One Simple Thing

Dennis Friedman

I THOUGHT SAYING goodbye to my coworkers, and walking out my office door for the last time, would be the most memorable moment from the beginning of my retirement. But, no, that moment didn’t come until the next day.

I woke up, got out of bed and walked into the living room. Staring out the front window, I felt this sense of calm and peacefulness that I can’t remember ever feeling before. I felt so relaxed that I could swear I was weightless. I didn’t have a worry in the world. It seemed like all my troubles disappeared when I left my job. I thought I’d reached nirvana. I asked myself, “Is this what retirement feels like?”

Of course, retirement isn’t without its problems. Retirees have health issues, relationship problems and money woes, just like everyone else. If you’re like me, you’re always looking for ways to make your life less stressful. On that score, here’s one simple thing you can do with your money that can be a big help: Organize and consolidate.

One of my first jobs was as a production planner at an aerospace company. As a neophyte, I was indecisive and unable to keep up with the workflow. One of my seasoned coworkers pulled me aside and gave me some helpful advice I’ll never forget. “Clean up your desk,” he said.

At first, I couldn’t understand how this simple act of housecleaning was going to solve my problems at work. But it sure did. Organizing my desk gave me a clearer understanding of what my priorities were, allowing me to make timely and accurate decisions on what needed to be done. More important, it made me feel I was in control and gave me the morale boost I desperately needed at that time.

I’ve taken that same advice and better organized my personal finances, consolidating everything into fewer financial accounts. I used to have my money with seven financial institutions. Now, I have only two. My finances are less time-consuming and stressful because, with fewer accounts, I have fewer decisions to make. It also gives me an easier and clearer understanding of how well my overall investment portfolio is performing.

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My wife and I have consolidated all our investments at Vanguard Group, while our saving and checking accounts are at a local credit union. Our financial life is not only simpler for us, but it’ll also be simpler for our heirs. After our deaths, our loved ones will spend less time filling out paperwork and dealing with different financial institutions, each of which will have their own requirements for closing accounts.

Of course, I might be able to find better interest rates for my cash at an online savings bank. But my credit union’s rates are competitive enough, and it means I don’t have the hassle of dealing with additional accounts. Meanwhile, if you have a mutual fund you like, you may be able to transfer it to Vanguard, or whatever primary investment company you use. You don’t have to liquidate the fund. That’s what I did with a T. Rowe Price mutual fund.

In fact, Vanguard makes the process of transferring assets easy. It’ll generate the paperwork for you and send it to your online account’s message center. All you have to do is upload a copy of the latest statement for the asset you want to transfer, attach it to the paperwork and sign the documents with your electronic signature. This process, however, doesn’t apply to a 401(k). For those, you’ll likely have to contact your previous employer to generate the required paperwork.

Why did I choose Vanguard? In recent years, there’s been some grumbling about Vanguard’s customer service. But I’ve found over the years that Vanguard is not only an excellent financial institution to invest your money with, but also it provides great customer service, especially during difficult times. When I was the trustee for my mother’s estate, a customer service representative stayed on the phone with me, answering all my questions until the required documents were completed. None of my mother’s other financial institutions was willing to do that.

Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. Check out his earlier articles and follow him on Twitter @DMFrie.

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Brian White
Brian White
2 years ago

I agree with you on staying organized. When I worked full-time, folks in Computer Science often commented that I had the second neatest office in the department; the neatest was one of my direct reports who was perhaps a bit obsessive.

Back in 2012 I got a compact sheet-feeding scanner that would scan both sides at once and could handle about 12-15 pages at a time. I scanned in the vast majority of the paper in my home office, particularly everything with account numbers and social security numbers, and I store them in a 256-bit encrypted volume on my computer (with multiple levels of backups). All my documents are organized, and they are much more secure in case of fire or a break-in. Perhaps I’m a bit obsessive, too, but all this organization helps keep my stress levels down.

I also agree with you on consolidating accounts at Vanguard, and I have never had a problem with their customer service. Naturally they are expert at coaching you through transferring money to Vanguard, but I have also gotten some good free advice from them over the years when I wanted a second opinion on my financial plans.

2 years ago

One of my retirement hobbies has been to clean out paperwork and dispose of junk. For important paperwork, music CDs, pictures, videos, etc, I am scanning or digitizing them. When I’m gone all someone will need to do is hit the “delete key” and a lot of the clean up will be done. It’s fun to see those old items again and fun to know I won’t have to look at them unless i want to pull them up on the computer.

Mark Royer
Mark Royer
2 years ago

I have had a similar experience, Dennis. Not only with retirement but also with Vanguard. Funny how a routine of going to the gym three days a week, coupled with volunteer work at a local hospital and reading with grade school boys gives me enough structure to keep me off the streets but not overwhelmed. And teaming up with my wife to help watch our new twin granddaughters a couple times a week to free up our daughter for her work has been rewarding.

Nick Politakis
Nick Politakis
2 years ago

Terrific advice.

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