I’M ANNOYED BY the financial independence-retire early movement, otherwise known as FIRE. Most annoying are the FIRE bloggers who present their fantasy world of radically early retirement, but don’t like to be questioned, challenged or criticized. As if I’d ever do that.
FIRE folks typically have a few things in common. They were high-income earners before “retiring” and their households usually had two incomes. They’re willing—indeed eager—to embrace a frugal, nontraditional lifestyle, sometimes outside the U.S.
I’M A BIT EMBARRASSED to admit that, until I started toying with the idea of early retirement a few years ago, I was pretty ignorant about how Social Security worked. I didn’t even pay much attention to the FICA payroll taxes that were deducted from my paycheck.
As I looked into it some more, the prospect of receiving lifelong monthly checks from the government came as a pleasant surprise. I started researching how much I might get.
IN MARCH 1999, I began my job at the chemical plant where I still work today. During the weeklong orientation, I had my 26th birthday. It was the start of a job where I felt I couldn’t make any excuses. I needed to be an adult.
I would be making good money. After graduating high school in 1991, I’d averaged $18,000 to $23,000 a year in various jobs. In my first full year at the plant,
WHEN I WAS IN MY 20s, I was lucky to work for a company that offered a pension plan—and that put me on the road to retirement. Today, unfortunately, company pensions are rare. How can you ensure a comfortable retirement? Try shooting for these age-related milestones:
Age 25. Start saving at least 15% of your gross income. As I mentioned in an earlier article, a Fidelity Investments study found that if you save 15% of your gross income every year from age 25 through 67,
WE HAVE ALL BEEN affected by rising interest rates in 2022, from skyrocketing mortgage rates to plunging bond prices. A less-publicized casualty: Higher interest rates are having a big effect on those approaching retirement who are eligible for a pension.
How so? Many pension plans offer a choice between a lifetime stream of monthly income and a onetime lump sum payment. Rising rates could reduce the lump sum payment that many employees would receive next year by 25% or 30%.
A VANGUARD FINANCIAL planner once told me his clients’ biggest problem was that they didn’t want to withdraw money from their accounts during retirement. They lived beneath their means because they just couldn’t overcome their desire to continue seeing their assets grow.
If this describes you, too, you might be pleased to learn that required minimum distributions (RMDs) would be delayed a year or more if legislation, which currently sits before Congress, can slip through the crowded legislative calendar and pass before year-end.
WHEN I STARTED investing, I never thought much about risk, partly because I didn’t recognize that there were any.
The investor questionnaires always placed me in the aggressive category. Even though I never ventured much beyond mutual funds, all were pure stock funds, except for a small position in a balanced fund that I briefly owned. I didn’t know much, but I had learned that stocks most likely meant growth over the long haul,
ON THE CORNER OF MY desk, there are two binders. One contains my financial plan and the other my longevity lifestyle plan. One is no good without the other. How can I know if I’ve saved enough money if I don’t have a clear idea of what I want to do in retirement and how much that lifestyle will cost me?
The financial services industry’s focus has been on financial planning, with the objective of helping people accumulate as much money as possible.
WHAT WILL RETIREMENT cost? One solution to this riddle is to save as much as we can and hope it’ll cover our expected expenses. Finding the right answer—the exact amount of savings required—can involve hours of calculation, and even then there’s a fair amount of uncertainty.
At my financial planning firm, we help clients with this calculation. Our starting point: We believe the foundation of most retirement plans should be Social Security. Many Americans choose to take Social Security earlier than their full retirement age (FRA).
I HAVE A MILESTONE birthday this month—turning age 65. This has long been considered the standard retirement age.
When the Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935, 65 was the age at which workers could receive retirement benefits. Many companies’ defined benefit pension plans still use 65 as the age at which employees can receive an unreduced pension. And 65 is the age at which folks become eligible for Medicare.
This is also the median age at which workers expect to retire,
I OFTEN MEET PEOPLE who have saved more than enough to retire. In my role as a financial planner, I share numbers with them showing that, if they retire today, there’s a high degree of certainty they’ll never exhaust their savings. I often tell them that, if they ran out of money, it would be because capitalism failed, and we all might as well learn to hunt and gather.
Yet few of these people retire.
ELEVEN YEARS AGO, at age 56, I lost my job as a mid-level manager at a Fortune 500 company. I had joined the organization at age 28 with no savings. Twenty-eight years later, I was able to retire at a relatively young age with a pension and a seven-figure 401(k).
During those 28 years, I was passed over several times for promotion to vice president. Instead, I settled into my director-level position, never earning a salary of more than $150,000,
EQUITABLE FINANCIAL Life Insurance Co. agreed last month to pay a $50 million fine for engaging in fraud. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, since at least 2016, Equitable gave the false impression to 1.4 million investors that they were paying $0 in fees and expenses for their variable annuities. The majority of the investors were educators saving for retirement.
The SEC found that Equitable’s statements “listed only certain types of fees that investors infrequently incurred” and that “more often than not the statements had $0.00 listed for fees.” The commission concluded these were “misleading statements and omissions” of the true fees investors actually paid.
HAVE YOU GOT children or grandchildren with summer jobs? That means you could put them on the path to financial success—by helping them open a Roth IRA.
My brothers and I always had jobs, including delivering newspapers, bussing tables, mowing lawns and valet parking. My sons also had jobs at an early age, including shucking thousands of ears of corn at our local swim club. Later on, they were lifeguards, along with many of their friends from the swim team.
AM I ALLOWED another rant?
I have a tip for anyone under age 50. Someday—if you’re lucky—you’ll stop working and still need income to live. Most of us call that retirement.
How in the world do people reach their 50s and suddenly have a revelation that retirement is somewhere in their future?
I get it. If you’re in your 20s or even early 30s, it’s time to have fun. But there’s the trap. Fun for too long,