THE RETIREMENT REALITY CHECK

Little things to keep in mind for life after work.

Decades ago, there was a popular book entitled What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School. Perhaps someday, another book will appear to discuss certain aspects of the retirement experience that go unrecognized – the “fine print”, if you will. Here are some little things that can be frequently overlooked.

How will you save in retirement? More and more baby boomers are retiring with the hope that they can become centenarians. That may prove true thanks to healthcare advances and generally healthier lifestyles.

We all save for retirement; with our increasing longevity, we will also need to save in retirement for the (presumed) decades ahead. That means more than budgeting; it means investing with growth and tax efficiency in mind year after year.

Could your cash flow be more important than your savings? While the #1 retirement fear is someday running out of money, your income stream may actually prove more important than your retirement nest egg. How great will the income stream be from your accumulated wealth?

There’s a longstanding belief that retirees should withdraw about 4% of their savings annually. This “4% rule” became popular back in the 1990s, thanks to an influential article written by a financial advisor named Bill Bengen in the Journal of Financial Planning. While the “4% rule” has its followers, the respected economist William Sharpe (one of the minds behind Modern Portfolio Theory) dismissed it as simplistic and an open door to retirement income shortfalls in a widely cited 2009 essay in the Journal of Investment Management. 1

Volatility is pronounced in today’s financial markets, and the relative calm we knew prior to the last recession may take years to return. Because of this volatility, it is hard to imagine sticking to a hard-and- fast withdrawal rate in retirement – your annual withdrawal percentage may need to vary due to life and market factors.

What will you begin doing in retirement? In the classic retirement dream, every day feels like a Saturday. Your reward for decades of work is 24/7 freedom. But might all that freedom leave you bored?

Impossible, you say? It happens. Some people retire with only a vague idea of “what’s next”. After a few months or years, they find themselves in the doldrums. Shouldn’t they be doing something with all that time on their hands?

A goal-oriented retirement has its virtues. Purpose leads to objectives, objectives lead to plans, and plans can impart some structure and order to your days and weeks – and that can help cure retirement listlessness.

Will your spouse want to live the way that you live? Many couples retire with shared goals, but they find that their ambitions and day-to-day routines differ. Over time, this dissonance can be aggravating. A conversation or two may help you iron out potential conflicts. While your spouse’s “picture” of retirement will not simply be a mental photocopy of your own, the variance in retirement visions may surprise you.

When should you (and your spouse) claim Social Security benefits? “As soon as possible” may not be the wisest answer. An analysis is needed. Talk with the financial professional you trust and run the numbers. If you can wait and apply for Social Security strategically, you might realize as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars more in benefits over your lifetimes.

1 – http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0523/investing-retirement-bill-bengen-savings-spending-solution.html

Why Women Are Prepared for Financial Success?

We have the ability to excel financially; it is a matter of shifting our outlook.

Statistics don’t mean everything. Read enough about women and money online, and you will run across numbers indicating that women finish a distant second to men in saving and investing. Only 42% of women save a specific amount money each month for retirement, the State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services at the American College finds. Aon Hewitt says that the average 401(k) balance for a man at the end of 2012 was about $100,000, while it was only about $59,300 for a woman. And so forth. 1,2

Depressing? Well, consider that you can be the exception. (Maybe you are right now.) You may already have the discipline and patience central to smart investing and saving.

Is making a household work all that different from making your money work for you? You may or may not have to broaden your skill set a bit to save and invest well for retirement; chances are, though, you already have some abilities you can draw on effectively.

The latest edition of Prudential’s “Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women” study (2010-2011) shows that 54% of women either feel “very knowledgeable” or “somewhat knowledgeable” about financial products. The previous edition of the study noted that 95% of women are financial decision makers within their households, with 84% of the married women surveyed solely or jointly in charge of household finances. 3

Given that level of participation and control over household finances, is it such a stretch to believe many women could become equally financially literate in their understanding of stocks, bonds, commodities, and insurance? It isn’t a stretch, especially when you think about how much good financial knowledge is out there, some of it free of charge.

Most household financial decisions are short-term decisions. They are geared toward this month or this year, and often relate to cash flow management or debt management. The simplest step toward financial freedom for many women – perhaps the most valuable step – may be moving from a short-term financial outlook to a long-term financial outlook.

Think about becoming the “millionaire next door.” In many cases in this country, wealth is grown slowly and steadily. We all dream of a windfall, but usually individuals amass $1 million or more through a variety of factors: ongoing investment according to a consistent financial strategy, the compounding of assets/savings over time, business or professional success, and perhaps even inherited wealth.

When the focus moves from “how do we make it work this month” to “how do we make moves in pursuit of our financial goals”, the whole outlook on the meaning and purpose of money begins to change. What should money do for you? What purpose should it have in your life? What can you do to make it work harder for you, so that you might not have to work as hard in the future?

Women have the wisdom, prudence and patience to make superb investors. Understanding the financial world is ultimately a matter of learning its “language” and precepts, which will quickly seem less arcane with education. Today, do yourself a money favor and ask to talk with a female financial professional who can help you define long-term and lifetime financial goals and direct some of your money in pursuit of them.

