November 18, 2014

Landing the Plane

Credit: potowizard
Many of you know that I love analogies. One of my favorites that I use with people who are nearing the end of their careers is that they should think about entering into retirement like landing a plane. Whether the gainfully-employed ride has been smooth sailing or more than a little turbulent doesn’t really change the fact that you need to be prepared to land the plane. The retirement landing can be graceful and you can reach your home destination smiling, or the landing can go pretty poorly and even end in a fiery crash of sorts. Most people prefer the graceful landing that ends with smiling, so if you’re thinking about retirement, I thought I’d share a few tips on how you might want to land your very own plane.
  1. Get Your Cash Up – When working, I recommend most people keep around three to six months’ worth of their core living expenses in cash. In retirement, I’ve found that most people prefer a little more. If you have a particular cash number that helps you sleep better, go for it, but otherwise I normally recommend one to two years’ worth of your core living expenses in cash. That may sound a little crazy to you, but when your paycheck goes away (or goes down) when you do retire and there is a cyclical pullback in the stock market, you might feel differently.
  2. Have a Plan for Where Your Income Will Come From – If you have a pension, that’s really great, but where is the rest of the cash you need to fund your lifestyle going to come from? Randomly pulling cash from various investment accounts and haphazardly deciding when to turn on an annuity or start drawing Social Security is usually not a good strategy. You need a plan! There are tax implications and timing implications that need to be considered if you want to land as efficiently and effectively as possible!
  3. Strive to be Debt-Free – This may require using a decent chunk of your assets, or you might even decide that you want to work a year or two longer so you can do this, but if you can go into retirement debt-free, it is huge! Imagine how it feels to still get that mortgage bill you’re used to when you’re not getting that pay check you’re used to. Being debt-free going into retirement not only really seems to help many of my clients psychologically, but it also helps take pressure off cash and investment accounts. If your monthly mortgage payment is making up a sizable chunk of your fixed expenses, and you can make it disappear before you lower your landing gear, I’d be willing to bet you’ll feel a lot better.
  4. Make the Big Purchases Before You Retire – What? I’m telling you to spend money? Well, sort of. This may also sound a little batty, but if you are going to need something such as a new car or a new roof in the next couple of years, I’d probably suggest you go ahead and accelerate that purchase while you’re still working and making the big(ger) bucks. Assuming your retirement income will be a little lower than your working income, I’ve found that going ahead and taking care of some of the big ticket items can make your landing feel a little smoother. Put simply, big expenses can hurt the psyche and the pocketbook, but they seem to hurt less if you’re still working.
  5. Get to Know Your New Boss/Co-Worker – I’m certainly not a therapist, but I am observant enough to have noted that some people’s transition to a little more family time seems to go better than others. Sure, you’ll have to get used to spending a lot more time with your husband or wife, but that knife cuts both ways; they will have to get used to spending a lot more time with you, too! Working to improve your relationship with your spouse and developing some mutual and separate activities before you retire are probably really good ideas. I’ve heard it said that retirement is twice as much spouse and half as much money! I don’t know about that, but you get the point. Consider some relationship planning before you exit your plane and head to baggage claim.
  6. Think About What You’re Going to Do Once You’ve Landed – I know I said I’m not a therapist, but you need a plan for you when you retire. My busy, ambitious, and hardworking clients who eat, sleep, and bleed what they do for a living tell me that retiring can feel like jumping off of a moving train. The emotions of that jump and coming to a relative stop can be a tough adjustment. Take a trip, sleep in for a few weeks, do the crossword, but have a plan for after that. Things such as volunteer work, periodic consulting, gardening, car restoring, or woodworking can be good things. You’re going to want to have something to do. Retiring is a treat for some, but I’ve seen it be a difficult pill for others to swallow. Do as you wish, but I’d suggest you have some hobbies and groups lined up before you bid your boss adieu.
I don’t know about you, but I think the landing is one of the most important parts of a flight. If you’re beginning your descent and could use a little help making your approach, please let me know. This has been your captain speaking.

November 11, 2014

Quit It!

