By Luke Murray

The years leading up to retirement can feel like the end of a long marathon. After putting in decades of hard work at multiple jobs, you are now inching closer to days of leisure, travel, and relaxation. Although you’ve already saved up the bulk of the funds for your retirement, now is the time to stay focused on reaching your financial goals. Creating a plan to finish strong will ensure that this new phase of your life will be as secure and stress-free as possible.

To that end, Score Navigator invites you to explore these top financial moves you should be making in the five to eight years leading up to your retirement.

Plan to be mortgage-free

Among all monthly expenses, a mortgage payment is one of the most costly. On average, Business Insider notes monthly mortgage payments range between $1,275 and $1,751 (depending on mortgage length and interest rate). This adds up to a whopping $15,300 to $21,012 per year. Instead of facing the stress of budgeting for a mortgage payment each month, opt to pay it off as quickly as you can. If at all possible, plan to be mortgage-free by the time you reach retirement. If you won’t be able to reasonably pay off your mortgage in the next five to eight years, consider using this resource to see if it’s worth selling your home and downsizing to a smaller (and more affordable home). In this scenario, you may even be able to come out with a profit depending on the current value of your home, which will further ease your financial situation for retirement.

Start spending below your means

While there are countless benefits to entering retirement, you will have to adjust to being on a set income that is taken from your savings. Rather than earning a regular paycheck, your financial stability will depend on careful planning and smart spending habits. If you’ve made it a habit to live at or above your means, start scaling back your expenses. Learn what it is like to live below what you’ll have during retirement. You can cut expenses by canceling unnecessary subscription services, cooking at home more often, downgrading your phone or cable plan, and enjoying more free or low-cost activities. Rather than overspending — or feeling the shock of having to decrease your expenses — begin shifting your habits now.

Pay off all debt as soon as possible

In addition to becoming mortgage-free, aim to pay off all remaining debt that you have (if applicable). This includes credit cards, student loans (for you or your children), car payments, and the like. Having monthly payments on any kind of debt in retirement reduces the amount you’ll take home each month, and can quickly become a massive stressor.

Also, while striving to pay off debt, resist the urge to take on any additional credit cards or loans. Continue to pay off any credit card or loan debt down to zero. Once you have a better hold on your credit cards, if you don’t plan on making any big purchases in the future, then simply have them available for convenience purposes.

Create a monthly retirement budget If you are uncertain as to what your budget will look like in retirement, now is the time to take out your calculator and get to work. Often, individuals who are rapidly approaching retirement feel anxiety about this major unknown. Rather than hoping for the best, find out what you will be able to spend on a weekly basis. You should also project your expenses so that you know what will be going to bills, and what will be available for discretionary spending.

Instead of taking it easy in the years leading up to retirement, get proactive about your financial future. By finding out how much you’ll have to spend, paying off your remaining debts, and adjusting your regular spending, you’ll be able to welcome your retirement days with little fear.

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