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Invest Wisely and Safely

Are you fiscally fit for retirement?

Karen Hoffman, 63, began 20 years ago to save for retirement, when she will split her time between New York and Florida. The AARP website offers a wide range of retirement-planning tools and calculators.

Karen Hoffman, 63, began 20 years ago to save for retirement, when she will split her time between New York and Florida. The AARP website offers a wide range of retirement-planning tools and calculators. — Photo by Kate Melton

Years before she began enjoying warm winter vacation afternoons on a green Florida golf course, Karen Hoffman started lining up her retirement with what any financial counselor will tell you is the most important club in the bag: a plan.

See also: 3 big retirement questions.

Hoffman, who'll be 64 when she retires later this year, put her plan in motion about 20 years ago, steadily adding money to her retirement investments while working with advisers she trusted. Now she's ready to leave frigid New York winters on Lake Ontario and spend about half her time in Dunedin.

"I had to look at how would I want to live," she said. "I think that if I live within my means, I'll be OK."

Lisa Leslie, who teaches personal financial management as a faculty member of the University of Florida Extension office in Hillsborough County, tries to instill Hoffman's kind of foresight into her students.

"There's a lot of uncertainty," Leslie said, "and uncertainty breeds a lot of worry about the future. … People want to know if they're on the right track."

Statistics back her up. While 30 percent of those 55 and older polled last year by the Employee Benefit Research Institute were "very confident" they'd have enough money for basic expenses during retirement, only 15 percent expected to have enough to live comfortably.

Retirement planning resources

The good news? There's an abundance of help available. A bonus is that the information can be just as valuable for those who have already retired.

With the economic downturn, there have been changes in the advice people want, said Victoria Funes, AARP Florida associate state director for community outreach.

Before, she said, questions often concerned how to get on the fast track for early retirement. Now she's more apt to hear, "I want to be able to protect what I have and make sure that I'm safe and that I make safe decisions."

A good place to start looking for advice is close to home. Libraries, community colleges and extension services often offer classes with vetted instructors. Churches, synagogues, service clubs and other groups may also have sessions.

AARP provides a wealth of articles and tools in the Money/ Investing section of its website including calculators for retirement needs, Social Security benefits, 401(k) savings and traditional IRAs. You'd also do well to read the site's Scams & Fraud section, filled with practical advice.

Next: Beware of "free lunch" seminars. >>

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