retirement planning

‘Tis the Season

photo shows a paper saying "Tax Day"

People of every age and income have them—among the genders, about equally. The average one nationwide is worth $157,000, but you can start one with $100. About 30% of all taxpayers have one, according to the Tax Policy Center Briefing Book

And IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) are at the heart of a lot of financial plans and planning. 

We can vouch for their popularity. Just over half of your assets in our care at 228 Main are in IRA accounts of one type or another, totaling more than $60 million (per LPL Financial’s January records for Mark Leibman). 

This time of year is IRA season. Although you may contribute any day of the year, you can still make contributions for the previous year up until Tax Day.  

Here are some basics about IRAs. You’ve got… 

  • Two ways to contribute: put money in or transfer from 401(k) plans by rollover. 
  • Two basic flavors: Traditional and Roth. 
  • Two fundamental uses: save for retirement or draw income from them in retirement. 

People use them partly because they are one of the most widely available tax shelters. How you might best take advantage depends on your situation, but these plans offer thousands of investment options. The maximum contribution is $6,000 per year—or $7,000 if you are over 50. (Rollovers from employer retirement plan have no limit.) 

If you would like to review your IRA plan, see what you are eligible for, check out the conditions and limits, or just talk retirement planning, ‘tis the season! Email us or call. 


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Two Secrets About Money and Time

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“Wealth consists in caring less about what others think about you and more about using your money to control how you spend your time.” — Morgan Housel

We’re fond of the work of Morgan Housel, who strives to help folks change their relationship to money. In his definition of wealth, we notice two key ideas—ideas that could bring some clarity to our financial decisions.

Wealth Isn’t About Anyone But You

It takes only a moment to recognize the potential problems of using wealth to influence how others perceive us. The trappings of wealth can be had with borrowed money: a $10,000 watch for $200 monthly payments, a luxury car for a monthly lease payment. But the watch and the car are not proof of anything.

Ultimately, we do not control what others think. No amount of money gives us that power.

When we focus on meeting our own needs rather than some notion of what might impress others, we require less wealth to gain control and therefore focus. We may be able to retire earlier or work at a more rewarding endeavor on less money, should we choose… which leads us to the second key idea from Housel’s definition.

Time Is Money Is Time

The familiar phrase “time is money” comes to us by way of Benjamin Franklin, writing in colonial Philadelphia. Housel writes that wealth is about using your money to control how you spend your time. In short, he turns the idea upside down: money is time.

Carried to its logical conclusion, when we have enough wealth, we may retire and gain control over the time we formerly spent working. In the form of Social Security and pension benefits, investments and 401(k) balances, the money we’ve earned then buys us time. Money is time!

Housel adds a layer to our understanding of wealth, which magnifies the good it may do us.

When you are ready to talk about your time or money, email us or call. We’ll be ready to talk with you.


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Have Your Cake, Eat Your Cake

photo shows a yellow cake with rainbow sprinkles with one piece gone

They say you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Once you eat the cake, the cake is gone. No surprise, right? 

The same thing might be said of your retirement fund. It is there for you to spend as you see fit—but once you spend it, it is gone.  

How quickly you go through your retirement savings is a much bigger decision than how quickly you go through a cake. No one can tell you what the right answer is. Your retirement lifestyle might look very different from your neighbor’s retirement lifestyle.  

Some people hope to leave as much possible in their estate to provide a legacy for children and grandchildren. Others plan on spending as much as possible to enjoy the fruits of their own labors.  

Some people might plan to save the lion’s share of their savings to offset the healthcare costs they anticipate in their later years. Others plan to spend a big chunk up front, while they still have the good health to enjoy some options. 

None of these plans are inherently superior to any of the others. It is your money, after all. For many of you, retirement savings are the sum of an entire lifetime of work, and you alone get to decide how to direct them.  

What’s our wish for you? That you navigate these choices with your eyes open to the consequences.  

So here’s one important difference between your retirement savings and a cake: when you set aside a certain amount of cake for later, you will have exactly that much cake in the future: no more, no less. When you invest your nest egg, over time it may generate extra income and potentially appreciate in value, giving you more to spend in the future.  

There are no guarantees, of course. Depending on how aggressively you invest, you risk losing some of your value. This is just another tradeoff you need to weigh in planning your retirement. 

When we make our retirement choices carefully, the consequences are never a surprise. You can have your cake. You can eat your cake. Your call. 

Clients, when you have questions about this or anything else, please call or email. Let’s talk. 


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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.

HOW TO RETIRE: PANDEMIC EDITION

photo shows a small wooden wall clock and a calendar with sticky notes and push pins

What a year! The events of 2020 have reached into every facet of our lives. Many careers have been changed or upended.

