You’re focused only on building a clear picture of what you want your future to look like. If what you come up with doesn’t excite you, you haven’t dreamed big enough.
Step 2: Be Willing to Compromise
Dreaming together will unite you, even if you have different opinions about what your dream retirement looks like. For example, my wife has big plans to travel once we’re both retired. But I’d rather take a hot poker to the eye—no kidding! So what do we do? Compromise. She can plan as many trips as she wants, and I can go on some and stay home for some.
The point is, if we never talked about the details of our dream retirement, she might assume that since I don’t like to travel, we wouldn’t—at least not as much as she wants to. And how intense is she likely to be about reaching a retirement that she won’t find fulfilling?
Step 3: Make Saving Money Fun
Once you’ve outlined your dream, you’ll see that your attitude about working your budget and the Baby Steps changes. You’ll start to identify ways your everyday decisions put you closer to your goal.
Take grocery shopping, for example. My wife and I went from spending $1,200 a month on groceries when it was just the two of us to spending $750 a month for us and three kids! How’d we do that? We focused on cutting the grocery bill and were constantly on the lookout for ways to spend less.
Now it’s a game. What was a point of tension between us—you know what I’m talking about—has become a point of encouragement. We’re battling it together instead of battling each other. And in case you’re wondering, none of us are wasting away. We’re all eating—plenty!
Step 4: Get Extra Help
So far, you’ve got a three-step battle plan:
1. Take your spouse on a retirement dream date.
2. Be willing to compromise.
3. Make saving money a game.
These three steps will get you and your spouse on the same team—working in unity toward the same goal. There’s an analogy I think applies here too: the Belgian plow horse analogy. One of these huge horses can pull 8,000 pounds all by itself. But two horses that have been brought up and trained together can pull not twice as much, but four times as much—32,000 pounds!
Just like these powerful horses, when you and your spouse take the time to decide on your goals and how you will work toward them together, you can accomplish much more than one of you or even both of you working individually could. That’s the power your shared retirement dream gives you.
As great as it is to have this awesome dream and work for it together, there’s one more thing you need to make it a reality. You need a strong retirement investing strategy you stick to year after year. Without that, all the work you put into identifying your dream retirement and finding money to put toward it is wasted.
Work with an investing advisor you trust—someone who will understand your goals and who you’ll want to work with for a long, long time. It’s your advisor’s job to teach you:
–How to choose good mutual fund investments
–How to avoid risk with a balanced investing approach
–How to maintain a long-term, disciplined perspective on your retirement investments.