Credit: Stuart Miles
A lot of my posts aren’t meant to get you to actually do something. Most of them are just supposed to make you think about life and your finances, and occasionally laugh a little. Some of my posts are more of a “call to action,” where it is my hope that you will either continue doing the good practices you are already doing or change potentially troublesome ways and proceed differently. Either way, today’s post is a little different. I’m not going to suggest that you do this or that you do that. Instead, I’m going to share several, common, bad financial habits that I see a lot of and ask you NOT to do them.
  1. Carrying a Credit Card Balance – You should pay off your credit cards each and every month without exception, period. If there is an exception or you’re not at a place where you can pay off all of your credit cards, you really should adjust your lifestyle until you can. The impending doom of credit card debt and its frighteningly high interest rate(s) just aren’t worth it. Use credit cards for your convenience and to earn perks, but not to buy what you will have trouble affording.
  2. Having Too Small of a Rainy Day Fund – Do you really have savings? I’m not just talking about specifically having a savings account – I mean actual savings. If you could not withstand a temporary period of unemployment, you could not afford a used car should something happen to your current mode of transportation, or you would have trouble paying your maximum health insurance deductible, you probably haven’t saved enough. Sure, it’s not fun seeing all of that cash just sitting there, but it does feel good knowing it’s there if you need it, and unless you’re a lot luckier than most, at some point in life, you are going to have a rainy day.
  3. Having No Idea Where It’s Going – Want to try something that can be a little scary? Annualize your take-home pay (your paycheck after taxes, insurance, 401(k) savings, etc.), and then back out your annualized fixed expenses such as your mortgage, car payment, and utilities. What happened to all that’s left? Where did it go? If you can’t speak to where a large part of your remaining income went, that may mean you could have better utilized your cash flow towards savings, investing, and debt reduction as opposed to, well, wherever it went.
  4. Saving for College, Not Retirement – This one leads me to a serious and not so pleasant question: Would you rather your child have to pay for college or have to pay to look after you in retirement? I know the answer is neither, but in some cases, that may not be an option. Saving for a child’s college expenses is an admirable act of love, but it probably should not be done if it jeopardizes your own financial independence. Children could get scholarships, they could be athletes, they could be artists, and they might not even want or need to go to college. Save for both if you can, but please remember that looking after your own retirement is helping your children in the long run, too!
  5. Letting One Spouse Do It All – Unfortunately, I see this time and time again where one spouse is the dominant financial spouse. I’m not necessarily talking the largest “bread winner” here, I’m talking about the situation where one spouse pays all of the bills, balances all of the cash accounts, knows all of the passwords and secret question answers, and keeps all of the files. As long as no one becomes disabled, decides to get a divorce, or dies, having a dominant financial spouse could be fine, but it is a little dangerous. If you have a spouse, I’d encourage you to either split up and alternate some of the duties or at least agree to formally go over your finances once or twice a year. This builds trust, leads to good conversations, and helps make sure the back-up financial quarterback gets some reps should the starting financial quarterback go down.
If you’re reading this post, it’s my hope and belief that you are already not plagued with many of these bad habits, but if you are, quit it! If you know a friend or family member who is plagued with some of these bad habits and think of this post, please share it!

November 05, 2014

What You Need to Save to Reach $1M

Credit: cooldesign
There is something magical about one million dollars. A lot of people seem to view it as the line between rich and not rich. I don’t buy that as I’ve seen plenty of people with less than seven digits who are personally and financially wealthy, and I’ve seen plenty of people with seven digits or more who are personally “starving” and somehow still feel financially poor. Now that I have car payments and house payments and see taxes and health insurance expenses deducted from my paycheck, I can also see how, over time, someone could go through a million dollars. I think it’s the act of having to use a second comma to write out "$1,000,000” that makes it such a big deal.

I don’t know whether you’re trying to become a millionaire or not. I don’t know whether you’re going to have a pension, what your Social Security may or may not look like, or what type of lifestyle you are looking to sustain in retirement, so I can’t really tell you that a million dollars will even be enough for you. Besides, who knows what taxes will look like when you are ready to retire? Who knows what inflation will be between now and then? What I can tell you is that saving and investing is important, and that saving and investing sooner rather than later can have a critical impact on your future outlook.

Below, please take a look at a graph showing how much you would need to save per year, based on when you start saving (assuming a flat, six percent annual rate of return), to reach one million dollars by age 65.

For me personally, all of these annual savings figures represent a significant amount of money, but some of them look a lot more feasible than others. If you start saving early by living below or at least within your means, you save diligently paycheck after paycheck, and you have a little bit of luck and good fortune, I think most people should have a shot at saving up a lot of money for retirement - maybe even a million bucks! That being said, if someone keeps buying the latest gadget or accessory, living paycheck to paycheck, and carrying on like there is no tomorrow, starting to save at age 55 or so is not going to be a lot of fun, and more frighteningly, it might not even do that much good.

In short, no matter how old you are or how much you can save, I’d suggest you start saving now! In the words of the hit novel and movie franchise The Hunger Games, by saving now, the odds will be ever in your favor.