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5 Weeks to a New Life: Week 4

Can You Afford Your Dream Life?

Don't quit your day job until you've taken these steps to safeguard your financial future

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If you're like a lot of boomers, you probably have big dreams for the next stage of your life. Maybe you fantasize about quitting your job and buying a quaint little inn in a charming country town. Or perhaps you want to devote yourself to pursuing your passion for painting, tennis or making quilts. Or it could be that you feel a spiritual calling and would like to to explore that. But whatever your aspirations, it's more important than ever to be practical about your future.

Join the discussion: Are you on track to your dream retirement?

What is your dream- a man stands on top of a mountain holding architectural plans

Financial freedom starts with smart money management. — Photo by Philip and Karen Smith/Getty Images

Sadly, the troubled economy has cast a dark cloud over the retirement expectations of many baby boomers. And financial experts agree that these are not the years when you can afford to take big risks.

"People who haven't saved enough money are simply not going to have the choices they expected to have," says Jane Bryant Quinn, author of Making the Most of Your Money NOW.

Past generations were largely finished raising a family and paying college tuition by the time they even thought about the so-called "golden years." Today, many in their early 60s are still paying those bills, while others have lost their jobs or been forced to stop working long before they had planned.

"You can't redo your life, no matter how much you wished you'd spent less and saved more," says Quinn. "So if you're still working or on the cusp of retirement, you need to realistically assess how much money you are likely to have." Here, Quinn suggests 8 steps to make sure you're on solid financial footing:

Hire a financial planner who can run the numbers and help you project how long your money will last and what you can afford to spend. If you aren't financially savvy, be sure to work with a fee-only planner instead of someone who sells investment products and takes a commission on what you buy.

"Working with a planner is the most important step everyone over 50 can take," says Quinn. The sooner you know how much money you're going to need, the sooner you can dial back if necessary. "In this economy, very few retirees can continue to live the same life they were living when they had a regular paycheck," she adds. "Most downshift their lifestyle so they can live comfortably with the incomes they have during the early retirement years."

Next: Cut living expenses by getting rid of debt. »

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