The Most Common Question We Get About Retirement: Can We Make It?
Retirement brings out a mix of emotions. There’s excitement. There’s anxiety. And there’s worry. Often times, there’s a lot of worry. And while it may not always be warranted, it is not surprising that people worry. Retirement is, after all, a big decision. And sustaining your lifestyle when you are no longer bringing home a paycheck can be a scary thought. In fact, the one question we hear the most from pre-retirees is: Can we make it if we retire today?
This is a very complicated question, and may require a somewhat complex answer.
Can We Make It?
Linscomb & Williams has been helping families with retirement planning (Houston, TX) since the 1970s. The one constant that we have observed in the nearly 50 years that we’ve been doing this is that when families think about this “Can we make it?” question, there’s a lot of fear. And we understand that. It’s not easy to give up a regular paycheck when that’s the way you’ve funded your life for your entire adult experience. I don’t care how solid your 401k is or how significant your other resources might be. It is an emotionally difficult transition to make: Living off of your assets when you’ve spent your entire adult lifetime adding to them and accumulating them.
We’ve been asked, why is there so much worry? Shouldn’t commencing retirement be filled with excitement?
Well, yes, but when people retire, it’s a mix of anticipation, excitement and worry.
Fear surrounding retirement has always been there. That’s because retirement is a lifestyle change. That fear only increases when there is change elsewhere, such as with the market or in politics. Even if there aren’t other factors, many people aren’t particularly aware of what is going on in the economy and financial markets until it’s time to retire. The specific fears have been amazingly consistent over the years.
The order might vary, but the top 3 things people are generally always worried about are:
- Do we have enough? Are we going to make it? We don’t want to run out of money.
- What happens if we have a major health issue and we need expensive long-term care? Is that going to blow the ship out of the water?
- What about Social Security? Can we count on it? Is it going to be here for us? How reliable is it?
The truth is, these fears are completely rational. It makes sense that people would worry about these things. If you run out of money after you retire and you’ve been out of the workforce for awhile, it can be extremely difficult to get back in the workforce at that point. And when you get older and potentially face large medical bills that you can see possibly depleting your savings, that can also be very scary. The fears and the bad dreams could turn into a nightmare. So, it’s not irrational for people to worry about this.
But there are ways to lighten the burden.
How Do You Deal With These Fears as You Kick Off This Retirement Journey?
In our experience, all you can really do is try to prepare a rigorous and effective analysis and run the numbers for your family. And by rigorous, we mean that you need to stress test all kinds of different market environments, because the one thing we don’t have any control over when we go into retirement is the environment around us – the financial markets. The returns. Inflation. Interest rates. Those are all uncontrollables. We can control some things – our spending, for the most part, certainly our discretionary spending and how much debt we take on – but we have to stress test the analysis of all the things that we can’t control.
What is a Stress Test?
A stress test is a historical simulation, where you can look at past returns. Something like a Monte Carlo simulation, where you can work with an individual to test drive different scenarios for what certain retirement decisions might look like.
With a growing number of online self-help tools, some people try to do this on their own. And that may be fine, if they’re up to the challenge.
For many people, it’s important to get help with something this complex and important. Retirement is not a decision that should be taken lightly.
We wouldn’t rule out that someone couldn’t do this sort of analysis on their own. However, if they go that route, they better make sure they make the commitment on the front end to really spend the time and research to fully vet all of these decisions, consider all aspects of retirement and do a very thorough job. And they also have to make the ongoing commitment that they’re going to monitor how they’re doing and make adjustments along the way. Retirement planning is not something that you can just go online one time and say, oh I’m OK, and put it in the drawer and not think about it again. It’s not that type of exercise.
The other issue we see, particularly with married couples, is a lot of times when someone is going to take on their retirement planning on their own, it’s often times one spouse that says, I’m going to put on the planner hat and I’m really going to get into this and run the numbers. But what this means is there needs to be a contingency or a back-up plan for what happens if that spouse is incapacitated or dies prematurely. How is the planning going to be sustained and carried on?
Retirement planning is not something to take lightly. Retirement planning a commitment.
If you are considering handling your retirement planning on your own, download our free eBook: Should You Hire A Financial Advisor or Do It Yourself?
This should not be the last of your retirement planning research. There is a lot to consider and many “what if” scenarios to discuss. Retirement planning in Houston, TX is different than in Birmingham, AL, or Atlanta, GA, or any other part of the country. There are different tax laws, cost structures, retirement programs and rules.
The real goal of retirement planning is to look at the question, what will my retirement look like if I was not afraid? How do you plan to spend your days in retirement? What do you hope to do? Who do you plan to spend it with? Where will you be living?
If you’re just getting started or nearing retirement, talk with a financial advisor. Consider how a financial advisor could help you plan for the life you want. Discuss the unknowns, and consider the what ifs.
When you work with a financial advisor who is well-established in the state in which you live in – or plan to live in when retired – he or she can offer insight into different programs you may not have been aware of.