People working happily at advanced ages have told us they are leery of workplace exposures, so many are on leave or have retired. Others have been displaced from jobs they would have preferred to keep. And some are helping descendants cope with “distance learning” or a loss of childcare options instead of working at jobs.

One friend retired just before the pandemic, planning an ambitious travel schedule. That isn’t happening. And another, who had planned to retire, now works from home: they figure they might as well keep working, since they cannot travel or engage in activities they had planned for retirement.

No matter what 2020 has thrown at you, the basics of retirement planning have not changed. It is a five-step process. We need to figure out…

  1. how much money it takes to run the life we prefer,
  2. monthly income amounts and timing from Social Security or pensions,
  3. lump sums required for one-time goals or needs, like a bucket list trip or boat,
  4. lump sums available from savings, investments, 401(k) plans, and other wealth, and
  5. the sustainable monthly cash flow that might be withdrawn from net long-term investments, after the lump sums are accounted for (we help people with this step).

There are nuances to each step—options to analyze, lifestyle decision to make. Retirement planning works out best when it is a process over time. We have noticed that people learn more about their objectives and their finances as time goes on, and things change. So your retirement plan adapts and changes over time, too.

If the pandemic has shaken things up for you as it has for others—or if it has just gotten to be that time—call or email us when you are ready to work on your plans and planning. Clients, if changes need to be incorporated in your plans, let’s keep talking.

We’re glad to help.

What Are We Going To Do With All This Future?

© Can Stock Photo / rbouwman

It is tempting to think of the future as a place of endless possibilities, fulfilled dreams, unleashed potential. “What are we going to do with all this future?” is the work of Spanish artist Coco Capitan, in collaboration with the Gucci fashion brand. It seems to capture that spirit of possibility.

Our work together with you is about the future. But when you get down to it, saying yes to one goal might mean saying no to others. We cannot do everything.

Resources are finite. As we think about retirement destinations or second home locations, choosing a Rocky Mountain high might mean that finding your beach is out of the question. Relocating may mean less time with family. Retiring at a younger age could mean getting by with less money.

This is why we invest so much time in striving to understand and clarify your priorities.

Of course, creative thinking may let us meet apparently contradictory goals by making thoughtful adjustments. A more modest home in one location may free up money to travel other places, or even have a second home. (This is the strategy I employ to live in Floribraska, Florida and Nebraska.)

Clients have chosen to retire and work at the same time by making the retirement-age job a part-time or seasonal or flexible hours arrangement in a field they enjoy.

Some couples choose to spend weeks each year pursuing different interests. Golf in the sunshine is hard to reconcile with watching grandchildren play winter sports up north.

So your own answer to ‘what we are going to do with all this future’ may take a lot of thought to get your priorities defined. Some creativity or adjustments may be needed to make the most of it. This really is the first step in long term planning.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Special Relativity

© Can Stock Photo / Alexis84

A friend wrote to me recently about the two kinds of time. The time that gallops onward in an undistinguished blur, versus the time that resolves itself into perfect crystal moments that stretch on to forever. Haven’t we all had those kind of peak moments?

We seem more prone to the ‘undistinguished blur’ sort of time as the years go by, and routines get set. Perhaps breaking the routine, new experiences, are what sets those forever moments apart.

My friend concluded that if there is a secret to keeping time in a bottle, it must involve moving forward – a special kind of special relativity. This notion has some interesting aspects, including one that bears on our work for you, I believe.

Many financially independent retirees have noted that they spent much time when younger worrying about having enough money in later years. Then, when they get there, they discover that money is abundant, compared to time, which is finite.

If we spend our working years on a treadmill of accumulating a fortune for enjoyment way down the road, perhaps we live life in a routine, in which time is an undistinguished blur. This shortens the subjective experience of our lives.

Alternatively, we can work to understand and perhaps moderate what “enough” means, and balance living in the moment against our longer-term objectives. Would this leave us open to more new experiences, new ways of thinking and being, and that sense of moving forward that might bring about more of those ‘forever’ moments?

Hey, I don’t know either. But I’m in favor of more special moments, and less undistinguished routine. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Rule Change: IRA Required Distributions

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Legislation intended to ameliorate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic changed the rules on IRA required minimum distributions.

The SECURE Act passed in December 2019 changed the beginning date for required distributions to the year after you turn 72. This applies to people who turn 70 and a half after last December 31st. Otherwise the old rule applies.

However, the CARES act signed in March wipes out any required minimum distribution for 2020. IRA owners may still take distributions at their option, but the Required Minimum Distribution does not apply. Taken together, these laws give IRA owners new flexibility.

Your personal situation may be affected by these changes. Your cash flow strategy, Roth conversion strategy, or tax strategy may need additional thought. Or you may want to revisit your retirement account investment strategy. Retirement accounts may be a significant portion of invested assets.

Bottom line: clients, if you would like to talk about how these changes affect you, please call or email us.