4 Steps to Planning Your Retirement in 2011

How to plan for your financial future this year.

By + More

At the beginning of each year, many people say they will do certain things; they will act differently or they will accomplish something by year's end. Unfortunately, when the end of the year inevitably arrives, it seems that nothing was actually accomplished.

It's time to make 2011 a new kind of year and a true beginning to your retirement. This could and should be the year that noticeably changed your retirement life.

Here are four ways to start that transformation:

First and foremost, put together a plan. Nothing gets started or finished without a good plan, and it needs to be written down and based on facts. Utilizing a financial planner is a good way to start, but not a prerequisite. However, utilizing a financial planning software or calculation tool is essential. There are many sites that will help you assess where you stand and what you need to do to achieve your retirement goals. You want to utilize a plan that takes into account all aspects of your financial life. These include: how much money you currently have, amounts you are investing, sources of income in retirement—such as pensions, Social Security, tax rates, inflation rates, and rates of return. A conclusive plan will tell you exactly what you need to do now in order to retire in the future. If you are already retired, the software will tell you how much you can spend without running out of money.

[See 11 Ways to Diversify in 2011.]

Second, after planning your work, it is time to work your plan. If it calls for an eight percent rate of return, and you have been earning closer to four percent, it may be time to get some help. If you have been investing five percent of your income, but your plan calls for an eight percent investment your investment rate must also be raised. Remember, while you want to do everything that your plan calls for, don't make it too difficult to complete. Many people begin a year with a goal of exercising five times a week, but because the plan is extremely difficult, they end up abandoning it all together. Start slow and grow into your plan. That is much better than not completing it at all.

Third, set rewards for yourself when you hit certain milestones. Many people set large goals but have no short-term incentive to reach them. In other words, you may decide to get your retirement plan to a certain level, let's say $100,000. When you get there, plan a nice dinner at your favorite restaurant. Short-term incentives are a great reward system to take baby steps toward a long-term goal.

Finally, partner with others in your quest for success. Find others that have similar retirement goals and use each other as accountability partners. Nothing helps you achieve your goals more quickly than being accountable to someone else.

Make 2011 your start for the best retirement you can imagine.

Kelly Campbell , Certified Financial Planner and Accredited Investment Fiduciary, is founder of Campbell Wealth Management, A Registered Investment Advisor in Fairfax, Va. Campbell is also the author of Fire Your Broker , a controversial look at the broker industry written as an empathetic response to the trials and tribulations that many investors have faced as the stock market cratered and their advisors abandoned their responsibilities to help them weather the storm.