Starting Your Retirement Journey


When you hear the word “retirement,” what comes to mind? If it’s still decades away, retirement might feel like more of an abstraction than a tangible next chapter.

Making it even tougher to put your finger on, your retirement will likely look quite different from that of your parents and grandparents. And chances are you will face more demands on your finances that complicate your planning along the way.

Perhaps you’re one of the many working Americans who is balancing the care of a young family with that of aging parents. Or maybe you’re among the two-thirds of workers who say their student loan debt hinders them from saving for retirement.1 And given today’s longer lifespans, you could be among the Millennials who will receive family inheritances later in life than did previous generations,2 if you’re set to receive one at all.

As with any milestone, planning for the lifestyle you want in retirement will mean pushing past challenges. And when the time comes, the preparations you took and plans you developed will make all the difference as you transition to post-career life.

With so many competing priorities and generational changes, it’s natural to feel some uncertainty about how to navigate the complexities of retirement planning. But this uncertainty can usually be distilled into two key questions: a) How do you begin to imagine retirement? b) And once you’ve imagined it, how do you plan for it?

The answer to the latter question is tied to the first; that is, planning starts by having a clear vision for how you want to spend your retirement years. Beyond the broad strokes—knowing you want to travel, relax, spend time with family—it’s important to think about how you’ll actually fill your days in order to effectively plan. As you start to pencil in the details, give some thought to the following: 

  • Aspirations: If money wasn’t an issue and you could achieve whatever you’d like, what would you do?
  • Family and Friends: Who is part of your retirement journey (e.g., a spouse, children, grandchildren, friends, etc.)?
  • Location & Travel: Would you like to spend most of your time close to home and family, or would you like to travel, perhaps internationally?
  • Legacy: Are there any special interests or causes you’d like to contribute to, financially or with your time and talent? 

As the picture of your ideal retirement starts to come together, it’s important to balance aspiration and reality, taking inventory of your anticipated expenses. Taken together, your goals and your obligations will determine your retirement planning strategy.

Other Factors to Consider

In this life, it’s great to hope for the best-case scenario but prepare for other possibilities. When thinking about the future, don’t forget to factor in the following:

  • People are living longer.  Life expectancy continues to expand, thanks to new advances in medical care and a focus on better health habits. A longer life often means more years in retirement, which could last 30 years or more.
  • Healthcare costs are increasing. Healthcare costs are anticipated to rise by an average of 5.5% per year over the next decade.3 Combined with the fact that people over the age of 65 spend, on average, three times more on healthcare than working-age individuals, healthcare will likely be one of your major expenses in retirement.
  • Social Security is likely not enough. With the future of social safety nets uncertain, and given the factors noted above, many Americans approaching retirement understand that government benefits may not be sufficient to cover all of their needs in retirement. While 83% of Baby Boomers and 64% of Gen X say they are counting on Social Security for their retirement, only about 42% of Millennials and 38% of Gen Z say the same.4

Keeping these points in mind as you plan your retirement may help inform your choices and put you on a practical path to reaching your goals.

Embracing Your Tomorrow, Today

Retirement comes with a mix of the ordinary and the unexpected, from living expenses and family commitments to medical bills and costly surprises. But having a plan in place—one that covers the basics but also accounts for the curveballs—can help you make sure you’re in the best possible position to live out the retirement you’ve imagined. 









Tax laws are complex and subject to change. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (“Morgan Stanley”), its affiliates and Morgan Stanley Financial Advisors and Private Wealth Advisors do not provide tax or legal advice and are not “fiduciaries” (under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, ERISA, the Internal Revenue Code or otherwise) with respect to the services or activities described herein except as otherwise provided in writing by Morgan Stanley and/or as described at Individuals are encouraged to consult their tax and legal advisors (a) before establishing a retirement plan or account, and (b) regarding any potential tax, ERISA and related consequences of any investments made under such plan or account.

This material has been prepared without regard to the individual financial circumstances and objectives of persons who receive it. The strategies discussed in this material may not be appropriate for everyone.

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