1 – http://www.cnbc.com/id/100732440

2 – http://blogs.marketwatch.com/encore/2013/08/14/401k-gender- gap-is- bigger-than- pay-gap/

3 – http://prudential.com/media/managed/Womens_Study_Final.pdf

Money Issues Across Your Life Cycle

Some women are co-breadwinners while others are the only source of income. Throughout a woman’s life, she will experience many money issues unique to women. A woman may experience the following situations: lower earnings, lack of retirement planning, divorce, and fewer years in the workplace because of child-rearing or caring for older parents. Many of these issues can work against a woman’s ability to accumulate money and attain stable financial status.

Lower Lifetime Earnings

As a population, women generally earn a lower income than their male counterparts. The Equal Pay Act that passed in the 1960s was supposed to narrow the earning gap between men and women, yet a gender pay gap still exists today. Women who work full-time year-round still are paid 77% of a man’s pay ($37,000 for a woman compared to $48,000 for a man in 2009) (U.S. Census Bureau 2012). Inequities start early and worsen over time. Research has shown a 5% difference one year after college graduation and a 12% difference after 10 years. The only identified explanation for the unexplained gaps was gender discrimination (Arnst 2007; Boushey, Aarons, and Smith 2010).

Breaks in Career

Women are more likely to have gaps in their work years because of child-rearing (Duke 2010). Some women may leave their jobs for extended periods of time to go on maternity leave. Other women make the choice to stay home for an extended time, reentering the job market years later. During child-rearing years, some women may leave careers behind and choose to work part-time or find a job with hours that match closely with children’s school schedules. As a result, upon retirement age, women’s income and Social Security benefits are often lower than those of their male counterparts.
Women need to pay attention to any employer retirement plan or matched contributions that may have been a job benefit. Find out about retirement or savings before you leave the job. If money is invested in a retirement plan, can it stay until you are ready to retire? What are the options?

Divorce

The divorce rate in the United States is estimated at 36%–50% (U.S. Census Bureau 2010). In general, divorce creates a financial disaster for families and may leave a woman to raise children using less money. Spending may likely need to change when a divorce occurs. It is important to review monthly expenditures and establish a budget. Since cash flow may drastically change and not be the same from week to week, continue to review income and expenses. Depending on the number of years a woman was married, she may be entitled to part of her husband’s retirement income. Be sure all financial issues are revealed and resolved during divorce proceedings.

Care of Elderly Parents

Another family obligation that may interfere with building wealth is caring for an elderly or ailing parent or other family member. Women tend to be the major caregivers for sick or older parents. Some women may take a career break or retire early to attend to the full-time care of a family member. Even if a woman continues to work, caring for the family member may become a financial burden.

Widowhood

As women age, the likelihood of living alone increases. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2010), among those 65 and older, 44% of women were married, compared to 75% of men. Widowed women account for approximately 40% of women 65 and older, but only 13% of men 65 and older are widowed (U.S. Census Bureau 2010). The average age of widowhood is 55 years old (U.S. Census Bureau 2010). A spouse’s death is not only emotionally exhausting, but also will likely end with financial consequences.

Lack of Retirement Planning

As a whole, women tend to focus less on planning for their retirement over the course of their career, having saved less for retirement than men. Because women are often the caregivers for the family, taking steps to ensure their financial future may take a backseat when other events occur.
Women are reluctant to taking risk. When women do put money into a retirement fund, it is often a conservative investment that earns lower interest rates than their male counterparts. Try to research investments and identify your best options.

What You Can Do to Prepare Yourself

Women can improve their financial status and retirement income. Financial planning and learning about investing are the first steps on the road to financial independence. Time is on your side when you start early. Small amounts of money saved and invested over time add up to a secure financial life.

(U.S. Census Bureau 2010)

Building Your Divorce Community

A divorce can be one of the most challenging experiences in life. How you approach the divorce and manage the divorce both emotionally, legally and financially can have a huge impact on your ability to recover and rebuild a better life for yourself. They key is don’t try to go it alone.

Women work best in a community but when experiencing divorce you must build your community that can provide both objective advice while supporting and encouraging you to make the best decisions for your future so that you can heal and shine again.

It’s important that you formally ask for their help and to be available to you and a part of this community.

Your divorce community must incorporate one of each of the following.

  1. A family member who understands your situation and challenges but can also be objective with their advice and support.
  2. A friend who can commit to supporting you and provides sound and objective advice but who can listen and empathize when needed.
  3. An attorney that is recommended and that you LIKE with whom you feel will provide the best council.
  4. A Financial Advisor who respects women and provides not just investment advice but the education you need to understand your money and what it means to your future.
  5. A Life Coach who will not just be a sounding board but provide action steps to help you move forward and improve your life.

Think of a beautiful diamond ring, that diamond is held firmly in place by prongs that do not hold that diamond down but together supports that diamond so everyone can see its beauty and brilliance.

You too can become that diamond again, but it starts with building your community.

Do you know what your Estate is worth?

Estimating what your estate would be worth if something happened to you is the only way to judge whether you should be making estate plans:

To get started consider the following major elements of your estate:

  • Real estate
  • Personal property (cars, furniture, electronics, art)
  • Value of any retirement plans (including IRA’s)
  • Bank accounts
  • Life Insurance policies you own
  • Stocks, bonds, mutual funds and annuities

Understanding what you are worth and what you own is a crucial step in planning for your future.