The Retirement Corporation of America

How To Set Your Lifestyle Goals

FIRST OFF, PLAN to enjoy your retirement years. That may sound like a peculiar statement to make. But many people fail to take a positive attitude about their future, and the concept of "retirement" takes on an unpleasant image. So, make a list of all the things you have always wanted to do, but couldn't because you were tied down to your job or were busy rearing children. Perhaps you always wanted to be an actor or writer, but took a job in sales because the pay was better. Maybe you wanted to travel, but couldn't because you simply didn't have the time and money. Or perhaps you wanted to exercise more and improve your golf game, but time would not allow.

Some of your goals may be unrealistic—it's doubtful you'll be able to pitch for the Yankees—but don't hesitate to write all of them down. Once your list is complete, ask yourself which goals are still obtainable and how difficult it would be to reach them. Talk to people who are doing what you've always wanted to do so you'll have an updated, realistic picture of what it's really like.

Don't cross things off your list too quickly. You might not be able to become an astronaut, but your quest for the stars might easily be fulfilled by buying a telescope and studying astronomy. The Philharmonic may not beckon, but you can take lessons and play with a local musical group. And although it's probably too late to run for president, you could run for an elective position in your hometown or become active in senior citizen or other causes.

Where Do You Want to Live?

One of the biggest benefits of retiring is that it broadens your housing alternatives. Where you live is no longer dictated by the proximity of your job or by the type of work you do. Nor do you have to worry about staying in one place for the benefit of your children, because they probably moved out several years ago.

Still, your housing decision will be influenced by a variety of factors: health considerations, income, and climate are just a few. While you'll get into the economic side of housing later in the lesson, here are a few options to consider:

Option #1: Staying put. If you're happy with where you've been living, there's probably no reason to move—unless the home is too costly and too difficult to maintain, you want a change of climate or scenery, or you want to sell for a large profit and use the money to live better in your retirement years. Don't feel rushed to move; some experts even suggest staying in your existing home for at least six months after you retire so you won't undergo two big changes at once.

If you currently own your home, the equity you have built up over the years may be a potentially important source of cash. Different ways to tap that equity so you can live better in the years ahead are discussed later in this lesson.

Option #2: Retirement communities. These developments often appeal to older people who want to live in a community where most of their neighbors are about the same age. Most of today's retirement projects emphasize the importance of physical activity and thus include a golf course, swimming pool, recreation room, and the like. Most of these communities also have social clubs with interests ranging from sewing to acting.

Living in a retirement community can provide you with a great many benefits, especially if you want to be socially or physically active in your retirement years. However, living in such a development also entails some sacrifices. In most of these communities, the developer or a resident-controlled homeowners' association charges each household monthly dues to maintain the recreational facilities and to provide other services. You must pay these dues, even if you never use the available amenities.

The developer or homeowners' association may also impose restrictions on how long your guests may stay, what facilities they can use, what color you may paint your house, and a host of other items that you would control if you lived in a house that wasn't in a retirement community. If you're thinking of moving into a retirement community, check to see what controls exist; if the rules are too strict for your tastes, move into a less-restrictive environment or stay where you are.

Option #3: Condominiums and cooperatives. Condos and co-ops are especially attractive to retirees who have sold their home and are "trading down" to smaller living quarters. Like retirement communities, many condo complexes are chock-full of amenities that you couldn't afford by yourself. Most maintenance duties are performed by a professional management company. You pay a monthly homeowners' fee in addition to your monthly mortgage payment, and what you can and cannot do will be influenced by the homeowners' association. Once again, check out all the rules and charges before you buy.

Option #4: Mobile homes. Most newer mobile homes don't look like the aluminum-sided trailer homes of past years. In fact, most of today's mobile homes are called "manufactured homes" because they are primarily assembled in a factory and then shipped out to the site in one or two pieces. Although most of these homes will last as long as conventionally built houses, they cost about one-third or one-half the price because most of the construction and assembly work is done at the factory. These homes aren't permitted in certain areas, so don't buy one until you check with your city's building or zoning department to make sure it's legal to put it where you want to live.

Consider locating your home in a mobile home park where you can own the land, either individually or through a homeowners' association. Many mobile home owners have been distressed to see the monthly rental rate rise dramatically over the years. The landlords know that these homes are not really very mobile and continue to push up rents at a pace considerably higher than the inflation rate.

Where Do You Want to Travel?

Of course, not all of your time will be spent at home. Many people like to travel after they retire. In many ways, traveling now is more fun than when you worked because you can stay away longer and don't have to worry about what's going on back at your office or store. Some retirees prefer action-packed trips with lots of people, while others like restful vacations in quiet places that they take by themselves or with a traveling companion. Either will give you the opportunity to see new places, meet new people, and build a stronger relationship with your traveling partner.

Traveling doesn't have to be expensive. Many airlines, hotels, and travel agencies offer big discounts to senior citizens, and various organizations put together budget trips especially geared toward people your age. Your schedule is probably more flexible than those of working people, so you can also take advantage of the lower off-season rates offered by resorts and the discounts airlines give to people who fly during non-peak times. Bus and railroad companies offer similar discounts and often run promotional campaigns that allow you to travel the United States for 30 or more days for as little as $100. Cruises are particularly popular for retirees, because they can provide all the comforts of home—and a lot more—with less of the stress that travel by plane or train or car can produce.