Category Archives: Early Retirement

The Roth IRA is 20 Years Old

The Roth IRA has now been around for 20 years.  Where does the time go?  Time sure does seem to fly when you are having fun.  It seems to go faster when you are dollar-cost-averaging and building wealth.

That is exactly what the Roth IRA has done over the past 20 years.  It has been a great wealth building tool for many individual investors.  Since it was created, I have been depositing money into my Roth IRA in the form of dollar-cost-averaging with almost every paycheck for the past 20 years.

The Roth IRA has come a long way in 20 years.  The Roth IRA is named after William Roth a Senator from the state of Delaware and was part of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997.  What makes the Roth IRA different from a Traditional IRA is that unlike the Traditional IRA, there are not any immediate tax deductions.  The Roth IRA is funded with after-tax earnings and when the money is withdrawn at retirement, it is tax-free.

When I first started investing, the Roth IRA was not available.  It did not become available until I was investing for about 1-year.  As soon as I learned about the Roth IRA, it sounded like a great wealth building tool.

When the Roth IRA was first introduced, the annual contribution limits were only $2,000 per year for an individual who qualified. From 1998 until 2001, the contribution limits were $2,000. The contributions limits have slowly been increasing over the past 20 years.  In 2002, people over 50 have been allowed to contribute more in the form of a catch-up contribution as they got closer to retirement age.  In 2018, individual under the age of 50 can contribute $5,500 per year and people who are over age 50 can contribute $6,500 per year.

There are income limits on who can take advantage of the Roth IRA.  Single filers who earn less than $120,000 qualify for a full contribution.  Single filers who earn between $120,000 and $135,000 are eligible for a partial contribution.  Joint filers who earn up to $189,000 can take advantage of the full contribution.  Joint filers who earn between $189,000 and $199,000 are eligible for a partial contribution.

Since my wife and I earn less than $189,000 we are able to better diversify out retirement tax strategy.  We contribute to our Traditional 403B accounts to reduce our annual taxable income. We also contribute to our Roth IRA accounts to have money that can be withdrawn tax-free later on in retirement.

What if you want to contribute to a Roth IRA account, but do not qualify.  For those folks, there is a Backdoor Roth IRA method that could be used to convert a traditional IRA into a Roth.  That approach is more complicated based on taxation.  It might be wise to check with a CPA before trying to implement this strategy.

Unlike a Traditional IRA or 401K, there are not any Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) with a Roth IRA.  In a Traditional IRA account, the money has to start to be withdrawn at age 70 ½. That is not the case with a Roth IRA.  The money never has to be withdrawn.  It can remain in the Roth IRA and the money can keep growing.

Since the money never has to be withdrawn, it is recommended by many financial professionals to drawdown Roth IRA accounts last.  We have added that strategy to our retirement drawdown plan.  Based on our age and different types of investment accounts, we will be following a Buckets Approach to funding our retirement.

We will first drawdown our taxable accounts.  The second source of retirement income will come from our Traditional IRAs based on the RMD schedule.  If we live long enough, the last source that we plan on drawing down is our Roth IRA accounts.

There are many benefits with passing on a Roth IRA to a surviving spouse.  They are not forced to take RMDs. They can roll the inherited Roth IRA over into their own Roth IRA.  They can also continue to contribute to the Roth IRA with new earnings.  These benefits do not apply to someone who inherits a Roth IRA who is not the spouse.

Another benefit of a Roth IRA is that you can withdraw money from the account prior to being age 59 ½.  With a Traditional IRA, there is a penalty for early withdrawals.  The money that a person withdraws early is taxed as ordinary income.  There is also a 10% penalty unless it is considered a special circumstance.  With a Roth IRA, there are not any penalties if the money that is taken out is limited to contributions.

Over the past 20 years, the Roth IRA has become a very popular type of retirement account.  According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, more than 29% of all individuals have a Roth IRA account.  That is an amazing statistic since so many Americans struggle with saving money for retirement.

There are few things in life that most people agree on.  In the world of personal finance, I cannot think of anyone in the financial independence community who does not like the benefits of investing in a Roth IRA account.  It is hard to not see and embrace the ability to build wealth in an account that allows people to have tax-free income at retirement.

Do you invest in a Roth IRA account?

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Dumping Stocks at Retirement

Have you ever considered selling all your stocks or stock mutual funds when you retire?  Who wants to have to deal with the ups and downs of the markets when you are no longer dollar-cost-averaging?  Are you afraid of a major market crash when you are drawing down your portfolio?

The market is near its all-time high.  With retirement right around the corner, are you tempted to sell all your stock holdings and call it a day?  It might sound tempting.  This market cannot keep going up, can it?

Every investor has the right to feel exactly how they feel about all of the scary things that are going on in the world.  Don’t lose your head.  The world has always been a volatile place and unfortunately, it always will be.  If it is not one thing, it is something else.

