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The question of when to start saving into a pension is one that crops up time and time again.
There is no “best time” as everyone’s situations are different.
Every situation needs to be mapped on its own merits and a bespoke map of the future put in place for the individual who is considering this question.
However it is safe to state that as a general rule of thumb, the earlier you can start, the better.
Annuities are financial products which convert capital into income. They are used within pensions to take the sum saved and accumulated over many years and to turn it into an income.
Annuities come in many different forms, the central characteristic in pension terms is that they generally guarantee an income for life.
Your question of - How best to plan for our retirement? - has a number of possible answers and there is no one solution or bit of advice I can give you in a forum like this. The reason for this is that anyone giving advice on retirement would need to know a lot more about what you want to do from here? What your goals and aspirations are and try to bring that all together with a "what will retirement look like and cost you?"
A Financial Planner would then need to bring together the details of all your existing arrangements, including the SIPP and local education pension you refer to, and bring together a detailed financial plan forecast of the income you can expect from various sources and compare that to the "what will retirement cost?" figure that will have been arrived on - we call this a Cashflow Plan.
My advice to you, and to anyone reading this, is take advantage of Financial Planning Week and go and sit with someone for an initial discussion and pick their brains and decide if you want to get some professional help.
www.increaseyourpension.co.uk provides a lot of information on how to try and increase pension values, if required, how best to "retire" from any pension funds and lots of other issues around pensions, I would suggest you read the White Papers on the site called - Are you mad to buy an Annuity in 2013/2014" and "The New Retirement Options" as they will hopefully give you an idea of how to start to plan for your retirement, especially with regards to the SIPP you mentioned with Barclays.