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portfolio strategy

Feel better about your retirement by assessing your financial standing and then developing a plan.Oko_SwanOmurphy/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Here's an investing tip for baby boomers that pays dividends. Spend 90 minutes or so using these online resources and feel better about your retirement. Presented here is a nine-step process that will take you through 20 or so online calculators, worksheets, databases and other tools. The goal is to help you see where you stand on retirement planning and develop a plan to move forward.

Step 1: Find out how much retirement income you should expect

There are plenty of online retirement calculators out there, but none are better than this one. The Canadian Retirement Income Calculator is brought to you by the federal government, so there's no hidden agenda of using it to sell investment products. It's also comprehensive, easy to use and brutally effective in showing any gaps between the income you want and what your current retirement resources will give you.

Now try this tool from (partially shown in accompanying montage – the bottom-right website), which is funded through the Ontario Securities Commission and thus another option for people seeking independent analysis. It's designed to help you plan your cash flow in retirement based on your income and expenses.

Step 2: Consider if it's a good time to sell the family home

High house prices in some cities raise a question for retiring boomers: Should they lock in long-term price gains by selling now, or plan to remain in their homes for the long term and take their chances on future price moves? This worksheet shows you the financial impact of downsizing, including potential income generated if you invest money left over after selling and buying a condo or a smaller house.

Here's a worksheet that will help you see whether your cost of living will be lower in a condo. Living costs are a key variable in deciding how much retirement you'll need.

Step 3: How much will your retirement investments grow?

I created this retirement readiness worksheet to help Globe readers get a rough idea of what to expect from their retirement investments in the years ahead. Just type in the percentage of your portfolio in the major investment categories and then add in your return expectations. Default returns based on historical results are available, but you'd be wise to downgrade them by a percentage point or two to reflect lower return expectations in the years ahead.

Or, use the return expectations discussed here. They were created by the Financial Planning Standards Council and Institut québécois de planification financière for the use of financial planners and advisers.

Step 4: Get answers to your remaining retirement planning questions

Two queries I hear a lot: What's a sensible annual rate of withdrawal from my retirement savings, and what's the best strategy for withdrawing money from my registered retirement savings plan to minimize taxes? For answers, consider a fee-only financial planner who charges an hourly or flat rate and doesn't sell investments. You can buy a consultation to discuss your key questions, or a more comprehensive full retirement plan.

There's no directory of fee-only planners, but this 2012 listing from MoneySense magazine is at least a place to start. You can also try a Google search for fee-only financial planning in your city.

Prefer a planner who will also manage your investments? Then try these search engines for finding a certified financial planner (CFP) or registered financial planner (RFP). The CFP tool lets you specify your hometown and the specialty you're looking for, i.e., retirement. Be clear when speaking to any sort of adviser that you want financial planning to guide your investments. Avoid investment vendors pretending to be advisers.

Step 5: See if you're getting value from your current adviser

Our online fee disclosure tool will show you how the advisory fees you pay compare with other investors. You can also compare the service you're getting with others.

Step 6: Consider a low-cost advice alternative

Online advisers, also known as robo-advisers, provide automated management of a low-cost portfolio of exchange-traded funds. Tech-happy young adults are thought to be the prime market for this service, but retirees should give it some thought as well. There's a lot to be said for having an income-producing ETF portfolio maintained by experts. Here's The Globe and Mail's directory of online advisers.

Step 7: Consider the DIY option

Running your own portfolio through an online broker can reduce your fees to near nothing. Stock trading commissions top out at $10 at most firms now, and some waive commissions completely for customers buying ETFs. Here's my latest ranking of online brokers. Look for an updated ranking in early December that puts some emphasis on usability for clients who are not hard-core investors.

Step 8: Familiarize yourself with investment options of particular interest to boomers

Boomers are keenly interested in dividend stocks, which makes sense because dividends are a tax-efficient source of investment income. Here's a link to my colleague John Heinzl's columns on dividend investing.

There are lots of ETFs that function as a low-cost generator of investment income from dividends (common and preferred shares) and bonds. This ETF screener – (click on ETFI Database) – will help you build a list of funds to investigate further.

I also get asked a fair bit about websites with information on preferred shares. Here's one of the best.

For the risk-averse and those looking for an appealing alternative to bonds, here's a listing of rates offered on guaranteed investment certificates (click on Term Deposits/GICs/GIAs).

Here are some basics about annuities, an insurance industry product based on the idea of exchanging a lump sum of money for a monthly flow of income that lasts as long as you live.

Step 9: What am I missing?

The Globe and Mail's new retirement hub is designed to be a go-to source of information on all aspects of retirement planning, from investments to travel, debt and health. Also try:

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