Yes, it might be tempting to pull the trigger and sell high.  You would walk away as a winner.  Before you do that.  Let’s look at how an all-bond portfolio might serve you in retirement.

For this exercise, let us assume that you are now sitting on $1,000,000 in your 401K.  At retirement, you want to draw down 4% per year.  How would an asset allocation of 100% in bonds hold up over the course of 30 years?  To find out, I am going to run this test based on the Monte Carlo method by using the Vanguard Retirement Nest Egg Calculator.

There is a 69% chance that your savings will last 30 years.  I do not like those odds.  I especially do not like them for a person who retires early.

What about if a person wants that $1,000,000 to last 40 years?  The percentages are getting much worse.  There is now only a 36% chance that money will last 40 years.

Could you imagine going broke after being retired for 40 years?  What would you do?  Would you go back to work?  Who would hire you at such an advanced age?  Sure, employers cannot discriminate, but let’s be honest about the opportunities for someone who has been unemployed for that long.

What could an investor do to improve the chances of their savings lasting 30 years or even 40 years for those who enter early retirement?  In Benjamin Graham’s book The Intelligent Investor, he gave a few suggestions for defensive investors.  He suggests that a balanced portfolio made up of 50 in equities and 50% in bonds is a good place to start.  He also suggested that an investor should never exceed an asset allocation of 75/25.  In other words, an investor should never have more than 75% or less than 25% in equities or bonds.

I know that you are seriously considering selling your equity holdings and exchanging them for bonds.  You have told yourself that you are finished with the market.  Volatility is no longer for you.  You want to enjoy your retirement without having to worry about how stocks are performing.  If you do that, the odds are still not in your favor of not running out of money.

How would your $1,000,000 fair if you followed what the late Benjamin Graham suggested in his classic investment book?  How would keeping only 25% in equities change the projected outcome?  Would adding a more volatile asset class help or hurt the likely hood of running out of money?

By keeping 25% in equities, the percentages have dramatically improved.  There is now a 78% chance that your money will not run out over the course of 30 years with a 4% drawdown rate.  Over the course of 40 years, there is 57% chance that your money will last.  By keeping 25% of the portfolio in stocks, there was an improvement of 9% over the course of 30 years and an improvement of 21% for 40 years.

Holding a small allocation of equities sure goes a long way.  What about if you took it a step further and went with a mix of 50% in stocks and 50% in bonds?  I know, I know. You are finished with stocks.  Keeping 25% of your money in stocks is one thing, but going to 50% is just too aggressive for your retirement account.

I understand how you feel.  You do not want to own stocks when the next recession occurs.  A long stock market correction can be scary.

During a drawdown period, how does having 100% in bonds compare to an asset allocation of 50% in stocks and 50% in bonds?  Over the course of 30 years, the 50/50 mix has an 85% chance of success.  Over the course of 40 years, the 50/50 mix has a projected success rate of 74%.  Compared to the portfolio made up of 100% in bonds, the 50/50 mix has a 16% better chance to not run out of money over the course of 30 years.  For the period of 40 years, the 50/50 mix has a 38% better chance of not running out of money.

There are many factors to consider when selecting the asset allocation that is right for your retirement.  How old will you be at the time of retirement?  How long does your money have to last?  How will RMDs impact your drawdown?  What type of lifestyle do you want to live during retirement?  Are you planning on leaving a legacy?

I am not trying to convince you on how you should allocate your portfolio during retirement.  That is ultimately your decision.  Everyone has a unique financial situation.  The purpose of this post was to examine how different conservative portfolios might perform during the drawdown period.  I am just trying to convince you to do your due diligence before you rush to any financial decisions that will impact your quality of life down the road.

After reviewing these results, it shows that diversification is still important during the drawdown period.  Just as holding 100% in stocks is too aggressive for most investors during their working years, holding 100% in bonds might be too conservative for investors during the drawdown period.  When an investor is working on building their wealth, holding a percentage of bonds helps to reduce the impact of how stock market volatility impacts a portfolio.  During the drawdown period, holding a small percentage of equities greatly improves the likelihood of not running out of money in retirement.

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What Stage of Financial Change Are You In?

If you choose to pursue financial independence and an early retirement, you will need to reject many of the popular, preconceived mindsets and behaviors that you’ve been taught about your relationship with money.

Over the past two decades, the average age at retirement has been increasing. Studies predict the average age of retirement for Millennials may reach 75 due to the growing costs of rent and prevalence of student loan debt.

The good news?

You don’t need to follow the same financial path as your peers (no matter what generation you were born in).

The “bad” news?

To reach retirement earlier than your peers, you will need to handle your money in a different way as well.

Pursuing financial independence will require self-education, practice, and persistence. You may or may not have the support of your friends, co-workers, and even family members… but you will need to make financial changes in your own life regardless of their own money habits.

In this post, you’ll learn more about the five stages behind every major life change, how these stages apply to your personal finances, and how you can use this model to stay committed on your journey toward financial independence.

