MarketWatch Features The Runway Decade

August 24, 2022

Two simple tasks to do right now if you’re in your 50s and planning for retirement


Alessandra Malito

Here’s what retirement planning and flying a plane have in common

The 50s are your runway decade, when you may see retirement in the distance but you still have time to prepare. GETTY IMAGES

Retirement planning in your 50s is like taxiing on the airport’s runway—you’re almost ready for the wheels to lift off the ground, but there’s still time before you take off.

That’s how financial advisers Pete and Bill Bush look at it, and why they call it “The Runway Decade,” the name for their new book. Retirement often feels distant, but a 50th birthday is like that turn on the tarmac, when the next chapter doesn’t seem so far away, Pete said. “You still have runway left,” he said.

In the book, the pair share small steps to save for the future and how to make the most of this next decade of life. They use another plane analogy—put your oxygen mask on before helping someone else with theirs—and explain the benefits of savings compounding upon itself until retirement. The authors also discuss some of the challenges they’ve seen around saving for retirement in the 50s, as well as some of the obstacles leading up to this age.

The 50s are a great time for many individuals to catch up on their retirement goals, especially if they had a lot of distractions prior. This is the time when many people are watching their children leave home, which may give them extra money to save and invest for their own futures. They may also be hitting their peak earning years, if they haven’t already, giving them an extra boost in their 401(k) plans and IRAs. Now is a good time to think about what you want in retirement, and evaluate your assets and path to these goals.

Pete is a certified financial planner and partner of Horizon Financial Group, and Bill is a Certified Plan Fiduciary Advisor and the media manager for Horizon Financial Group. The two also have a Runway Decade podcast, where they talk with others about how they’re living out their 50s and preparing for the future.

Here are two tasks you can take on right now—wherever you are—if you’re in your 50s and saving for retirement:

Sit down with the numbers

Individuals may face similar obstacles in their 50s as in other decades, but feeling stuck is perhaps one of the greatest problems. “Inertia is the biggest enemy of planning,” Pete said. People may be too focused looking back at their money mistakes or hurdles, and not spend enough time being active and organized for their futures. “Now is a good time to get financially organized so you don’t get to 60 or 65 and see a bunch of money that’s gone,” he said.

Look over your spending and savings habits, and get intentional about where your dollars are going. It may be as simple as canceling a few unused subscriptions, or a little more time-consuming if you’re switching cable or insurance providers to save more money on these services. Poring over a credit card statement can feel taxing, but there might be surprises in the fine print, including fees you’re paying for something you never use or more money going toward things that bring you no joy, like too many happy hours or unread books piling up on your nightstand.  

“Make sure you understand where you are today and how it’s affecting your finances,” Bill said. The authors provided resources on their site, including an action checklist and sample balance sheet.

Along with the numbers of today, try and estimate for numbers of the future. Individuals are closer to retirement in their 50s than they were in their 20s, and might have a better picture of what their lifestyle will cost in another 10 or 15 years. Ask questions about what will and won’t change in retirement, such as spending on transportation or housing, and if there are any additional activities you’ll be taking on during retirement (like a vacation or an expensive hobby) that you’ll need to pay for. Don’t forget where healthcare fits in, as that budget line tends to get bigger the older one gets.

Find this one person

An accountability partner is a huge benefit to anyone trying to reach a goal, be it running a marathon or saving more for retirement, the authors said. They can provide encouragement, make sure you don’t miss a step in the process and help keep track of your progress.

“The player does most of the work, but a great coach does something that a player can’t do,” Pete said. “He holds the mirror up.”

A financial adviser can also play this role, and will have the background to provide suggestions for various aspects of your finances, such as what contribution rate you should be striving for, an appropriate asset allocation and alternative strategies to meeting your goals. Not all financial advisers operate the same, so do your homework about their background, their services, their fees and their legal obligations to you as the client.

That accountability partner may also be someone outside of the professional world. Find someone you can trust to talk about your finances, your aspirations and what you’re doing to achieve those goals. “It can be a family member who is good with money who you’re willing to get financially naked in front of,” Pete said.