10 Dream Retirements Made Affordable

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Set aside the rapid fire of all those studies saying you won't have enough to retire on. Beneath the fear and uncertainty there remain dreams, big and small, for how we envision our golden years.

While dreams aren't always grounded in reality, and a fixed-income lifestyle may not seem to offer much opportunity for living large, frugal talk often undercuts what people really want out of retirement.

A survey by MainStay Investments, the adviser distribution arm of New York Life Investments, found that 76% of more than 1,000 preretirees it surveyed were willing to sacrifice today -- working longer and saving more -- in their pursuit of enjoying the finer things once they retire.

Forty percent of the boomers surveyed said they will have to delay retirement to afford the lifestyle they want to live. Besides working longer, boomers -- in their pursuit of an ideal lifestyle -- are saving more, adjusting their portfolio allocations and seeking help from financial advisers -- in that order.

"An interesting pattern that we noticed throughout the research was that as consumers age, things that were once considered luxuries are more likely to be considered basic needs, thereby reaffirming that boomers essentially want it all," says Matthew Leung, director and head of practice management programs at MainStay. "In fact, almost half of of the respondents said they would downsize their home in retirement in order to afford these luxuries."

Among the items boomers now consider "basic needs," according to the survey, are pet care, vacations, hair stylists and helping pay for their family's education.

Financial advisers often describe a "U" shape when discussing retirement spending: It starts with an active lifestyle early in retirement, which many fail to take into account in their planning; spending typically levels off as they get older; and finally spikes in later years when health issues become more frequent, persistent and expensive.

In plotting out a 20- or 30-year retirement, people need to be honest about what they want out of life. Calculations can't just be based on basic needs -- "finding your number" for what you need to save for retirement needs to also include discretionary spending.

What constitutes a dream retirement and how much will it cost? More importantly, can you afford it? Here are 10 retirement dreams that, with planning and some reality-based economies of scale, may still be within your reach:

Vino veritas
The prospect of owning a vineyard in retirement is mocked in a Charles Schwab ( SCHW) commercial as that sort of idyllic, unrealistic, goal some want upon leaving the rat race.

The reality is that the days of quaint peasant girls merrily stomping grapes while the owner reclines on a hammock with a fishbowl-sized glass of Chianti is no more. Winemaking these days is a business, and a risky one at that, with a high cost of entry and a litany of recurring expenses.

Judging from the cost of land and production costs detailed in vintner websites and trade magazines, it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume between $2 million and $3 million in startup costs. For the higher amount, that means that a 45-year-old, with plans to retire at 65, would have to save more than $81,000 a year (assuming a 6% annual rate of return); a 55-year-old would need to invest nearly $228,000 above and beyond any other retirement needs.

Thereare alternatives. You could try to find a group of similarly minded investors to join the venture. Booking annual trips to France or Sonoma might be enough to get the vino bug out of your system.

Still more frugal: Use your existing property.

Given the wide variety of grapes, your own backyard will probably prove suitable for growing at least one type (if you live in Alaska, you are probably out of luck).

There are plenty of continuing-education programs, tours and schools (such as Make Your Own Wine, a winery and school in Elmsford, N.Y.) that can provide a crash course in winemaking. Gathering supplies can be done easily online.

Ahoy, ahoy
J.P. Morgan once quipped, in response to a query about how much a yacht would cost, "You have no right, or business, owning a yacht if you ask that question."

Fortunately, that may not be completely accurate.

We will assume, of course, you are not among the British developers trying to build the Streets of Monaco yacht, a project that could end up costing more than $1 billion. A floating city, it will include seaworthy (though smaller) replicas of the Monte Carlo Casino and racetrack, Hotel de Paris and La Rascasse.

We'll also guess you are not the sort able to pay $40 million to $100 million for many of the other luxury yachts the world's wealthiest take to port.

A 20-foot yacht, commonly referred to as a cabin cruiser, can range from $30,000 to about $75,000; used models can be found through brokers and private sellers for as little as $15,000 if you are mechanically inclined and willing to shop around.

A more elegant 30-footer will start at about $250,000 and sail into the million-plus range.

Assuming somewhat more modest tastes, a 30-foot vessel would require a 55-year-old to invest more than $18,000 a year until retiring at 65 (one again, this is in addition to all other retirement savings needs). A 45-year-old would have to float about $6,700 a year.

Be aware of the popular adage that "the two happiest days in a man's life are the day he buys his boat and the day he sells it." If you aren't already an experienced sailor, don't make the mistake of assuming the nautical life agrees with you. It may look a lot more attractive in the pages of a sailing magazine than what you experience in real life.

There are also annual mooring fees, fuel costs, maintenance and taxes to consider. There are even online calculators designed to tally the recurring expenses of crew, guest accommodations and dining -- all of which can be defrayed by renting your vessel out for charters.