The 5 Stages of Financial Change

In the academic world, the stages of change are more formally recognized as the “transtheoretical model of behavior change.”

This model was first proposed by psychology professors in 1977. The model is often applied to health-related changes, such as quitting smoking, starting a new exercise or diet plan, and managing anxiety and depression.

Here are the five stages:

    1. Precontemplation (not ready to change)
    2. Contemplation (considering change)
    3. Preparation (getting ready for the change)
    4. Action (making the change)
    5. Maintenance (reinforcing the change)

While you typically progress sequentially through the first four stages, it’s possible to “backslide” and revert to an earlier stage if maintenance is unsuccessful (breaking your diet during the holidays, for example).

This model not only applies to physical behavior changes but can also be applied to belief changes or decision-making as well.

Let’s take at how you may journey throughout these stages as you make significant changes in your financial habits.

Precontemplation

During the precontemplation stage, an individual is not seriously considering making a change. In fact, they may not realize that a change is necessary at all.

In the context of a health-related issue, a person in the precontemplation stage may assume they are totally healthy – perhaps unaware that their high cholesterol or blood sugar may already have them on a trajectory for a heart attack or diabetes down the road.

If you have just started your professional career, you may find yourself in the precontemplation stage of your retirement planning.

Perhaps you are contributing a small percentage of your 401k toward retirement each month. What you may not realize is that contributing just 5% of your salary is going to place you squarely in the “retire at 75” club.

To move out of the precontemplation stage may require a “financial epiphany.” This could be saving up to buy a house, preparing to have a child, or earning a salary for the first time. At this point, you’ll realize it’s time to make peace with your financial past so you can reach your goals.

Contemplation

The same year that psychology professors created the “model of behavior change,” film director Woody Allen was attributed in the New York Times for his popular quote, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.”

Just by “showing up” to read this post, you may have already progressed out of precontemplation into the next stage of behavior change: contemplation (surprise!).

During the contemplation stage, an individual is aware of their problematic behavior but are still weighing the pros and cons of change: Can I make time to exercise without hurting my career? Will my friends support me in my decision to quit smoking or drinking?

In a stage of financial contemplation, an individual may be considering their financial goals and the associated trade-offs.

  • Should we be focused on saving up a down payment for a home or paying down student loans instead?
  • Is it worth the inconvenience of downsizing our home or moving in with roommates to save additional money?
  • Can we commit to meal prepping for a few hours each Sunday night to reduce spending on lunch during the work week?

Preparation

An individual in the preparation stage has determined the pros of change outweigh the cons. At this stage, they may start performing research, creating a plan, or making small steps toward their improved for behavior.

If you are someone who wants to lose weight, your preparation might be purchasing a healthy cookbook, grocery shopping for nutritious foods, or signing up for a gym membership.

Many times, it’s tempting to skip from the contemplation stage directly into action (which we’ll discuss below). It’s important to spend time in the preparation stage to lay a framework for success.

You may have to remove barriers from your financial goals as well. This could involve learning more about debt payoff strategies, calculating your net worth to understand your current situation, or building a solid budget that organizes your finances.

Action

In this stage, individuals begin to actively change their behavior. This decision is often one of the shortest stages of change – most of the effort is either exerted in (1) building motivation during the contemplation the stage, or (2) maintaining and reinforcing change.

If quitting smoking is your health-related behavioral change, then the action stage would be the first few weeks of cessation. The behavior change requires consistent, active effort to make. You may be using aggressive strategies like substituting a new behavior in its place, rewarding yourself for the proper behavior, and avoiding any scenarios that trigger the old behavior.

There are many ways to take action and improve your personal finances. You may start scheduling recurring payments on your debt, setting aside an additional portion of your income with direct deposit, or creating a budget to keep yourself living within your means.

Maintenance

In a successful behavioral change, the maintenance stage will have the longest duration. The goal of the maintenance stage is to reinforce the new behavior to minimize the chances of a relapse. With time, the new behavior will become second nature.

It is not uncommon for individuals to relapse back to a previous stage. A successful behavior change will depend on how an individual responds to this situation:

Do you prepare yourself to eat healthily by going grocery shopping and planning your upcoming meals – or do you tell yourself that you’ll try again next New Year’s?

Financial independence is a long-term objective that requires maintenance as well. You may have to dip into your emergency fund to cover an unexpected expense. You might splurge and make an impulse purchase that falls outside your budget.

It’s important to avoid letting one setback justify additional bad behavior. Even if you aren’t perfect with your money, you can find ways to improve your finances each and every day.

How can you maintain your positive personal finance habits to minimize the impact of a setback?

  • Continue learning new financial principles with personal finance blogs and books
  • Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who share your goals and values
  • Be publicly accountable for your goals by sharing them with family and friends
  • Automate your behaviors with recurring transfers, payments, and direct deposits

Conclusion

To do something spectacular with your personal finances, you will need to adopt different beliefs and behaviors about money that may be different than your peers.

