When coming up with a retirement plan, a lot of emphasis is placed around the number crunching of calculating income replacement ratios, investment returns, and so forth. While having the financial details ironed out is a key element to having a sound retirement plan, it's impossible to know what the numbers should look like in the first place if you don't have a clear picture of what your ideal retirement will entail.

For example, an individual that plans to travel the world upon their retirement will have very different financial goals than an individual that plans leisure days of gardening at home. Therefore, it's extremely important for individuals to take the time to ponder and envision their retirement days so that they can connect the dots between what they want to do with their retirement days and their financial retirement planning.

Knowing and envisioning what actually matters the most to you will not only help you more appropriately set your financial targets, savings, and investment strategies, it will also provide an extra motivation to help you reach your financial goals. Once you clarify your objectives, you're likely to find that financial decisions are far more congruent with your real interests and priorities.

When you envision your future, think about it in a similar manner to the way a good author lays out a storyline. You will need to know the what, who, when, where, why, and how. It's also important to address the underlying motivators of such decisions, such as your aspirations, fears, preferences, regrets, and needs. Make a checklist of the areas that you already know you definitely need or want to address.

Should you get stuck or can't get yourself started, there are a number of life and retirement planning guides available. These often include various exercises and questionnaires to help you determine exactly what it is that brings you satisfaction, comfort, and happiness. You may also want to get feedback from your personal network of family, friends, and co-workers.

While the process may only take a day or two of quiet contemplation for some, others may find that the thought process takes several weeks or months. Either way, just keep in mind that it's your life and that you owe it to yourself to devote the proper attention and time necessary to complete the exercise. You should also remember to put the process on paper so that you can return to it periodically and make sure your thoughts and ideas are still applicable as your life continues to unfold.

You're past the hardest part once you manage to articulate what you envision for yourself, but that doesn't mean the process is over. Now, you will need to create a realistic financial plan to make all the goals you've set a reality. Some of these goals won't be a significant, if of any, expense, but others will be. Keep in mind that even simple goals can create expenses. For example, spending more time with family may create expenses from travel, lodging, recreation, and food.

In any event, you'll need to take several steps to connect the dots between your ideal retirement and your financial plan: assess how your goals impact your finances and the economic feasibility of your goals, establish priorities, set money targets, create and implement a comprehensive strategy and plan of action, set reasonable time frames for tasks, and then reassess everything to ensure you've covered all the angles.
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