Saw an email come by my inbox the other day related to getting in shape and fitness. It listed out “things you should not worry about” and “things you should worry about.”

And there are some pretty obvious applications that could be made to retirement planning from all this.

The things you should not worry about (according to the fitness guy) include: what’s the optimal time to eat meals, sticking to a “clean” eating regimen, strategies to overcome slow metabolism, complex strategies to get good “gut” health, and other more minor things.

The list of things you should worry about was pretty small:

It included things like – getting enough sleep, actually exercising, eating vegetables and getting enough protein, drinking enough water.

And the point he was trying to make was that if you focus on these things consistently, then the stuff on the other list will probably never be of worry to you.

So what’s this got to do with retirement planning?

Well, some people (and sadly some financial advisors cause this in clients) obsess over the little things like…

  • Should I get the annuity with the 6% or the 7% income roll-up… yet never stop and think about what the actual payout from the annuity would be…
  • Should I have 5% or 5.5% small-cap exposure in my portfolio… and never look at their overall portfolio’s holdings to see if it even is appropriate for their income needs and longevity estimation…
  • Should I decrease my equity exposure by 10% because I’m afraid the market may drop… and never even consider what the ramifications on their IRA/401k would be if Congress increased tax rates in the future at just the time when they need to start making withdrawals to fund their retirement…
  • Should I buy the annuity with a $xxxx amount of payout, “is that a good deal?”… yet never consider should they get an annuity in the first place…

You can breeze past the people (and advisors) that focus on the minutia by focusing on these things instead:

  • Calculating your retirement income gap (the amount your expenses in retirement exceed your income sources in retirement)
  • If you’re still working, seeing if your budget will allow you to contribute more to your 401k before retirement… even better contributing to a tax-free Roth account.
  • Taking advantage of higher Social Security income by delaying if possible to relieve pressure from drawing from your savings
  • Having a responsible amount of cash on hand to weather bad markets and times when you have unexpected big expenses come up
  • Investing appropriately for your risk tolerance. If you are so risk averse you can’t handle having certain equities in your portfolio, then it does no good to try and fine-tune what percentage of your portfolio will be invested in the “Incomprehensible Tech Emerging Market Mutual Fund” or whatever. You won’t be able to stick with it when the next bear market occurs if your portfolio is not in-line with your risk tolerance.
  • Having a reasonable withdrawal strategy from your portfolio with guidelines to determine when you can take more distributions or should cut back temporarily based on how the market is doing.

Do this for your financial plan and you’ll be way ahead of the guys focusing on the little details and missing the big picture.

It’s not exciting. It’s not flashy. It is so boring, come to think of it.

(And also, come to think of it, it is so effective in helping people have a better financial standing in retirement.)

It’s just good planning. And it is one of the single most important factors in your retirement success (at least from a financial standpoint).