You can make this financial change easier by understanding the how the “stages of change” model applies to you and your personal finances, assessing your current status in the model, and finding ways to reinforce the right behaviors until our reach your goal.

No matter how long you’ve been focused on your personal finances – whether you’re just contemplating your goals or maintaining your progress – there are strategies you can use to make good financial behavior easier.

How do you stay committed to maintaining the positive financial changes in your life? 

Author Bio:

Aaron is a lifelong entrepreneur and internet marketer who started Personal Finance for Beginners to share experiences and insights from his own financial journey as he pays down student loan debt, sticks to a deliberate budget, and saves and invests for the future. You can find him at Personal Finance for Beginners or on Twitter @PFforBeginners.

Early Retirement: Removing Barriers

Many people dream of reaching early retirement.  Few people, however, are willing to do what it takes to make it a reality.  In most cases, to reach early retirement, a person must live differently from how the masses live.  People generally don’t want to be viewed as being different from their fellows.

The masses are living for the day, spending most of what they earn, landing in debt, and are in denial about their personal finances.  They have high hopes that their financial future will be secure.  Hope, however, is not a strategy.

To reach early retirement, a strategy is needed.  That strategy will require action and more action.  The primary objective of that strategy will be to first reach financial independence.  Financial independence is what enables people to retire early.  If a person is no longer working, the money to sustain their lifestyle needs to come from somewhere.  For most early retirees, that somewhere is their passive investments.

The path to being able to retire early is full of barriers.  Many are external like being able to maintain a budget while marketers are doing everything they can to get you to break your budget and buy whatever it is they are selling.  Some barriers are mental.  The purpose of this post is to identify a few of these barriers and to establish a plan of action to avoid them.

Ignorance

Most people are unaware of what is required when it comes to planning for an early retirement.  That is even true for those who have attended college.  People who hold a 4-year degree or beyond still struggle with doing what is required to escape having to work for a living.

When it comes to establishing a financial plan, many people truly do not understand what is required.  They feel that things will just work out like they have in other areas of their life like landing a good job or getting a mortgage to buy a house.  They are generally in denial about what is required to build a large enough net worth to sustain their desired lifestyle once they are no longer working.

The good news is that once a person decides to learn more about personal finance, there is an abundance of great information.  Once a person takes that first step towards learning about budgeting, saving, and investing, they have removed one barrier.  Once that barrier has been removed, they will discover that the basics can carry a person a long way.  The basics alone might be enough to carry some people to financial independence.

Procrastinating

Procrastinating is another barrier that stands in the way of reaching early retirement.  Not knowing about a topic is one thing.  Knowing and not doing anything is another.  To reach early retirement, it takes many years of earning a salary, saving a large percentage of that income, and investing it wisely.

The longer a person waits to start this process, the harder it becomes.  That is based on compound interest.  Let’s assume that an investor needs to have $1,000,000 saved to declare financial independence.  They also want to reach this milestone by age 50.

Based on an 8% percent return, if an investor starts to save $1,800 per month at age 30, it will take 20 years to reach their goal.   If they wait until age 40 to start saving, they will have to save almost $6,000 per month.  If they started at age 22, however, they would only have to save $900 per month.

When you are young, time is on your side.  The older you get, the harder it becomes.  Don’t procrastinate if your goal is to reach early retirement.

Not investing in stocks

To receive a return close to 8%, an investor will need to have a large percentage of stocks in their asset allocation.  Based on how investments are projected to perform for the next 10 years, an 8% return might not be reasonable.  Large-cap stocks are projected to earn 6.7% threw 2026.  For that same period, investment grade bonds are projected to earn 3.1%.

The average person has the tendency to shy away from stocks.  In the short-term, they are volatile.  Over long periods of time, they are one of the best wealth building investments for individual investors.

Instead of parking your money in a money market that returns 1%, consider adding stocks to your asset allocation.  A good place to start is to look at a balanced portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% in bonds.  This allocation is popular because it provides growth from the stock allocation and the bond allocation reduces volatility when the stock market has a correction.  Another general rule of thumb is to invest (110 minus your age in stocks).  If you are age 25, you might want to consider having around 85% of your asset allocation in stocks.

Lifestyle Creep

Lifestyle creep is a form of inflation.   As a person advances in their career and their earnings increase, it is natural for their spending to increase.  As raises and promotions pile up, people have the tendency to upgrade their lifestyle.  Instead of saving more of their earnings, people buy bigger houses, fancier cars, and go on expensive vacations.

If there is lifestyle creep in your life, it is a major barrier between reaching early retirement and being stuck as a wage earner.  Lifestyle creep inflates how much money you need in your retirement account before you can retire.  In contrast, if you keep your monthly expenses low, the less you will need to be able to retire.

If you plan on withdrawing 4% from your retirement account, have $100,000 in annual expenses, you will need $2,500,000 in retirement savings.  For those who only have $40,000 in annual expenses, they just need to save $1,000,000.  The higher your annual expenses are, the more you need to have in retirement savings.

