- Get your cash up. I’ve found that most people have a “magic number” they like to maintain in their personal cash account. What’s yours? (I bet a number just popped into your head.) Some people I know have $10,000 or less because they don’t trust themselves with temptation, and that’s fine, - they know themselves. Some have almost 5 years’ worth of living expenses in cash because that gives them enough security to turn off the radio and television personalities who are telling them that the world is about to end for the 276th time. There is no correct answer, but I’d figure out how much your annual living expenses are above your annual incoming Social Security and/or pension payments, and I’d set aside somewhere between one and two times that amount in cash. If you stay above your “magic number,” you’ll be happier.
- Fine tune your asset allocation, again. No, this is not a copy and paste from last week; this is a genuine suggestion. If you don’t want to risk running out of money in your eighties and wondering where you can get a job, make sure your portfolio is in a prudent place. You want to have a sizable allocation in cash and bonds to ensure the stability of your nest egg, but you also need a sizable allocation in equities to allow for principal growth and to protect against inflation. What’s your checking account earning you right now? What do you think the inflation rate will be over the next decade? What do you think the stock market’s volatility will be over the next decade? See why you need an adequate amount of cash and bonds for income and stability, but at the same time, you also need an adequate amount of stocks for growth and inflation-protection?
- Vigilantly watch your annual withdrawal rate relative to your investment assets. No matter how wealthy you are, your investment assets get to dictate your lifestyle in retirement, not the other way around. If you look back and see that you are withdrawing more than 4 or 5% per year and you are in your 60s or early 70s, my alarm bells are going off, and yours should too! 5 to 6% in your 70s and 80s is likely doable, but don’t push it. I know you can’t take your money with you, but running out of funds to support yourself is a lot worse on you and your kids than leaving them a little.
- Update your Estate Documents. Not to be morbid or anything, but most of the time when people retire, they have a good portion of their life behind them. You need to make sure you have an up-to-date will that fulfills your desires and leaves behind the legacy you intend. As tax laws change, you may need to revisit your will periodically to make sure your plan is still on track. It’s also a good idea to redo your power of attorneys and health care directives as states frequently update these documents. It is not only crucial to have these forms in place, but you also need to have current versions in place to make sure your doctors, hospitals, and financial institutions will honor your intended wishes and listen to those you wanted to act on your behalf.
- Give while you’re living. I know, I know; I just told you to be careful about withdrawing and outliving your nest egg, and now I'm telling you to give it away. The key is thoughtfully balancing your wants, needs, and wishes, and avoiding acting on a whim. Back to my original point though: a colleague of mine often tells people to “Keep giving while you’re living so you’re knowing where it’s going,” and I couldn’t agree more. If you are in a comfortable enough financial position, wouldn’t it make you happier to see your grandson’s excitement if you took him to the Grand Canyon yourself as opposed to having to look down on him through some clouds and pearly gates? Wouldn’t it mean more to your kids if you set aside funds for your new granddaughter’s college tuition right off the bat as opposed to giving them the assets posthumously after they’ve been sacrificing and struggling to save for years? Again, I’m not trying to be morbid, and you need to be careful not to become the sugar momma or sugar daddy for several generations, but at least consider doing what you can, and actually want to do for others you care about, while you are able to enjoy the memories.
- Move on. I recognize I’m still a relatively young guy in this wild and crazy world, but I am often just as much a counselor to clients as I am a CPA or financial planner. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen struggle with retirement emotionally. You need to realize that retirement is not just sleeping in and going to the beach. Retirement is a financial, life-changing event. You no longer have a boss (except your wife). You may no longer have deadlines. You may have more free time than you actually want. You may see many workplace “friends” fade into just former co-workers. Many people love retirement from the start, and I hope you do, but it can hurt emotionally. My suggestions would be to find or dust off some hobbies, volunteer with some organizations you care about, find some television shows or a good book, travel, exercise more, and reconnect with some old friends or make some new ones. Most importantly, diligently and patiently work on reshaping your life with your spouse and family. You may not be used to being around them as much as you are in retirement, but they aren’t used to being around you as much either!
I hope you’ve gotten something out of the Now What? series. I encourage you to save these posts and put them in a place where you will periodically stumble across them to see how you’re doing. I’m not saying this because I think I’ve got it all figured out or because my plan is tailor-made for you; I’m saying this because I want you to be able to live a full life and retire in style without always fearing your finances. My suggestions won’t work for everyone, but in many cases, I believe they will get you off to a really good start.
Well, I finished the Now What? series, now what? Guess you’ll have to check back in next week.