If all that is more of a budget-busting headache than you can stomach, an option is tucking money aside each year to charter a week of open-sea cruising and fishing. With some careful research, you may even be able to find the right opportunity for fractional ownership of a yacht, scheduling time aboard it in cooperation with others like a time share.

Hitting the links
If playing out the rest of your days practicing your short game sounds ideal, you are in good company. Golf is popular among retirees, and country club memberships come with the perks of fine dining and a robust social life.

If you want to progress beyond merely hitting the greens once a week or so, be prepared to start saving. The bad news: Those annual membership and greens fees can add up. The good news: Now is a great time to strike a bargain.

The recession, combined with a dip in popularity, has many country clubs scrambling to lure new members. Many are reducing or even dropping initiation fees and discounting recurring charges.

It still isn't necessarily cheap. Depending on the club, initial fees can range from a few hundred dollars to $100,000 and up at more prestigious, PGA-certified venues. Annual dues can be thousands more, and some of the more expensive and exclusive clubs require that you set aside a thousand bucks or two each month, nonrefundable, to draw upon for clubhouse expenses -- a very upscale variation of the two-drink minimum.

If it is too much for your post-work wallet, don't despair. There are always public courses, many of which are meticulously cared for and great bargains.

Lure of the open road
Once upon a time, retirees were drawn in large numbers to motor homes and recreational vehicles. Even in an age of soaring gas prices, the lure of loading up a mobile hotel room and following blue highways to the Grand Canyon endures.

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association reports that RV wholesale shipments last year, 242,300 vehicles, were the highest in three years and a 46% increase over the previous year. It expects that boomers nearing retirement will benefit the industry, citing research that one in 10 vehicle-owning households in that age group have an RV.

What about those high gas prices? The association cites research claiming that prices would need to more than triple to make the RV lifestyle more expensive for a family of four than other forms of travel because of the savings on air, hotel and restaurant costs, which also rise in line with oil prices.

Those are the official selling points. But can you afford it?

According to RVIA, a truck camper on a pickup bed or chassis will run upward of $26,000 brand new. Full-fledged motor homes will range from about $41,000 to $400,000 depending on size and amenities

If you plan on taking plenty of trips, even short-distance weekend roll-outs, your return on investment may be more palatable. If the mud-flapped behemoth sits in your driveway 51 weeks a year, doing little more than annoying your neighbors, not so much.

With an average tank size of 55 gallons and about 12 MPG, you'll need to factor in fuel costs and some extra maintenance money as you budget your savings.

Assuming a well-appointed, midrange RV ($120,000) and a kitty for gas, you could budget $150,000 toward the hobby and add that money to your retirement savings objective. That translates into just over $4,000 a year in added savings for a 45-year-old and the more daunting sum of more than $11,000 a year for a 55-year-old.

Charitable urges
Want to leave a longstanding legacy? The sort that gets hospital wings and university libraries named after you? Well, to join the charity-minded ranks of superphilanthropists Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, you might need to do what Mark Zuckerberg did -- become an overnight billionaire.

Barring that, there are ways to make your mark and help the greater good without necessarily turning over all of the money your heirs are counting on. There might not be a statue dedicated in your honor, but who needs to be a pigeon roost anyway?

You can donate appreciated shares of stock, mutual funds or other publicly traded securities directly to the charitable organization, instead of selling the shares, taking a capital gains tax hit and donating cash.

"This is a powerful strategy because it accomplishes both income-tax planning and charitable objectives," says Eric Meermann, client service manager with Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Scarsdale, N.Y.

If you have a security with a loss you want to get rid of, do the opposite, he says. Sell it first and take the capital loss. You can donate the proceeds to charity and take a deduction just like any other cash contribution.

Preparing for longer-term donations, you may want to establish a donor-advised fund, a charitable-giving vehicle that lets you make an irrevocable tax-deductible contribution, Meerman says. Your money grows tax free inside the fund and, at any time, you can recommend distributions to qualified charitable organizations.

More complex is setting up a charitable remainder trust, where the donor gets a stream of income for a set number of years from a trust established as "split-interest." After the term expires or the donor dies, the assets pass to one or more charities selected as recipients.

Those with a robust bank account balance can also launch a charitable lead trust, the flip side of a charitable remainder trust, where an income stream is paid to a charity over a fixed number of years and reverts back to the donor or heirs at the end of the term.

Bumper to bumper
The next time you drool while reading about Jay Leno's collection of antique and exotic cars, keep this in mind: You don't host The Tonight Show and -- we'll play the percentages here -- probably don't book 100-plus shows a year in sold-out comedy clubs.

But even if you are no Vegas headliner, and a Buick Skylark is more in keeping with your finances than a Bugatti Veyron, you can still live out a desire burrowed into your brain from years of keeping Matchbox cars in shoe boxes.