To avoid lifestyle creep, some management is required.  A solid budget is needed.  A financial plan is also a vital tool.  First, focus on the big expenses.  Keep your housing, transportation, taxes, and education costs low.  For example, live in your starter house forever, buy an economical car, live in an area that does not have high taxes, and take advantage of public schools and state universities.

If you can avoid lifestyle creep on the major expenses, you will have more money for savings.  This will also lead to less financial stress.  Instead of stressing to cover your bills that are always increasing, you will be able to better enjoy your life because there will be less demand for having to earn more and more.

Conclusion

For most people, the road to early retirement takes a long time.  It generally takes a couple decades of solid earnings, a high savings rate, and compound interest.  To achieve this ambitus goal, there are barriers that need to be identified and managed.

To be successful with personal finance, education is required.  The great news is that there is an abundance of good books, blogs, and forums that provide unlimited information.  A good place to start is the Resources page on this blog.

There is no such thing as an overnight success.  Most overnight success stories have been a fifteen-year work in progress.  If you want to be financially successful and retire early, start today.  It is not an overnight endeavor.

Without some risk, there will only be a little return.  Identify the correct mix of stocks and bonds for your situation.  Be sure to take your age and risk tolerance into consideration.

Manage your expenses.  The greater your expenses, the more money you must save and grow.  By keeping your expenses low, the less money you will need in retirement.

There will always be barriers that stand in the way of reaching early retirement.  Once they are identified, they can be managed and overcome.  Keep your eyes open for other barriers that might pop-up.  Be vigilant and stay focused and you will be sure to reach financial independence and retire early.

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Funding Retirement with the Bucket Approach

Have you ever considered separating the money that you plan on drawing down during your retirement based on the phases of your retirement?  A common approach is to allocate different piles of money in separate buckets based on when you plan on using the money.  The Bucket Approach was made popular by Raymond J. Lucia, CFP as the result of his book Buckets of Money.  The theory is based on building a diversified portfolio and spreading the risk out across different buckets of money.

A common approach is to use three buckets, however, more buckets can be used:

Bucket A – Money that will be used for the first few years of retirement (years 2 – 5)

Bucket B – Money that will be used for the second period of retirement (years 3  – 10)

Bucket C – Money that will be used to fund the remaining years of retirement (years 11 – 25 and beyond)

Asset Allocation for Each Bucket

Since Bucket A is going to be the first source of retirement funding, it is suggested that this portion of the asset allocation be ultra conservative.  That is to prevent a major stock market sell-off or recession to deplete the money that will be used to cover the first 2 – 5 years of retirement expenses.  In this bucket, the assets should be invested in CD’s, money market accounts, short-term bonds, or FDIC insured savings accounts.  By always having between 2 – 5 years worth of expenses in liquid assets that are easy to access, it helps from having to sell-off stocks when they have gone down in value.

Bucket B is going to be constructed of a more moderate asset allocation than Bucket A.  This bucket is designed to produce higher returns than Bucket A.  This bucket should have an asset allocation of around 65% in bonds and 35% in stocks.  The bonds are a low-risk investment that provides higher income than short-term holdings.  The stock portion is used to fuel growth and stay ahead of inflation.  The bond allocation could be made up of both an intermediate-term bond fund and a TIPS fund.  A large-cap index fund or large-cap dividend fund are good options for the stock portion of Bucket B.

Bucket C is going to have a more aggressive asset allocation than Bucket A and B.  This bucket of money will be used for long-term growth.  It will be made up of an asset allocation of 75% in stocks and 25% in bonds.  By keeping a portion in bonds, an investor can rebalance annually.  This practice of buying low and selling high improves the long-term performance and reduces the risk of this asset allocation.  For the bond allocation, a total bond market fund is a good option.  For the stock allocation, a more diversified mix of large-cap, small-cap, and international stock funds are used in this portion of the bucket for aggressive growth.

Refilling the Buckets

With a more traditional approach to asset allocation, a portfolio is viewed as a whole and not fragmented into different categories based on when the money will be needed.  For example, a balanced portfolio might be made up of 40% in bonds and 60% in stocks.  If stocks have a good year and the new asset allocation is 65% stocks and 35% bonds, the investor simply sells the stocks high and rebalances back to the desired asset allocation.

With the bucket approach, there is rebalancing within each bucket as well as replenishing between buckets.  Bucket A has 2- 5 years worth of living expenses.  When Bucket A has 1 years worth of living expenses drawn down, the difference will be replenished from Bucket B.  The same process applies between Bucket B and Bucket C.  When money is moved from Bucket B to Bucket A, Bucket B must be replenished from Bucket C.

