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

Getting Your Household Cash Flow Back Under Control

Developing a better budgeting process may be the biggest step toward that goal.

Where does your money go? If you find yourself asking that question from time to time, it may relate to cash flow within your household. Having a cash flow management system may be instrumental in restoring some financial control.

It is harder for a middle-class household to maintain financial control these days. If you find yourself too often living on margin (i.e., charging everything) and too infrequently with adequate cash in hand, you aren’t the only household feeling that way. Some major economic trends really have made it more challenging for households with mid-five-figure incomes. By many economic standards, today’s middle class has it harder than the middle class of generations past. Some telling statistics point to this…

*In 81% of U.S. counties, the median income is lower today than it was in 1999. Even though we are in a recovery, much of the job growth in the past few years has occurred within the service and retail sectors. (The average full-time U.S. retail worker earns less than $25,000 annually.)

*Between 1989 and 2014, the American economy grew by 83% (adjusting for inflation) with no real wage growth for middle-class households.

*In the early 1960s, General Motors was America’s largest employer. Its average full-time worker at that time earned the (inflation-adjusted) equivalent of $50 an hour, plus benefits. Wal-Mart now has America’s largest workforce; it pays its average sales associate less than $10 per hour, sometimes without benefits. 1,2

Essentially, the middle class must manage to do more with less – less inflation-adjusted income, that is. The need for budgeting is as essential as ever.

Much has been written about the growing “wealth gap” in the U.S., and that gap is very real. Less covered, but just as real, is an Achilles-heel financial habit injuring middle-class stability: a growing reliance on expensive money. As Money-Zine.com noted not long ago, U.S. consumer debt amounted to 7.3% of average household income in 1980 but 13.4% of average household income in 2013. 3

So how can you make life more affordable? Budgeting is an important step. It promotes reliance on cash instead of plastic. It defines expenses, underlining where your money goes (and where it shouldn’t be going). It clears up what is hazy about your finances. It demonstrates that you can be in command of your money, rather than letting your money command you.

Budget for that vacation. Save up for it by spending much less on the “optionals”: coffee, cable, eating out, memberships, movies, outfits.

Buy the right kind of car & do your cash flow a favor. Many middle-class families yearn to buy a new car (a depreciating asset) or lease a new car (because they want to be seen driving a better car than they can actually afford). The better option is to buy a lightly used car and drive it for several years, maybe even a decade. Unglamorous? Maybe, but it should leave you less indebted. It may be a factor that can help you to…

Plan to set some cash aside for an emergency fund. According to a recent Bankrate survey, about a quarter of U.S. households lack one. Imagine how much better you would feel knowing you have the equivalent of a few months of salary in reserve in case of a crisis. Again, you can budget to build it – a little at a time, if necessary. The key is to recognize that a crisis will come someday; none of us are fully shielded from the whims of fate. 3

Don’t risk living without medical & dental coverage. You probably have both, but some middle-class households don’t. According to the Department of Health & Human Services, 108 million Americans lack dental insurance. Workers for even the largest firms may find premiums, out-of- pocket costs and coinsurance excessive. This isn’t something you can go without. If your employer gives you the option of buying your own insurance, it could be a cheaper solution. At any rate, some serious household financial changes may need to occur so that you are adequately insured. 3

Budgeting for the future is also important. A recent Gallup poll found that about 20% of Americans have no retirement savings. You have to wonder: how many of these people might have accumulated a nest egg over the years by steadily directing just $50 or $100 a month into a retirement plan? Budgeting just a little at a time toward that very important priority could promote profound growth of retirement savings thanks to investment yields and tax deferral. 3

Turning to the financial professional you know and trust for input may help you to develop a better budgeting process – and beyond the present, the saving and investing you do today and tomorrow may help you to one day become the (multi-)millionaire next door.

Citations.

1 – http://washingtonpost.com/sf/business/2014/12/12/why-americas-middle-class-is-lost

2 – http://tinyurl.com/knr3e78

3 – http://wallstcheatsheet.com/personal-finance/7-things-the-middle-class-cant-afford-anymore.html/?a=viewall

Do you have money questions

Delayed Gratification Today, For A Better Retirement Tomorrow

A little “delayed gratification” may help you retire more comfortably.

