By guest writer‚ Steve Gaito (Originally published April 2013)

Retirement planning can be overwhelming‚ confusing and unsettling. Without understanding all of your options‚ you won’t have peace of mind in the decisions you have to make‚ no matter who helps you. Educating yourself will give you confidence in these important decisions‚ which will affect you and your spouse’s futures. Here are a few tips to help along the way.

Testing your budget before retirement

After planning you and your spouse’s budget‚ live on that amount before actually retiring to ensure it works for you. If you both feel comfortable after testing it‚ you’ll be confident your income plan is a good one. If this budget is difficult to live on‚ re-evaluate and test it again.

Aim for a flexible budget

Look at your retirement budget as a guide‚ not cast in stone. If you overspend in one category‚ reduce spending in another. You can have a sense of freedom with a retirement budget and adjust it accordingly‚ but it’s important to remember to not overspend the total budget.

Consolidate your debt

Consolidating debt before retirement will significantly help make your money last throughout this next step of your life and give you peace of mind. The less debt you have going into retirement‚ the more comfortable you’ll be throughout. One area you and your spouse can consolidate your debt and payments is by downsizing to a smaller home. It may be an emotional decision – and it may not be right for everyone‚ but if you choose to do it‚ in the end you’ll have more flexibility to do the things you’d like to in retirement.

Claim your Social Security benefits at the maximum benefit age of 70

With the current economy‚ more people are opting to start Social Security at age 62. However‚ this isn’t always the best strategy. With people living longer and volatility in the stock market‚ it is more important than ever to consider all facts before deciding when to start taking Social Security. Working with a financial professional‚ you can shift other income sources for the earlier years of your retirement to bridge the gap‚ and then wait until 70 to claim your maximum benefit.

Evaluate all of your options for claiming Social Security benefits

You only have one chance to claim your Social Security benefits‚ so it’s important to evaluate all of your options before you make a decision that will affect you and your spouse’s lives throughout retirement. Work as a team when evaluating your options to make decisions that will be best for you as a whole to maximize your benefits.

About the author: Steve Gaito is a Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner with nearly 20 years of experience helping individuals‚ companies and nonprofits prepare for their financial futures. He is the founder of My Retirement Education Center‚ based in Raleigh‚ NC‚ that offers educational classes where people can learn the basics and move forward with confidence. Visit his Linkedin page here

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter below.

P.S. We’d love to meet you on Twitter here or on Facebook here