Accounting On Us
Financial decisions you will regret in retirement
What you do today that will make or break your future
Drake A. Qualls
I’ve met a lot of people who have never done any planning for retirement. According to some studies, 50% of Americans have no savings for retirement. Other studies show the average person spends more time every year planning for their vacation than their retirement. Seems like most Americans put off planning almost indefinitely. It’s not an immediate concern to most, so I get it. You have all sorts of things on your mind (your children, your spouse, your job, friends, extended family, the news, entertainment, hobbies, chores, your home, your car, your student loans, and on and on). No wonder our savings and planning draw the short straw.
You didn’t save enough before retirement
Savings fuel your ability to offset future expenses in retirement. You need a nest egg growing in the background of your life to take care of those inevitably nasty surprises that life will throw at you. We don’t know what will happen, or how much it is going to cost. Yet, we can assume that there will be a day when you must pay up.
I’ve personally met people who have to take on grandchildren as dependents in retirement. Raising kids is expensive but imagine having to do it without employment income. I know people who become very ill in retirement and need ongoing treatment in order to live. Just owning a house is expensive. Long term care is alarmingly common (and often not planned for). The list goes on and on. I know this is anecdotal, but I share this in an effort to express the ubiquity of these expensive retirement surprises.
What’s the fix? It depends very much on your age, your retirement date (which can change without your consent), and how much you have saved already. The point is, the longer you take to start saving, the less you end up with, and the more you have to save each month to try and catch-up.
You’re spending too much in retirement
Let’s assume you did save enough money for retirement. Now all you need to do is make sure it lasts for the rest of you and your spouse’s lifetimes. Easy, right?
The rough reality is that most people can only sustainably distribute about 4% (give or take a percentage) of their savings value annually during retirement. More than that, and you run a real risk of running out of funds. If you haven’t saved enough to live off that 4%, your lifestyle is almost certainly going to change.
Thankfully, current retirees have social security income, Medicare, and sometimes pensions to offset the cost of their retirement. This helps tremendously for current retirees, but the future looks increasingly murky for baby boomers, and downright dire for millennials.
What’s the fix? Consider how much you really are spending annually and make sure your spending is tracking at a rate that is reasonable for your retirement to continue. With a financial planner’s help, make sure you hone-in on this question by utilizing present value calculations in your projections. In other words, make sure your money is keeping up with the erosive effects of inflation and your withdrawals.
You quit your day job
People all over the country daydream about the day they get to go cold turkey on work. Just like with cigarettes, this isn’t the best strategy for everyone. It’s a tough adjustment to go from a full-time (or more than full-time) work week to fully retired. It can be hard on relationships and can be challenging from a planning perspective.
What’s the fix? Consider retirement to be a second wind of sorts. Is there a job you would find fulfilling if money wasn’t your sole focus? People start businesses in retirement. They switch careers entirely. You could go from life in a corporate setting to working for the national park service. You can ease into retirement on a schedule that reduces from full-time to part-time over a period of years. There are many options here.
The compelling story here is that the change can not only stave off the harmful effects of aging but allows for your accumulated retirement savings to grow further. You could even utilize the income you receive to continue that lifestyle you are used to or add more savings to your nest egg.
From a socioeconomic perspective, US fertility rates are low; lower than ever, or as low as ever. Our current labor market is very tight, and companies are struggling to find qualified candidates. The time may be right to find that second more flexible, more fulfilling, more fun career.
You didn’t plan for it
The worst thing you could do is stumble into retirement without ever having examined your assets, your liabilities, your income, and your expenses. It’s not just those either, you need reasonable assumptions for growth/inflation in all those categories. A plan should be adapted as the years progress. It should stay relevant and should provide tremendous insight.
There are many regrets you could have in retirement. The reality is that good planning resolves almost all of them. Financial planners, good ones, make every effort to identify the above issues and more. They offer advice and often help implement solutions to address those regrets before they happen.
Planning should be at the center of any investment advice you receive. There isn’t a dollar you have that doesn’t have a purpose or many purposes. Let’s work together to be clear what those are and make adjustments where necessary. Bottom line: A good planner should work with you to make sure that your life’s work amounts to a good life in retirement.