Buckets vs Systematic Drawdown

Some financial advisors favor the buckets approach for the psychological benefits it provides investors.  When an investor is faced with a major market decline, they feel more confident because they know they have 5 years of living expenses in cash.  That financial cushion helps to prevent investors from selling stocks when they are at or near the bottom of a market.  Bucket A provides a level of comfort during good times and bad.

Other financial advisors prefer a systematic drawdown approach.  It is viewed as an easy approach for investors to understand and apply.  They feel that it is less complicated for an investor to view their portfolio as a whole and to use a safe withdrawal rate of 3 – 4% from a conservative portfolio of 50% in stocks and 50% in fixed assets.

There are more similarities between these two approaches than there are differences.  Even though there are three different asset allocations, in the three different buckets, when they are added together, they still can simply add up to the same mix of 50% in stocks and 50% bonds in the portfolio that is applied in a systematic drawdown approach.  It is just a different way of mentally accounting for assets during retirement.

Implementing the Buckets Approach

The buckets approach should be considered by people who are planning on retiring early.  Many people save up substantial resources in their 401K, but cannot access their money until age 60.  The buckets approach can be an alternative to a Roth conversion.  This approach just has to be planned years in advance because it requires an investor to build up substantial savings in their taxable account along with their tax-deferred accounts.

For this example, let’s assume that a person wants to retire at age 50, requires $50,000 per year for living expenses, and has $500,000 of their $1.5 million-dollar portfolio in taxable savings.  This scenario would be ideal for the buckets approach:

Bucket A – $250,000 in taxable savings (age 50-55)

Bucket B – $250,000 in a taxable account (tax-free bonds, age 56-60), the remaining mix of assets in an IRA or 401K to be drawn down after age 60

Bucket C – All in an IRA or 401K

Conclusion

The buckets approach is slightly more complex than a systematic drawdown strategy.  The main benefit is that it helps to keep the mind of the investor more at ease during all market conditions.  If managed correctly, the theory is that an investor will always feel secure because they always have 2 – 5 years of cash to fund the next few years of expenses.

The buckets approach is customizable to your unique situation.  The three buckets approach is the most common strategy.  It is the most ideal for a retiree who has at least 25 years of living expenses in savings.

More buckets can be added.  For example, if you have more than 25 years worth of projected living expenses in savings, you can add more buckets to extend your savings further out into the future. You also must take into consideration if you have a taxable account, a 401K with RMD’s (Required Minimum Distributions) at age 70, a Roth IRA account that does not require RMD’s, and Health Savings Account (HSA) to cover future medical bills.

If you are looking at establishing a conservative drawdown strategy, a buckets approach is worth considering.  It requires a little more work than a standard systematic strategy.  However, if you enjoy the mental accounting, the extra work might add to your peace of mind.  Just as when you were working towards building your wealth, the best plan is the one that you can follow.

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Saving: The Foundation for Financial Success

Is your goal to reach financial independence?  Do you want to retire early?  If you have an ambitious financial goal, there are many things that you must do correctly.  For example, you need to always be working on improving your ability to earn more money.  You must live below your means.  You must invest wisely in stocks and bonds.  It is also important to take advantage of tax-deferred accounts like a 401K or IRA.  Yes, all those steps are important, but in my experience, having a high savings rate is the most important step to becoming financially successful.

I see savings as the foundation for being financially successful.  Without savings, there is no money to invest.  It is the foundation for one’s financial house to be built upon.  For a house to last, it needs a solid foundation.  If you skimp on the sand or mortar, the foundation will not be suitable to support the structure that you are dreaming about constructing.  If you are not saving enough money, you will not have enough to support a high quality of life when you retire and draw from your savings to pay your expenses.

Savings Rate

This will probably not come as a big surprise, but American’s are not saving enough.  The current national savings rate is just over 5%.  As recent as the 1980’s, the saving rate in the United States was over 10%.  If your goal is reaching financial independence and ultimately early retirement, a savings rate of 5% is not enough.  Even with compound interest, it would simply take too long to grow into a substantial enough nest egg to cover your living expenses.

How Much is Enough

In the classic personal finance book The Richest Man in Babylon, a savings rate of 10% is suggested.  I feel 10% is the bare minimum that the average American should be saving.  I do not think that is nearly enough if your goal is early retirement.  It might be suitable if your goal is to reach financial independence by age 65, but not if you want to retire at age 50.

If you are just entering the workforce, start by saving 15% of your salary.  Work on increasing that rate every year.  Try to increase it by at least 1% annually.  Increase it with every annual raise or bonus.

Spending

Spending is the opposite of savings.  Spending is the enemy of wealth creation.  Spending leads to lifestyle creep.  The more stuff you buy, the more stuff you will want.  There is always something new or better than what you own.

Marketers earn a living by trying to convince you to buy what they are selling.  When you see that your friends or neighbors have the newest products, you will want to upgrade your stuff too.  This is a vicious cycle without an end.

The secret to winning this game is to not play.  Every dollar that you spend puts you one dollar further away from financial independence.  On the other hand, every dollar you save goes towards buying your freedom.