Baby boomers are known for wanting more out of life – and for living life on their own terms. They also get a bad rap as a generation weaned on instant gratification – wanting it all now, wanting to have it both ways.
It is neither wise nor truthful to paint a generation with a broad brush. What we do know in 2016 is that more Americans than ever are poised to retire. In fact, 10,000 Americans will turn 65 each day during the, last 6 years and for the next 12 years.1 Will their retirements match their expectations?
Are boomers in for a collective shock? Many boomers are used to affluence and expect creature comforts in retirement. Yet many may not understand how much money retirement will require. A 2010 study from the non-profit Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that about half of “early” boomers (those aged 56-62) will face a retirement shortfall – someday, they will have inadequate income to pay medical costs and core retirement expenses. EBRI also estimates that 43.7% of “late” boomers (those aged 46-55) are likely to exhaust their retirement savings as well.2

Investing aside, what about the way we spend? EBRI research director Jack VanDerhei told TheStreet.com that beyond federal policy decisions, “[what is] even more important is to identify which of those households still have time to modify their behavior to achieve retirement security, and how they need to proceed.” 2

What is a need and what is a luxury? Now here is where it gets interesting. In a new survey of more than 1,000 boomers conducted by MainStay Investments, more than half the respondents identified “pet care” and “an internet connection” and “shopping for birthdays and special occasions” as basic needs. Almost half checked off “weekend getaways” and “professional hair cutting/coloring” as basic needs. Perhaps the definition of a “basic need” is expanding. Or perhaps we have gotten so used to these perks that we can’t imagine living without them (and not spending money on them).3
Boomers are necessarily growing more pragmatic. The MainStay survey results hint at a shift in their financial outlook. The survey found that 76% of boomers were willing to work longer and save more in pursuit of more retirement comfort.3
Additionally, 40% of those surveyed said they will have to delay retirement in order to afford their desired lifestyle – and 47% said they would be willing to live in a smaller house to have more of the above luxuries/needs. A whopping 84% of respondents indicated they would be willing to allocate a portion of their assets so that they might have consistent lifelong income. However, just 52% of them were in contact with a financial consultant.3
We can learn from our elders. Look at the sacrifices made by the “greatest generation”. World War II demanded so much from Americans, not only in the theatres of combat but at home. For several years, new cars weren’t manufactured, travel was discouraged, and food, clothing and gasoline were rationed. The entire economy was rearranged, and more than 40 million Americans had to start paying federal income tax.4
This generation certainly understood delayed gratification. Yet with all that economic and political upheaval, its members collectively enjoyed the most comfortable retirement in American history (and perhaps the history of the world).
Will we pay for today’s lifestyle tomorrow? Financially, that is a risk we face. Many of us have not saved enough for retirement, and the financial markets have been especially volatile of late. So it only figures that spending less and saving more today could help us out tomorrow. Who knows – if some extra effort is put in now, we may end up with enough money to “live it up” later.
Citations
1 – http://www.sacbee.com/2010/08/29/2990176/baby-boomers-signal-shift-in-what.html
2 – http://www.thestreet.com/story/10806795/even-wealthy-face-retirement-shortfall.html
3 – http://www.reeerisa.com/news/fe_daily.aspx?StoryId={66D70228-CEFE-4782-9058-F2F2DAB68DD1}
4 – http://www.nationalww2museum.org/education/for-students/america-goes-to-war.html

4 Money Blunders That Could Leave You Poorer

A “not-to- do” list for the new year & years to follow.

How are your money habits? Are you getting ahead financially, or does it feel like you are  running in place?

It may come down to behavior. Some financial behaviors promote wealth creation, while others lead to frustration. Certainly other factors come into play when determining a household’s financial situation, but behavior and attitudes toward money rank pretty high on the list.

How many households are focusing on the fundamentals? Late in 2014, the Denver-based National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) surveyed 2,000 adults from the 10 largest U.S. metro areas and found that 64% wanted to make at least one financial resolution for 2015.

The top three financial goals for the new year: building retirement savings, setting a budget, and creating a plan to pay off debt. 1

All well and good, but the respondents didn’t feel so good about their financial situations.

About one-third of them said the quality of their financial life was “worse than they expected it to be.” In fact, 48% told NEFE they were living paycheck-to- paycheck and 63% reported facing a sudden and major expense last year. 1

Fate and lackluster wage growth aside, good money habits might help to reduce those percentages in 2015. There are certain habits that tend to improve household finances, and other habits that tend to harm them. As a cautionary note for 2016, here is a “not-to- do” list – a list of key money blunders that could make you much poorer if repeated over time.

