retirement income

Money Two Ways: Balances and Flows

photo shows an apple tree in an orchard

There are two ways to think about money. It helps to understand both if you want to be comfortable financially.

Balances. Balances are what we have: the number on our investment statement or bank account, our 401(k) value, or what our Roth IRA is worth. Some think a certain total is required in order to retire, to be financially independent, or to meet some other goal.

Flows. Flows are the income and the outgo, month by month or year after year. These include recurring items like paychecks or Social Security coming in, travel expenses or utilities going out.

While these terms certainly work, one of our favorite analogies is the orchard and the fruit crop. The orchard is like the balance; it’s what we own. The fruit crop is the flow. We like to say that if the fruit crop is big enough to live on, we don’t need to worry what the neighbor would pay us for the orchard.

What does this mean? That once we’re ready for retirement, for instance, we pay more attention to flows than balances.

So if Social Security and a pension more than meet your cash flow needs in retirement—if the flows run a surplus—you might feel comfortable financially even without a fortune in balances. On the other hand, if you spend more than what’s is coming in, you may feel financially stressed no matter what your balances are.

One of the key elements of our work for you is turning balances into flows. We think about the size of our retirement accounts all throughout our working careers. But in planning for retirement, we like to figure out how much cash flow can come out of those retirement balances. In other words, how big of a fruit crop could your orchard deliver?

Clients, if you would like to talk about your balances, flows, orchard, or fruit crop, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which strategies or investments may be suitable for you, consult the appropriate qualified professional prior to making a decision.

Investing involves risk including loss of principal.


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If These Walls Could Talk (About Retirement)

photo shows four small model houses in the grass in decreasing size left to right

It’s generally a good thing when more cash is coming in than going out.

When our planned retirement income is greater than our expenses, we have the basis for a solvent retirement. The equation could be stated pretty simply: income > expenses.

The bigger part of our work and time and energy is devoted to striving to build your capital. More capital means more cash flow from your capital. We’re trying to get you access to the income you’ll need and want.

But lifestyle decisions may have a bigger impact on our finances, by way of expenses—that other side of our equation.

I recently decided to buy a different home, selling one I had originally purchased for a life chapter now ended. There is no sacrifice involved: the new place thrills me, although it is less than half the size of the old one. It actually feels like an upgrade to my quality of life.

The new place also features less than half the utilities, taxes, maintenance, insurance, and other expenses. Those add up to more than $1,000 in savings per month for me.

When downsizing helps you wipe out mortgage debt, that might improve your annual cash flow by thousands of dollars.

The effect of this lifestyle change on my retirement picture is amazing. Projected Social Security benefits cover a larger fraction of the budget. So a reduction in my need for income produces a much larger reduction in the capital I need to retire comfortably.

Reducing expenses means our money goes farther. Perhaps it means we can retire at a younger age or live with greater flexibility.

Clients, I still intend to work to age 92. And I’m looking forward to a new chapter where my living arrangements make more sense to me.

We are happy to talk with you about your retirement plans and planning, whenever you are ready. Email us or call.

The Worst State to Retire In

© Can Stock Photo / flashgun

It seems like everywhere you turn, there are opinions about retirement. We have not seen this particular bit of advice, so here goes.

After thought and study, we conclude that the worst possible state for retirement is… the state of confusion. Confusion may seriously impair the retirement experience.

• If we don’t understand the income potential of our lump sum balances, we may either be unnecessarily tight with our budget, or run the risk of winding up broke.

• Running out of money is a common and natural fear. Arithmetic guided by experience and knowledge may ease that concern.

• Decisions about Social Security benefits and pension payouts may have a large impact on financial security. The advice one gets at coffee break or at the water cooler may not be the best.

• Health care transforms for most people in retirement. Putting all the pieces together can be confusing. Medicare Part A, Part B, Part D, and supplemental insurance all enter into it. Personal health and financial factors play roles, too.

We advocate thoughtful approaches to major life decisions. A framework of solid information and the right arithmetic may help reduce confusion.

All in all, the state of confidence is a far better place to retire than the state of confusion. Clients, if you would like to discuss this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Case Study: The Looming Retirement of Mr. & Mrs. C

© Can Stock Photo / lucidwaters

We recently were consulted by folks who are just a few years from retirement. Mr. and Mrs. C had a chance to make a major purchase that they had long considered and would really enjoy. Some people want a camper or a boat, others a cabin…you get the picture. They wanted our help to figure out if it would fit with the rest of their plans and planning.

The process we used to help them is the same framework we use to help people understand how retirement will work for them, financially speaking. Perhaps it will be of interest to you.

There are four kinds of numbers that figure in.

  1. Monthly outgo—how much will it take to run the household in retirement, to live as you plan to live?
  2. Monthly income—what are the pieces of recurring monthly income? Monthly pension benefits, Social Security, and rental income are in this category.
  3. Planned lump sum purchases or obligations to pay. This was the thing that stumped Mr. & Mrs. C. They had a chance to lay out some money that could improve their lives a lot, and needed to know whether it would work out.
  4. Lump sum resources available. Long term savings, 401(k) plans, IRA’s, investments, and money from planned sales of assets are the main categories here.

Fortunately, Mr. & Mrs. C have expected retirement income sources that should sustain their lifestyle in retirement. Once that was determined, we could move on to sorting out the best way to handle the purchase they planned.

There are tax considerations to withdrawing retirement plan dollars, cash flow considerations from taking on debt, and opportunity costs to cashing in investments. We framed the costs and benefits of each alternative so they could figure out what they wanted to do. If you would like to talk about your situation, please call or email us to set a time for discussion.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.