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08/13/2015 07:44 am ET Updated Aug 13, 2015

6 Ways You Are Flunking Retirement Planning

Are you your own worst enemy when it comes to figuring out the next chapter?
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Just like we've rewritten the script on how to pay for our children's college educations -- loans are bad, community colleges are good -- so has the thinking changed on retirement. Here are six things you may be doing wrong.

1. You think of retirement planning solely in terms of whether you will have enough money.

"Will I have enough?" is the question you constantly ask yourself, when perhaps the question should be, "How prepared am I to live on less?"

Old thinking held that by the time you retired, your big life-expenses would be behind you: Your house would be paid off and you would live mortgage-free, your children's college educations would be paid for. Pensions were robust and with a few budgetary nips and tucks you were going to live just as comfortably as ever.

But today, nobody even remembers what a mortgage burning party is. College loans have become the gift that keeps on giving -- or more accurately, taking. And nobody has a robust pension. The Employee Benefit Research Institute says that 57 percent of U.S. workers have less than $25,000 in total household savings and investments, excluding their homes. Scarier still is that only 66 percent report having any retirement savings at all.

But the happiest people in retirement are the ones who appreciate what they have, not those who futilely try to replicate the lifestyle they left behind when they stopped working.

So it's probably time that you stop asking the "Will I have enough?" question and just accept this reality: No, you likely won't. Thus, the question to start asking yourself is "How can I live on less and be happy about it?"

2. You haven't practiced being retired.

Practice makes perfect, they say. Get a whiff of what your post-retirement life will look like while you are still employed. For one, start spending less. Eat out less, travel off-peak seasons, discover what free offerings your public library and local universities have.

If you can, downsize now while you are still working. Chances are you no longer need the space and can find a living arrangement that costs less. We know a woman who is renting out spare bedrooms to students at the local college. It's extra income and she's learned that having them around makes her house feel full again; she likes it.

When you get closer to your retirement date, ease into things by scaling back your hours. Work on filling your down time with meaningful pursuits. And consciously make an effort to find new friends who also have newfound time on their hands.

3. Your mental image of retirement is still what your parents had. 

Your parents retired when they were in their early 60s and you think that's what you should be doing as well. Nuh-uh. Times have changed and for myriad reasons, people are staying in the work place longer than ever.

Retirement doesn't look the same as it did in your parents' era. We are living longer, living healthier, and in many cases don't have the resources our parents did when they quit the daily grind. We also have our adult kids returning home or asking for our help.

 Adjust your sights on the new normal, not the fantasy retirement you once believed would be yours.

4. You believe the myths and think you can't compete in the workplace anymore.
This is a case of if you say something often enough, it becomes truth. You've likely heard how older people are afraid of technology, can't learn new tricks, maybe even that they are hogging valuable jobs in the workforce. While we may not be digital natives, we are certainly capable of learning. Being able to text or tweet is one thing; choosing not to is another. We may not rely on technology for communications as much as younger people do, but by no means is it brain surgery either.

Don't start thinking that you have no place in the workforce just because you aren't on Pinterest. And please don't be the guy who proves the myth of "older workers can't text." Every job has a digital component nowadays and you need to be up to speed on whatever technological skills are required in your line of work.

5. You haven't embraced the sharing economy.

Are you afraid to use Airbnb? Think every Uber driver is an escaped convict? Wouldn't dream of asking your cousin to put you up for a few days while you are visiting her city? Friend, you are wasting money that you could be saving for retirement. In fact, when you retire, the peer-to-peer economy might just turn out to be your savior.

While some people remain uncomfortable with home-sharing, ride-sharing or the bartering of services, it's a more economical way to go into retirement. Swap homes for vacations and travel; skip owning a car and just rent one on the days you need it. Why not try out Airbnb the next time you visit a city? Or call an Uber to avoid the high valet parking fee?

6. You haven't embraced the New Thinking.

The New Thinking holds that instead of scrambling and fretting about our personal financial shortfalls, we just need to learn to live with less. Let your joy come from what you have and stop mourning what eludes you. Value your relationships, not the contents of your closet. Celebrate the bargain, shun the excessive, and understand that your contributions to the world don't have a dollar sign in front of them.

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