Money Blunder #1: Spend every dollar that comes through your hands. Maybe we should ban the phrase “disposable income.” Too many households are disposing of money that they could save or invest. Or, they are spending money that they don’t actually have (through credit

You have to have creature comforts, and you can’t live on pocket change. Even so, you can vow to put aside a certain number of dollars per month to spend on something really important: YOU. That 24-hour sale where everything is 50% off? It probably isn’t a “once in a lifetime” event; for all you know, it may happen again next weekend. It is nothing special compared to your future.

Money Blunder #2: Pay others before you pay yourself. Our economy is consumer-driven and service-oriented. Every day brings us chances to take on additional consumer debt. That works against wealth. How many bills do you pay a month, and how much money is left when you are done? Less debt equals more money to pay yourself with – money that you can save or invest on behalf of your future and your dreams and priorities.

Money Blunder #3: Don’t save anything. Paying yourself first also means building an emergency fund and a strong cash position. With the middle class making very little economic progress in this generation (at least based on wages versus inflation), this may seem hard to accomplish. It may very well be, but it will be even harder to face an unexpected financial burden with minimal cash on hand.

The U.S. personal savings rate has averaged about 5% recently. Not great, but better than the low of 2.6% measured in 2007. Saving 5% of your disposable income may seem like a challenge, but the challenge is relative: the personal savings rate in China is 50%. 2

Money Blunder #4: Invest impulsively. Buying what’s hot, chasing the return, investing in what you don’t fully understand – these are all variations of the same bad habit, which is investing emotionally and trying to time the market. The impulse is to “make money,” with too little attention paid to diversification, risk tolerance and other critical factors along the way. Money may be made, but it may not be retained.

Make 2016 the year of good money habits. You may be doing all the right things right now and if so, you may be making financial strides. If you find yourself doing things that are halting your financial progress, remember the old saying: change is good. A change in financial behavior may be rewarding.

Citations.

1 – http://denverpost.com/smart/ci_27275294/financial-resolutions-2015-four-ways-help-yourself-keep

2 – http://tennessean.com/story/money/2014/12/31/tips-getting-financially-fit/21119049/

Types of Relationships; Which One are You?

The Big Spender
The Big Spender has no problem spending money if the purchase seems right. They view money as a vehicle for bringing themselves and others happiness. Big spenders view life as endless possibilities; they enjoy life and what it has to offer. The downside is that they overspend when they are upset or bored.

The Saver
The Saver is the polar opposite of the big spender. The saver believes in saving money at all costs. They keep track of all monies earned and spent and are extremely cautious with their finances. Many positive aspects come from pinching pennies. The positive aspect of being a saver is that they tend to have a nice emergency savings cushion, good credit and very little debt. On the negative side, extreme saving tends to come from a fear of never having enough, which means that the saver probably denies themselves things that they want and even need.

The Entrepreneur
The Entrepreneur gets a thrill from overextending and stretching financially. They make investments in a business or a beach house even if it means eating canned soup every night for dinner. Thrill-seekers tend to be free-thinking entrepreneurs; they view life as a game and money as the playing pieces.
When you’re a thrill-seeker with your money, your financial journey is exciting. Living with this thrill-seeking mindset means that each day is a new adventure. However, this mindset can be risky. If anything goes wrong, this spender could potentially lose a lot of money.

The Security-Craver
If you’re a saver and find yourself constantly checking your balances to make sure you have enough, you crave the security that you feel money offers. You aren’t afraid of spending money like The Saver; you take your time making a commitment to purchases, especially large ones. While this type of spending has its definite advantages, like the fact that you probably won’t find yourself in financial trouble, the urge to check and recheck your safety net can become overwhelming.

The Idealist
The Idealist views money and consumerism as unsavory and the root of many of the world’s problems. They prefer to dedicate themselves to innovative pursuits that don’t focus on money. The Idealist most likely ignores their finances and pays for necessary items quickly; afterwards, they jump back into their own agenda.

The Idealist spender tends to notice simple pleasures. However, this mindset is often impractical. They enjoy life, but forget that they need money to enjoy some aspects of it.
Source: Payoff, 5 Different Types of Money Spenders