Debt

Debt is created when you spend more than you earn.  Some debt is not as bad as other debt.  Student loans provide you with the funds to get an education to obtain the skills to earn a higher salary.  Taking out a mortgage enables most Americans to be homeowners.  You still must use extreme caution before you incur any type of debt.

Bad debt comes in the form of credit cards, auto loans, and payday loans.  All debt, however, prevents you from saving as much as you could be saving.  When you take on excessive debt, you become a slave to your creditor.  It is possible, but difficult to escape from the bondage of debt once you start to slide down that slippery slope.

Why Save So Much

Once you take on the mindset of a saver, you will never be a spender.  Personal Capital is a free online platform that is great for tracking savings.  That feeling of accomplishment of watching your savings grow is far greater than any new product that you can buy.

After you become a saver, you might notice a mental twist occur.  Once you reach a point in life when you could afford luxury cars and upgrade to a larger house, you will realize that you do not want to waste your money on any of that stuff.  Buying new stuff will become unimportant.  You will see it as being wasteful.

At that point, spending is viewed as an opportunity cost.  You will want your money to keep growing.  Financial independence will become the most import thing that your money can buy.  There is no product or service that is more appealing than having mastery over your own life.

As a saver, you will always be trying to optimize your spending and to live on less.  It is fun to try to stretch a dollar as far as it can be stretched. This mindset will greatly help you on your journey toward financial independence because you will need less money to live on.

For example, if you can live on $40,000 per year, you only need to have $1,000,000 saved based on a 4% withdrawal rate.  What about if you want to live on $100,000 per year?  You would have to have $2,500,000 in savings at a 4% withdrawal rate.  The more money you require, the further away you are from freedom.

Compound Interest

Compound interest works no matter what your saving rate is.  It is just math.  It just works better if you have a high savings rate.  For example, Joe saves $800 per month and Bill saves $2,000 per month.  Their savings both grew by 8%.

How much will Joe have in savings after ten years?  He will have over $147,000 saved.  That is a nice sized nest egg.  It is a solid foundation to build upon.  However, he is still a long way from financial independence.

How much will Bill have saved?  Bill will have over $368,000 in savings.  Bill is well on his way to reaching financial independence.  He is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

As you can see, compound interest worked out well for both Joe and Bill.  Joe has a nice financial foundation.  Bill, on the other hand, has almost 10 years of living expenses stashed away assuming he can live on $40,000 per year.

Conclusion

Start saving early.  Save as much as you can.  Always try to save more.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that you are missing out on anything because you are saving too much.  Once you become a saver, you will have established the required foundation that is needed to fuel the wealth building process.

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Planning on working until age 70?

Should you plan on working until age 70?  This suggestion has been surfacing in the mainstream financial media.  It is perfectly fine to work until age 70 or beyond.  It should not, however, be the age that your retirement planning is based upon.

Some people like to work.  It gives them purpose.  Work adds structure to the day.  For many people, it is their identity.  Their job is who they are.

Even if you truly enjoy your job, it is practical to have exit strategy in place.  Life happens, and changes occur on many different levels.  It is prudent to have a plan that enables you to exit the workforce sooner rather than later.

There are many reasons why a person should not set their target retirement age to 70.  Planning on working at such an advanced age is difficult because there are too many variables.  Below are some of the concerns that I have with planning on working until such an advanced age:

Financial Planning

If you set your target retirement date for your 70th birthday, it will have a negative impact on how you manage your finances.  It might even prevent you from creating a financial plan.  Savings will not be a priority.  Without an ambitious goal of retiring at a young age, the temptation to spend most of your money will win out every time.   The motivation to save a large percentage of your earnings for retirement will not be a priority while you are working.  It can easily lead to the mindset of thinking that retirement will never occur, you only live once, enjoy it while you are young, and other poor money management theories.

This mindset can easily lead to a financial disaster.  It would also be much easier to take on debt.  Spending leads to more spending.  If you must work forever, you might as well have a nice car, house, and other stuff to show for it.  You will be stressed from all that work, so two or three expensive vacations would provide just enough rest and relaxation to keep you motivated.

Health

Unless there is a major medical discovery, our time on this planet is finite.  Nothing lasts forever and that includes our ability to work.  As time goes by, we break down.  Everybody is different, but it happens to the best of us.  If you have a physical job like a construction worker, your ability to perform your job is shorter than if you have an office job.

Even though Office work is not physically demanding, it is not healthy.  Some say that sitting in front of a computer all day is as bad for your health as smoking.  In other words, sitting also breaks down the body from lack of exercise.  Along with our bodies, our minds are not able to manage stress and deadlines the way it did when we were young.  Our egos might not like to accept these facts, but it is just part of being human.

Family

As life goes on, our family obligations change.  Parents age and require more of our attention.  They might even require us to become their primary caregiver.

