retirement planning, retirement savingsIn order to plan ahead for retirement, it’s important to figure out where you are today and what you’ll need in the future to live the lifestyle you want.

I always say that being actively involved in your financial future is one of the best money decisions you can make.  But most people aren’t. A recent study from the National Institute on Retirement Security  found that the median retirement account balance is just $3,000 for all working-age households and $12,000 for near-retirement households. So if you’re trying to make up for lost time, now is better than never.

Follow these seven basic steps to get ahead on your retirement and take control of your future today.

1. Take inventory of your financial life. Does the prospect of taking inventory of your life still seem overwhelming? A life inventory starts with a current accounting of how much you spend each year and what you spend it on, right down to the last dollar. Once you’ve completed your inventory, calculate your net worth (how much you have minus how much you owe) to get a better picture of your financial wellbeing.

2. Review your insurance coverage. Assess how well you’ve protected yourself against life’s upheavals. Do you have the proper life, health, home, business, disability and liability insurance? If you or your spouse or partner dies unexpectedly, are you protected? Reviewing your insurance coverage on a regular basis will ensure you’re always protected.

3. Write down your financial goals and dreams. Are you hoping to retire early? Do you want your children to have an inheritance? Would you like to earmark money for your grandchildren’s education? Have you consulted anyone about protecting your assets from inflation or your estate from taxation? Describe what you hope to accomplish financially, in the long term.

4. Imagine your perfect retirement. Think realistically about where you want to live,retirement planning, retirement saving what lifestyle you hope to have and what luxuries you want to afford—and for how many years. Nearly everyone’s goals change when retirement draws near. Get a head start by having a clear picture of the retirement you’ve always dreamed about. Estimate how much money you’ll need to put your retirement plans into action. Planners suggest that you’ll need resources equaling 75 to 80 percent of your current income; if you have champagne dreams, then you may need 100 percent or more of your current annual income once you retire. Will the money be there?

5. Take a long and hard look at your retirement savings. Do you have what it takes to get you where you want to go? Are you saving as much as you can? Should you be saving more? Most planners say to count on a 3 percent raise every year, which will basically cover inflation. If your money earns a 10 percent return (for those who are lucky), it will double roughly every 7 years. If you have $100,000 saved today and work 35 years before you retire, and if you earn 10 percent on your money, you’ll end up with approximately $3.2 million in retirement funds. If you have that same $100,000 in savings but retirement is only 7 years away, you end up with only $200,000 to fund your 25 or 30 years of retirement.

6. Change your savings or investment strategy to meet your financial goals. Are you on track for your financial future? If so, congratulations! You’re one of few. If not, it’s not too late. If there’s a discrepancy between what you’ll have for retirement and what you need, alter your savings or investment strategy so that you get on track. Save more, or choose slightly riskier investments that offer a higher return. You’ll probably have to do both.

7. Don’t just sit there—reevaluate. Taking an active role in your financial future is your key to success. Sit back and relax and you may miss out on one of the best advantages of being young—having many years ahead in which to let your retirement money compound. Every 6 months, you should look at where you are and make sure you’re on track. Tweak your portfolio as you go through the years. Readjust after you’ve passed major milestones, such as your children’s college graduations—and, perhaps, their weddings.

Want to learn more about planning for retirement? Check out my book “100 Questions You Should Ask About Your Personal Finances” to start making better decisions with your money today.