Retirement is a time of possibilities. After a lifetime of working and saving, opportunities abound to spend more time with family and friends, renew connections to local community and revisit lifelong hobbies and interests (along with discovering and exploring new ones). A chance to reinvent oneself in a comfortable retirement – with all the knowledge and wisdom earned throughout the working years – is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves. Those who enter retirement with a vision of how they will actively spend these years have a greater chance of avoiding the doldrums associated with having ample time but not enough structure. The ability to visualize retirement is also key in keeping anxiety at bay during all phases of the planning process.

Planning for retirement can feel daunting in the current economic climate. The security that previous generations may have felt easing into retirement is lost on many currently planning for their life after work. A recent BUILDER article reports that over three-quarters of respondents fear that current economic conditions threaten their chances of retiring securely. Being able to retire how one wants is important, but being able to retire when one wants is also a top priority. All of this uncertainty can be very stressful, and even the most careful planning can’t sidestep the unexpected. However, being able to visualize retirement can help give peace of mind about how to achieve it. Taking the proper steps can help achieve a successful and less stressful planning process.

Set your goals

Visualizing the lifestyle one wants to attain during retirement helps guide planning goals throughout the planning stage. How to proceed with financial decisions and making necessary adjustments to reach these expectations is an ongoing process. Since retirement lifestyle goals can shift as one gets closer to retirement, realistic assessments of how to reach them as they change is key to helping them become reality. For example, while retiring to a warm and sunny locale may seem ideal for much of the planning process, a desire to be close to family and friends may take precedence as retirement looms. What may have seemed like a fixed and concrete goal for years might shift and change as life – and all of its unexpected twists and turns – brings unanticipated shifts in retirement hopes and dreams.

Although retirement goals are much more than an arbitrary number one hopes to reach, being realistic about how much an envisioned lifestyle will cost and how long it can be sustained is essential to proper planning. Another facet that deserves great consideration is how much support – both during and after your lifetime – you plan to give children and grandchildren. Prudent retirement planning also includes estate planning and considers those assets you plan on passing along to beneficiaries.

Stick to your budget

Success with the planning process is largely dependent on maintaining a budget that is consistent with accumulating ample savings to reach retirement goals. The ability to “keep your eyes on the prize” of your desired retirement lifestyle is often the difference between it becoming an eventual reality versus a painful compromise. Wrestling control of your household budget from the grips of unnecessary spending will also decrease non-essential debt and help set the stage for a successful retirement.

Along with budgeting, disciplined saving will help your nest egg grow even as your need to spend increases. Even those with ample means can benefit from frugal spending strategies to help assure reaching retirement goals. How we think about money is a pretty good barometer of how we will spend it. Careful and cautious thought before flexing your money muscles is always a smart strategy.

Social Security (and keeping yourself financially secure)

People spend most of their working lives without giving much thought to Social Security. For many, scant attention is given to it until the day they make their filing decision. Like other aspects of retirement planning, when people are early or midway in their careers, thinking about how and when to file for Social Security sometimes seems too distant to give thoughtful consideration. Since Social Security decisions are generally not reversible, those who think about it early and often will be more likely to make informed decisions that will steer them toward desired outcomes. Married couples have even more to lose by making costly mistakes in this area since filing decisions can impact the income of the surviving spouse later in retirement. For all, informing and educating themselves on how filing decisions will affect them and their retirement plan is worth the effort.

The Taxman

Relaxation is a given goal for all in their retirement. Post-career life provides time to reflect and enjoy the simple, good things that life offers. While a completely stress-free life is not attainable at any stage, there are steps one can take to ensure that their retirement years are as stress-free as possible. For many retired folks, tax time can be bewildering. Since many retirees draw income from a variety of sources that receive different tax treatments, paying the taxman his due is an unnecessarily difficult and confusing time. The ideal time to simplify income is before retirement. By consolidating many tax-deferred retirement accounts, withdrawals will become easier during this potentially stressful period. Taking the time to streamline income sources ahead of time will help to make tax time in retirement less stressful. This is one easy step that some fail to heed and suffer avoidable anxiety during their well-earned retirement years.

Increase Your Peace of Mind

Thoughtful and measured planning is the surest way to increase confidence and peace of mind in retirement. Although a lifetime of good and prudent financial habits forms the foundation upon which successful retirement goals rest, a skilled planner can help you navigate the challenges that sometimes make retirement planning stressful. This guidance will help decrease retirement related stress and allow you to spend time focusing on the things that really matter: family, friends and your new life in retirement.