Suze Orman: How to prepare for retirement

Worrying about whether you have enough money for retirement is common, and for good reason. Research shows that the typical American is woefully unprepared for financial stability in their twilight years.

As part of our Living Longer TODAY series, we’re taking a closer look at preparing not just for retirement but affording the decades that follow.

Personal finance expert Suze Orman says that many people don’t realistically plan for their future financial needs. You may think you’ll get by on less when you retire, but that's probably not going to be the case.

“Most likely you will spend more when you’re retired,” Orman told TODAY. “The older you get the more (medications) you’ll likely need. On average, a person (over 65) takes 17 prescription drugs per year.”

While it’s tricky enough navigating the health insurance system today, who knows how much more complex it will become in the future?

There are even darker possibilities to consider, like the death of a spouse. While this event may not burden you financially, it will almost certainly affect the way you live, and the activities you partake in.

“If you lose a spouse or a loved one, you’ll get lonely. You’ll want to see your kids more,” Orman said. “You really have to understand the loneliness factor.”

Be strict about bedtime. A study published in 2013 in the journal Pediatrics found that seven-year-olds who had irregular bedtimes had more behavioral problems than did those with consistent bedtimes. And the longer the lack of a strict bedtime went on, the worse the problems became. If you work outside the home, it's tempting to keep kids up to have more time with them. But as much as possible, stay the course—even if that means you sometimes miss lights out. "We all make sacrifices," says Heather Taylor, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Morrissey-Compton Educational Center, in Redwood City, California. "Call or video-chat to say good night. Just be part of the routine."

It sounds depressing, but it’s a common reality. Spending more time with family could mean pricey plane tickets and investments in other travel fare. To put it less morbidly, even if you don’t lose your partner, your life will be radically different from the one you led while working and steadily earning income.

You’ll probably take up a hobby, dine out more or look to go on more vacations — perhaps ones that were not feasible when you had a full-time job. All of this will cost money, and many people find themselves cornered during retirement because they didn’t take this into consideration when they were actively saving.

How prepared are you for retirement and beyond?

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If you’re starting to fret while reading this article, that might be a good thing. It should lead you to take action, and ask the right questions, right now.

“You need to know when to take Social Security and when not to, and how Medicare works,” said Orman. “When do you start taking money out of your account?”

Orman encourages people to think about the stuff that makes them uncomfortable because being afraid or procrastinating will only make the consequences bigger and more crucial in the future. This means talking to your kids about the nitty-gritty details of inheritance before it's too late.

"If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent. " - Bette Davis

When the fated time comes, “if you haven’t told your kids what (they’re getting when you die), they’ll fight over what you have," she said. "No matter what age you are you now need a will. You need a living trust.”

And you need to be sure that your spouse has the very same things — even if you think it’s way too soon for that type of conversation.

“Get your paperwork in place today to protect yourself tomorrow," said Orman. "You need to know that you have everything about your affairs (in order) so you don’t become a burden.”

And banish excuses, including the feeling that you don't make enough to save wisely.

“The less money you have," said Orman, "the more you need it."

This article was originally published Sept. 22, 2015, on TODAY.com.