Yes, you need to save for retirement. But don't forget to plan for your dreams

  • You should start planning for what you want to do in retirement as early as you start saving.
  • Many retirees are using their retirement years to accomplish new goals that have nothing to do with their previous careers.
  • To start, experts recommend you identify what you enjoy doing and whittle that list down to a couple of activities to focus on.
Bicyclist in Lucca, Tuscany, Italy
Ken Scicluna | AWL Images | Getty Images

When John Miller stepped away from his consulting position at Accenture in 2001, he didn't pursue a traditional retirement.

Miller went on to put his consulting expertise — including helping companies resolve supply chain management issues — to work on both a part-time and full-time basis.

He eventually gave that work up to travel the world with his wife. The couple's trips have since included two cruises around the globe.

Miller's travels have helped inspire his next venture: importing wines from the Tuscan and Piedmont regions of Italy.

Miller, 68, co-founded the company, named Terra Toscana, with a friend from his coffee klatch after they discovered a shared passion for the region and for wines.

The company, which was launched last year, just recently brought in its first wine shipment — a little more than 1,300 bottles.

The wine supply is aimed at giving Miller's fellow residents in his suburban Atlanta community access they wouldn't otherwise have to Italian culture, via tasting and dinner events.

John Miller wants to make his business a top importer of Italian wines.
John Miller
John Miller wants to make his business a top importer of Italian wines.

And even if they don't soak in the culture, they can still enjoy the beverage.

"I think a lot of people just like drinking wine," Miller said.

Ultimately, he wants the business to become the go-to importer for Italian wines in Georgia.

The endeavor is just one example of how baby boomers are reshaping their retirements so that they can see new dreams come to fruition. Often, these efforts have nothing to do with their former careers.

"What happens is a lot of successful people do a great job in whatever profession they're in and make enough money to make their job optional and want to pursue a different passion," said Howard Joe, a wealth management advisor at Merrill Lynch.

Where to start

When Miller first got the idea to import wines, he consulted the experts he knows.

That included someone who imports wines, who shared his advice on how to limit costs associated with running a warehouse.

Miller also consulted his financial advisor, Joe at Merrill Lynch, to make sure his cash flow lined up with what he was taking on.

Joe encourages his clients to make a plan for the dreams they want to achieve in retirement now, even if they are nowhere near their golden years.

That is because, at most, you have five years in your life to accomplish what you really want to, according to the financial advisor's estimation.

If you live until you're 90, for example, you spend 30 years of your life working and 30 years sleeping.

That leaves 30 years, Joe said, the first 10 of which are spent in childhood and the last 10 in old age. Of the remaining 10 years, you lose half of that time waiting in line and commuting to work.

"Too many of us get caught up in the cycle of life where you basically do the same thing every day," Joe said. "You don't realize how short life is until it's too late."

To start, Joe usually has his clients picture they are at the end of their lives staring at a hospital ceiling. The regrets they identify through that exercise help determine the priorities they should have for their lives now.

Planning your next phase

Even if you are already in retirement, it is not too late to start thinking about your next act.

Some people get to retirement and are so burned out from their careers that they need a year to regroup, said Sharon Good, a career and retirement coach based in New York.

To start planning your next phase, begin with a self-exploration process.

Good said she usually has her clients create a list of 10 to 20 possibilities of what they might do, and narrow that down to one or two endeavors to devote their time and energy to.

"Find something you're excited about that you're willing to commit to," she said.

And don't let age or other restrictions hold you back, she said. Good has a friend who traveled to Africa with a tour group for people with disabilities. After falling in love with the elephants, she went on to attend elephant camp with her walker.

"The limitations you have don't have to stop you from living a full life," Good said.

More from Personal Finance:

You may be overlooking this reason to delay Social Security benefits

Paying down student loans vs. saving for retirement: Here's how to prioritize

For soon-to-be retirees, working a little while longer can pay off big time