Balancing Planning for the Future With Enjoying the Present

The future can seem like a long way off, but it’ll be here before you know it. That’s why planning now for retirement is so important.

But it can be hard to sock away a good portion of your money for the future, especially when more immediate needs seem more pressing. The trick is figuring out how to balance planning for the future with the needs and wants of the present.

To do so, start by trying to estimate how much income you might need each month in retirement, which is usually some percentage of your current salary. There are retirement calculators online that can help with this. (Check out 6 Things Retirement Calculators Get Wrong too for some caveats.)

You’ll need to take the lifestyle you want into account when planning for retirement. That lifestyle could include anything from traveling the world in luxury to sitting home most of the time watching TV (with the occasional night out playing bingo at the local rec center.) It depends on a combination of your wants and how well you set aside money for the future.

Remember to consider the expenses that you don’t plan to have in retirement too. If you plan to have your house paid for, you may not be spending as much in retirement. If you’re already contributing heavily to a retirement fund and to college accounts, those expenses will be eliminated later too. (Although personally I believe that it can’t hurt very much to overestimate retirement needs.)

Once you have an estimate of how much you’ll need or want to put away each month in order to meet or get close to your goal, take a look at your current expenditures and your income. Do you regularly have money left over each month? If so, you can probably increase the amount you’re putting away for retirement without seeing any difference in your current lifestyle. Don’t forget to reevaluate these things regularly as well.

If you aren’t already contributing a good estimate of “enough” to retirement, or aren’t contributing at all, it’s time to start. In that case, balancing planning for the future with enjoying the present may mean that you don’t get to do quite everything you’d like to do in the present all of the time, or it may mean that you’ve got to go out and make more money while not increasing your current spending.

It’s a balancing act. If retirement doesn’t feel like a pressing goal to you — and it’s hard to make it feel pressing if it’s 20 or 40 years off — go spend a few hours with some retired folks who didn’t sock away enough for retirement. Spend time in an assisted living facility with a high percentage of Medicare patients. Then go to a facility that’s primarily self-pay. See which one appeals to you more, and retirement will probably become a more pressing goal. Of course, you could always contemplate early retirement too. That’ll bring things into sharp focus.

Although we are always IN the present, we can’t forget about the future either. Of course, the reverse is true as well. I contribute a good chunk of change each month to retirement, but I wouldn’t contribute so much that I never get to do the things I enjoy in the present — because not everyone will get to enjoy retirement. Find the middle ground that will leave you financially comfortable with both possibilities.

Do you feel comfortable with how much you’re contributing to retirement now? Is your perspective different than it was a few years ago?


  • I know some people that have strangled themselves financially because they are putting so much away for college and retirement. They pay credit card interest and such because they are so worried about their future. I talk and talk to them until I am blue in the face, but it does not matter. Some people are so set on their course that there is nothing you can do about it.

    I try to have balance because I really want to have fun with the kids before they head off to college. We max out our 401ks each year, but I could have saved more for college in retrospect. It is what it is, and we still be able to handle college.

    • That’s too bad, and I’m not sure how they paying credit card interest is going to help either. Hopefully they will find some kind of balance at some point. I know I wish I had saved consistently for retirement sooner, and for my son’s college too.

  • My mother is horribly prepared for retirement, so I get to see it up close and personal and will have to help her financially at some point I’m sure. But, since she did that whole “birth” thing for me, I think I can handle it.

    Outside of that, I have absolutely no intention of working until I’m 65..or 70…or 75, so I am socking away a minimum of 50% of my income (shooting for 70%..well, working toward it). The more I save now, the less I’ll have to work later. But lawd, how I would like to drop kick myself in the face for not doing this 10 years ago.

    • That’s good that you will be there for your mom, and great that you’re putting away so much for retirement now — especially since I get the impression you’re enjoying life the way it is now :)