An affordable way to spend your later years tinkering in the garage is to join a car club, the gatherings of auto enthusiasts that take place in parking lots across the country. What good is buying and painstakingly restoring a car if no one else sees it? These clubs not only provide a social venue for showing off those beauties, but can help you find projects and needed parts at affordable prices or even as a trade.

Once again, the advice is the same: Understand your hobby and don't be afraid to add its associated costs to your financial plan.

The loved ones
While enjoying their retirement years is important to most, many take just as much joy in spreading happiness to their children and grandkids. Leaving an estate to provide for them after you are gone is always an option, perhaps, but there is no denying the emotional reward of being a living benefactor.

One could boost retirement savings targets to cover such efforts as helping with college tuition or a dream wedding. A better option, potentially, is to set up trusts you can earmark for those milestones and let the assets grow over time.

Financial advisers typically suggest setting parameters for when a benefactor can tap these funds. Simply giving access to a grandchild on their 18th birthday can be risky, as you have no assurances they will use the money wisely or as intended.

A trust fund can be conditional, so that, for instance, a granddaughter can get all or some set-aside funds as a wedding gift. Or a portion can be paid out over the four years of a college education, with stipulations on how it is to be spent.

Because college expenses are an important area where an older relative can help out, you may want to investigate one of the many state-run, professionally managed 529 Plans. These savings vehicles, like 401(k) plans, accept incoming funds that are invested among a selection of mutual funds and other instruments, ideally accruing interest that compounds the value of the assets over time.

Be aware, however, that these plans have a shorter time horizon than the decades a 401(k) or IRA offer. As such, a dip in the markets -- as was experienced during the recession -- can be bad news if it strikes when a young adult is about to start school.

Fly the friendly skies
Calling retirement a life of leisure can be a stretch. But allowing for more and longer trips is a definite perk of ditching the time clock.

When calculating discretionary income into your big-picture retirement plan, don't forget to estimate how much travel you want. Then try to make the most of these savings.

If you want to see the world, check out travel programs specifically geared for seniors, such as the nonprofit, educational travel organization Road Scholar, formerly known as Elderhostel. You can also do some of your own homework, researching air fares and hotel rates to spot trends and deals. You no longer have to plan trips months in advance and around vacation schedules. Take advantage of the savings that being a flexible, or even last-minute, traveler can provide.

Find ways to save money any way you can. If you have credit cards, don't let flier miles go unused. If you frequent a certain area, routinely visiting family for example, follow the lead of tourists and look for coupon books and special deals. Travel kiosks and information centers dotting highways can be full of brochures and guidebooks with discounts for lodging and dining.

And don't forget one of the perks of growing older: the senior discount. Don't be afraid to ask about one before checking in.

Home away from home
If you count yourself among the "snowbirds" who escape the winter blues each year to a favorite, sunny spot, it may make sense to consider owning a vacation home.

In years past, that might have been scary -- taking on a new mortgage for a $250,000-or-more home seemed more out of reach than a motel, cottage or relative's spare bedroom.

When considering your retirement plan, though, you need to consider what your life will look like. As such, if two months of the year bring you to Florida, budget that important part of your life appropriately.

Near and recent retirees may find the prospect of affording a second home a lot easier in this economic downturn. If you can't afford to flat-out buy property, mortgage rates are at historic lows. Housing prices in many of the areas retirees flock to -- among them Florida and Arizona -- are the cheapest they have been in years.

Because you won't be living there year-round, you have the option of offering the property as a vacation rental or even renting it to a more permanent tenant for a fixed time.

The bad news: Such income is taxable. The better news: You can at least claim many of your upkeep expenses as a deduction.

Do-it-yourself
A growing number of people are in the unfortunate position of learning that their inadequate retirement savings will force them to either work later into life or return to the work force.

For these unhappy folks, it may seem unusual that some relish the idea.

Day-to-day work responsibilities can put a crimp on entrepreneurial endeavors. But with free time, and a reserved pool of savings, taking on a new career can prove rewarding and perhaps even profitable.

One strategy, known as a ROBS Plan (for Rollovers as Business Startups) offers a way to use 401(k) funds to finance an entrepreneurial venture. Details on this complex maneuver can be found here.

There are plenty of ways to launch a venture, however, without raiding your savings if you are willing to have a home office and the penny-pinching mentality of a start-up.

Wanted to be a published author? Now you have the time to dedicate to your literary calling. Have years of business acumen that might otherwise go to waste? Become a consultant to get paid for your experience and guidance.

You can start a craft business, open a boutique PR or advertising agency, even reconfigure that big vacation home into a bed & breakfast.

Be aware, however, that your new career could have tax implications or present the opportunity to delay getting Social Security benefits. A financial planner or accountant can help you determine the pros and cons of starting a business.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

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