2 things to do today if you want to retire in 10 years, according to a man who retired at 52

Dirk CottonCourtesy Dirk Cotton
  • Dirk Cotton retired from his role at AOL in 2005 at age 52, and has been researching and writing about retirement ever since. 
  • He had a unique retirement experience which included weathering the popping of the dot-com bubble and the Great Recession right after retiring. 
  • His best advice for anyone retiring in 10 years is to meet with a financial planner to review your goals and strategy, and to reduce the risk in your retirement investments
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

While the key to making retirement saving easy is to start early, sometimes retirement just creeps up on you. Before you know it, you're only 10 years out. 

Dirk Cotton retired from a job as an engineer and executive at AOL in 2005 at 52 and lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Since retiring, he's spent his time researching and writing about retirement finance, and blogging about it on his site The Retirement Cafe

His own experience and research have led him to suggest two things that anyone looking to retire in 10 years should do today: Find a retirement planner and adjust your asset allocation.

Find a financial planner 

"You should find a good retirement planner, because retirement planning is incredibly complex," says Cotton. 

Getting advice from a financial planner who specializes in retirement can make all the difference when it comes to your unique situation. Once retirement gets close, having an expert on hand is "extremely helpful and worth the investment," says Cotton, based on personal experience and research. 

"There's a limited number of really good retirement planners out there," says Cotton. "It's worth it to start talking to them in years before you retire."

Reduce your equity allocation

Ten years before he retired, Cotton reduced the percentage of his assets that were tied up in the stock market. "It was a lifesaver," he says. 

"When you're saving for retirement - in other words, before that 10-year period begins - you should probably be somewhere in the 70% to 80% range," he says, referring to the percentage of assets that should be invested in stocks, rather than bonds or liquid savings. But 10 years before you retire, he suggests starting to reduce that number. "You probably want to end up when you retire with somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% to 50% equity allocation," says Cotton.

He says that by reducing his exposure in the stock market in the 10 years before he retired, he was less affected by major events approaching and during his retirement, like the popping of the dot-com bubble and the Great Recession. "A lot of people had 100% equities when they were saving for retirement and lost over 50% in a very short period of time," he says.

"I knew a lot of people who had millions in options that ended up losing it all," he says. "Fortunately, I was positioned to deal with it."

SmartAsset's free tool can help you find a financial planner who specializes in retirement »

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