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What Does Retirement Mean to You?

Before you stop work, think about how you'll spend your time

In retirement, as you start to achieve your goals, you can revise your list or go deeper into the goals you've already established — it's an ongoing process. The idea is to look into the future and imagine what you want this next phase of life to be like.

Better yet, try retiring a little bit every day. Get involved in something you think you'll want to do when you retire and see if it is a good fit. You may discover that tutoring elementary school kids isn't what you thought it would be, or maybe it's even better than you had ever imagined.

As I imagine running a CSA farm, I'm also visiting some farms that are already operational. I'm learning how to do it, finding out the resources I'll need and how to identify locations, and learning how to get people involved and how to keep it sustainable.

I love imagining and taking time to retire a little bit every day, but as a finance specialist, I know I can't do this without an eye toward preparing financially. The recent recession has significantly affected both retirees and employees. Countless people lost their financial footing and some even postponed retirement or returned to work to replenish their savings. Sadly, some folks near retirement don't have savings, a pension or a 401(k) plan to fall back on.

Some of these individuals struggle to imagine retirement because they're fearful of living solely on Social Security. Even so, it's crucial to dream beyond finances; everyone should think about how they'll spend their time. Visualizing the retirement you want in detail can even help you discover how to make it happen, even with challenging financial circumstances.

The closer you get to retirement, the more important it is to understand how Social Security works and how to decide when to start collecting this monthly benefit. For some, Social Security will be central to paying for the bare necessities. In general, the longer you wait to collect Social Security, the larger the benefit. AARP's Social Security Benefits Calculator can help you figure out the best scenario for you and your family.

Preparation is the key to a successful retirement. Examine your financial circumstances. Map out your goals and dreams and then try them out. There's much more to retirement planning, but these two parts will help you see what you'll need to do before retiring.

If you're concerned about your finances, don't be afraid to ask for help or start learning more about how to save and fund your retirement vision.
AARP's free website has a lot of resources to help you live your best life on retirement planning, investing, estate planning and Social Security.

You've worked too hard to leave your retirement years to chance. Plan now. If you have an idea for a retirement topic you'd like to see in the future, let us know by submitting your comments in the "Tell us what you think" area below.

Jean C. Setzfand is vice president of financial security at AARP.

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