5 tips to reinvent your retirement plan

Are you saving for your retirement? If you're like most Americans, learning about how to save for your financial future is hardly a top priority, even though experts continue to say that it should be.

"Fewer than 10 percent of Americans can answer five basic questions about retirement," said retirement expert Julia Valentine, author of "Joy Compass: How to Make Your Retirement the Treasure of Your Life." "Many people over 50 feel that there should be a system in place that looks out for them—but we have to embrace that we are truly on our own."

Valentine, who became passionate about helping people make smart money decisions after watching her grandparents lose their savings to a pyramid scheme, said you don't need an MBA to create a great retirement plan. All it takes is a little education.

"Twenty-seven states have mandatory sex education classes and only three states have mandatory financial education in the schools, so it's no wonder we are behind," Valentine said. "People want miracles, or they don't want to know anything about our financial crisis."

Here are Valentine's five retirement reinvention tips:

Get a visual.

"People are emotional when it comes to money—they aren't calculators," she said. "Looking at a number isn't going to sink in for a lot of people. But if you get a vision in your mind of what retirement will look like, maybe a place you can go or something you can enjoy, it will help you save.

"When people visit a retirement community (and) realize they could live overseas for so much less, it gives them a vision for their future they can truly get excited about. It's not about focusing on what you don't have saved, it's about what you can have when you start the process of keeping track of your money that will help you get there."

Alleviate angst with automation.

"We cannot be stuck worrying about whether we keep track of every Starbucks coffee," Valentine said. "There are lots of banks that offer an automatic savings accounts and employers offer automated 401(k)s. The more routine our behavior becomes, the more naturally it is to do. If you get an automatic email showing your balance, that can be helpful to some people."

Fuel your own fire.

"Think back to high school—you are exhausted, can't do your homework, and then all of the sudden a boy calls, and you're ready in six minutes," she said. "We find the burst of energy for the things that motivate us. Do you want to take your grandchildren to Disney? Do you like seeing them open your Christmas presents? I work people through the process so they have an emotional connection to the enjoyment they feel by being able to spend on those things they love."

Design your destination.

"When we put our conscious attention on whatever is going on, it produces better results," Valentine said. "And we can't wait for opportunities to find us, we have to create them ourselves. … We all have expertise, and leveraging that is hugely important. I knew a musician that made a small salary as a violinist, so he started a business as a violin dealer — and he was able to leverage his expertise to bring in income."

Knowledge is power.

"If you really want to make these changes, you will have to learn some new skills by the time you are 60," Valentine said. "My parents didn't want to Skype and now my mother is addicted to it. They'd rather have the banker hold their hand than automate their banking, but when they see the money they can earn, it becomes more appealing.

"For the new year, make it your resolution to really master financial communication and change your skill sets. We have enough research to show us exactly how to create well-being in every aspect of life — we're just not applying it. In 2012 we need to start applying it as much as possible."

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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