Retirement Plans: What You Need to Know

No matter how much you might love your job, you have to admit: You probably think a lot about retiring. Maybe you and your spouse have plans to buy a couple of motorcycles and tour the countryor maybe you'll stay home and go on a few trips a year. Or maybe you'll move to another part of the world and live a life of ease.  Mostly, you’ll want to enjoy your lifestyle and not have to worry about your money.

You might have a pension and some social security benefits to look forward to, but a combination of expensive retirement plans and increases in the cost of living mean you might need to supplement what's coming to you.

Have no fear. Your retirement plans are probably more attainable than you think, and figuring out how to expand your retirement savings isn't hard. There's a learning curve, of course, but you have plenty of time to figure out what works best. And if you have the help of a qualified financial adviser, so much the better.

Speaking of which: Step One in making smart retirement plans is to hire the best investment manager you can find. No matter how much you learn about investing for your retirement -- no matter how many books you read, blogs you follow or financial news programs you store on your DVR -- you won't be able to match the experience and expertise of someone who manages investments for a living. A good financial consultant can keep you from making costly mistakes, and can provide advice that only comes with advanced training and years of hard work.

The next step is to figure out how much you'll need and how much you'll realistically be able to get. The financial adviser you hire will be able to help you figure this out, but there's no harm in doing some preliminary calculations on your own before you meet with him or her. First, you'll need to figure out at what age you want to retire. Then you'll need to decide what you want your yearly salary to be after you retire. Then calculate the current value of your savings and investments; balance this against an estimate of the real rate of return you might earn on those investments. Finally, get an estimate on the value of your pension plan (call your provider) and get the value of your social security benefits from the Social Security Administration.

The numbers you come up with -- what you'll need versus what you have -- may cause you to look at what you can realistically change. That leaves out social security, as well as savings if you're saving as much as you can. If your employer has multiple pension options, you may want to find out if there's a better way to make use of these.  A qualified investment professional may be able to provide guidance about your employer plan.

That leaves your investments. So how do you increase your return on those investments? That's where Step One comes back: Hire the best investment manager you can find. A good financial advisor won't make you rich overnight. But he or she could make it easier for you to turn your earnings into a  nest egg that'll secure you through your retirement years.