A good start for any retirement planning or needing retirement help is to have a clear understanding of your personal situation and meaning of retirement.
In many countries it has become a very hot (no pun intended for the riots in France and Greece!) topic as people have started to realize that their expectations are fading into history.
"An overnight parliament session turned into a shouting match as France's lower house neared a vote on a bill to raise the retirement age to 62.
The government appeared all but certain to make France the latest European country to require workers to stay on the job longer because of a deficit-plagued pension system."
This is just the beginning.
Anyone that thinks that 62 will be the end point, or that pensions will be kept at the previous amounts, or that this is unique to France or Europe, is living in denial.
What does retirement mean to you?
The first issue you need to confront in your retirement planning is, what does retirement mean to you ?
Years ago the concept was easily understood. It was the day you stopped going to "the office". The day you reached the mandatory age and stopped having to "work". After 40 years in the same company you were now entitled to your defined benefit pension that would support your pre-retirement lifestyle. There was enough for even your surviving spouse would be financially secure.
Retirement was by tacit agreement between the employer and the employees. No one challenged the status quo and in most cases no retirement help was needed. This could be described as a "traditional" retirement.
The retirement scenario has changed
Over the last forty or so years unconsidered political promises were made. The work people changed their jobs more frequently and cashed out their pensions prematurely. The returns projected by the financial institutions were not achieved. With all these problems compounded by a lack of government foresight and planning.
The disappearance of defined benefit pensions
Some astute financial institutions realized that pensions based on a defined benefit scheme were in many cases not going to be sustainable. They convinced pension fund members to convert to a defined contribution basis, "so that you can manage your own funds".
"Traditional" retirement is now becoming the preserve of government or state employees. However many of these funds are in a precarious situation. Impacted by low retirement ages, extended lifestyles lower than expected returns many have significant deficits! This is not good news for the retirees who rely on these payments.
For a large majority, retirement now is the involuntary termination of employment at the arbitrary, mandatory retirement age ... a "forced" retirement. If you find yourself in this stuation you'll probably need lots of retirement help.
To survive, or maintain some reasonable standard of living, many of these "forcedtirees" have to find some other source of income or support, or live degraded lifestyles. They then join another growing group ... semi-retirees. Many people are extending their working life both to ensure they have enough financial resources but also to have a more meaningful retirement.
Over the last few years the whole concept of retirement has been transformed. No more are people planning to work until some age they are now aiming at a number. How much do I need to retire?
Therefore "retirement" is when you have enough
With this in mind it is probably more correct to see retirement as an achievement. A point, in one's life, when you decide that you have enough "money" to live your chosen lifestyle till the end of your days.
From then on "work" takes on a different meaning. It is not to earn money but out of choice. For some other reason... self actualisation, power, the challenge or fun.
With this definition of retirement one can obviously achieve retirement at any age.
But how much is enough?
This is not an easy question to answer. The calculation depends on many factors and it also introduces the interesting point that you could be retired today and in a year's time unretired. Now not having enough money due to some unforseen circumstance.
For example the stock market collapses or your business doesn't do as well as expected (reduced input) or you decide to live a far more expensive lifestyle (increased output).
Life span expectancy may also change your decision.
The retirement help needed by this group may include a complete integrated financial and lifestyle model.
There is another group, which is a sub-set of "achieved" retirement, who have been named "nevertirees". They are the people who achieve their state of retirement but have no intention of ever stopping work.
There is growing interest in this group which is characterized by people like Warren Buffet or the late Sam Walton of Walmart.
So retirement help will depend on how you define retirement. Patti Houlihan, a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) who runs her own financial planning firm, sums it up so well: "Plan, plan, plan. Life will be so good if you do."