Arnold Palmer, considered one of the greatest professional golfers of all time, won 62 PGA tournaments, including seven championships and four Masters Tournaments. Despite his obvious talents, Palmer never took his game for granted.

"It's a funny thing," Palmer observed about his success, "the more I practice, the luckier I get."

Like the man known on the links as "The King," many people who are successful know the value of practice and the role it plays in creating their own luck. Super Bowl teams practice for months before they reach the championship; musicians practice for hours every day to hit the right notes; actors practice their lines for days and weeks until they convey the perfect emotional pitch. And yet, how many people practice for retirement, a critical period in our lives that can last two or three decades or longer?

That's right. Retirement, like any other important event, can be practiced. It is highly recommended, in fact, so pre-retirees can make the back nine of their lives all they want it to be. More importantly, practice can help inform how ready someone is or isn't for retirement and, if not, what they might do differently to prepare.

Practicing retirement isn't terribly difficult. There are no greens to mow, no fields to line. What is necessary, however, is for financial advisors to have a clear understanding of what lifestyle their clients are targeting for retirement, as well as an accurate accounting of what their financial resources will be once they retire.

Financial advisors can help their clients determine their retirement readiness—and make sure they don't make a big mistake by retiring too soon—by projecting what their income and their expenses will be in retirement. This process is referred to as a gap analysis, i.e., a determination if there is a gap between their goals and resources.

On the income side of the ledger, determine what sources of income a client will have available once he or she leaves the office or job site for the last time. Good golfers know what clubs they have in their bag and how to make the most of them. The same is true for retirees and their financial resources.

For instance, how much income will Social Security provide? Is it worth it to wait a few years or more before collecting? Does the client have a traditional pension plan or plans from previous employers? Has the client forgotten about retirement assets with a previous employer or other source? What assets do they have that can be used to create income and how much income are those assets likely to yield? Do they need to reallocate their assets? Should they consider purchasing an annuity with part of their retirement savings?

Increasingly, more people who are retired are getting at least a portion of their income from work. Does your client plan to continue some gainful employment? Perhaps they are considering a new career, a consulting practice or a part-time pursuit to simply keep busy and be social. For many people, full-time retirement also means some sort of part-time employment.

Once clients have a picture of how much income they are likely to have in retirement, it's time to take a reckoning of their expenses. Will they still have a mortgage, car payments or other debts? How much will it cost for basics such as food, clothing, health care, car expenses and taxes?

In many instances, it's sensible to make sure clients have sufficient guaranteed income from sources such as Social Security, pensions, annuities or some appropriate combination to cover basic living expenses. It takes a big burden off a client's shoulders and can lead to a greater sense of well-being and confidence. Then, it's time to identify the costs for other nice-to-have expenses that may or may not be considered necessities.

For many people, it's the extras that make all the difference. Retirees and pre-retirees polled in the 2011 Age of Opportunity Study by The Hartford and the MIT AgeLab said they were more willing to move to a more modest home, drive a less expensive car or shop less than they were to give up smaller pleasures such as dining out, entertainment and recreational pursuits. Most retirees find they value connections with family and friends—and activities that help them maintain those relationships—than they do material things.

Probe these topics by talking to your clients about their interests, hobbies, leisure pursuits and how they enjoy time with friends and family. If they are an avid golfer, will they be able to afford a membership at Pebble Beach or fees at the local municipal course? With whom will they be golfing? Will they have enough to dine out with friends and maintain connections through activities they enjoy?

This is where practice starts. Once your clients have a handle on their projected finances in retirement, suggest they try keeping their drives on the fairways between income and expenses. They can experience life within these boundaries and determine if it works for them.

Practicing retirement entails keeping close track of expenses. The cost of everything—from traveling to a favorite vacation destination, maintaining a country club membership, purchasing season tickets to the theater to buying a daily latte—can quickly add up. And often, many activities have hidden costs such as parking, purchases of drinks and snacks, gifts for grandchildren and other expenses that can be significant, but often go unaccounted.

One helpful method of tracking expenses (at least for those who handle credit well) is using a credit card for purchases and paying the charges right away. Some credit card statements will automatically categorize expenses, making it easier to track every dime. That can help clients better understand not only how much money they are spending, but where they are spending it.

Practicing retirement can help your clients decide if they are ready for the retirement lifestyle they envision, whether or not they need to make adjustments, or even if they need to delay their retirement date to achieve their lifestyle and financial goals.

How many times have you heard someone remark that a retired friend or family member is lucky to be retired? You can help your clients create their own luck in retirement by encouraging them to practice their desired retirement lifestyle and determine what makes sense for them. They will find that not only does practice make perfect, it also brings a sense of confidence.

 John Diehl, CFP, is a senior vice president for The Hartford's
wealth management business. The views expressed here are those
of John Diehl and should not be construed as investment advice.
"The Hartford" is The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.
Annuities are issued by Hartford Life and Annuity Insurance Company
and Hartford Life Insurance Company. The Hartford is a founding partner
of the MIT AgeLab, which is not an affiliate or subsidiary of The Hartford.

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