Children require attention past the age of 18.  Grandchildren are born and need to be cared for.  Daycare is expensive.  Your children might ask you to watch their children, so they can go to work and earn a living.  There are many family situations that could require a person to have to stop working much sooner than age 70.

Job Loss

What will you do if you get laid off in your 50’s, but your financial situation requires you to work until a much later age?  Recessions occur about every 10 years as part of the business cycle.  Some companies go out of business.  Some companies survive by cutting labor expenses to remain profitable.

Unless you have a tenured position, in many cases, the first employees to get laid-off are middle managers or older employees.  Loyalty is a thing of the past.  Just because you were loyal to an employer, it does not mean that they will be loyal to you.  Just because you want to retain your position, it does not mean that they will retain you.

Age Discrimination

Age discrimination is a real issue.  Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employer cannot discriminate based on age.  The protected age under Title VII is 40 and older.

Even though it is illegal to discriminate based on age, unfortunately, it occurs.  I have had to coach hiring managers and executives many times about this law and practice.  They do not set out discriminate.  They just tend to see younger prospects as being more budget-friendly and motivated than mature workers.

Just because you want to keep working, there is no guarantee that the type of work that you performed during the prime of your career will be available.  You might think that you can still perform at a high level.  The hard part is convincing an employer that you still can do it.

It is Not Fun Anymore

Even though you enjoy your job today, it might not always be that way.  Your assignment might change.  That great boss who supports your development takes on a new assignment and your new boss is a jerk.  The co-worker who you are friends with gets a new position.  The demands change.  The company is bought by a competitor.  There are countless things that can occur that can turn a good job into a terrible job.

What Age Should People Plan on Retiring

It is prudent to plan on being able to retire much earlier than age 70.  I would suggest setting a goal of having the option to retire by age 55 or younger.  That does not mean that you must retire at that age.  It simply means that you have the means to step away from work if you must.  By being financially independent, you simply have more flexibility for whatever life has in store for you.

By setting a younger retirement age, you will manage your finances more wisely.  It forces you to start saving a large percentage of your earnings as soon as you enter the workforce.  It will force you to spend less and avoid wasting money on stuff that you do not need.  It will also help you to avoid consumer debt like credit cards or auto loans.  It will force you to live and spend smarter.

If work is your passion, don’t give it up.  I hope that you can work until you are able to call it quits on your terms.  Never the less, life does not always work that way.  Plan for the worst and hope for the best.  That is why planning to work until age 70 is not a good plan.

Early Retirement Portfolio & Plan

Thank you for reading part-4 in my series on asset allocation.  In my last post, I wrote about our current balanced-growth asset allocation.  That is the asset allocation that we plan on maintaining until we retire in 2028.

In this post, I will be considering the future.  This post is about how I foresee our assets being allocated at the time of retirement.  I use the word foresee because it is what I am anticipating.  As I stated in my previous post, I don’t have a crystal ball.  Nobody can predict the future, but this is what I am optimistically forecasting.

At the time of retirement, I will be age 52 and my wife will be age 60.  At age 60, my wife will draw a Pension equal to 70% of her last annual salary.  The Pension technically has a cost of living adjustment (COLA), but there has not been an adjustment in over 15 years.  Moving forward, we are not going to count on any COLA adjustments.

By 2028, we plan on having about 50 years of annual living expenses in investable assets.  To come up with that amount, I have run our figures on many different financial calculators including AARP, Charles Schwab, and Fidelity that take the future projected growth of different asset allocations into account.  The 50 years of living expenses are based on what we currently have saved, the amount we plan on adding to our savings, as well as projected market performance.

The asset allocation that we plan on using at retirement will be 50% invested in stocks and 50% invested in bonds/cash:

S&P 500 Index Fund – 32%

Extended Market Index Fund – 8%

Total International Stock Market Index Fund – 10%

Intermediate-Term Bond Fund – 32%

TIPS Fund – 10

Cash – 8%

At retirement, we are planning on withdrawing only 1.8% per year from our portfolio.  Based on the Vanguard Monte Carlo Nest Egg Calculator, our success rate is projected to be 100%.  We also have a greater than 100% projected success rate on Firecalc.com and the Trinity study.

Between the pension and withdrawing 1.8% from our portfolio, we will have $112K per year to live on.  Just based on simple math, if we are taxed at 25%, we would have $7K per month to live on.  That would be more than double of what we live on now with fewer expenses.

For the first 10 years of retirement, we plan on withdrawing from our taxable account.  When my wife is age 70, we will be forced to withdraw from her Traditional IRA because of Required Minimum Distributions (RMD).  At that point, we will still be 8 years away from having to withdraw from my Traditional IRA.  We might never have to touch our Roth IRA accounts.  If we do use our Roth IRA accounts, it might just be to withdraw extra money without causing us to go into a higher tax bracket.

We are currently planning on being flexible when it comes to Social Security.  Our goal is to take it when my wife is 70 and I am 62.  We are, however, keeping the option open to taking it early based on retiring during a prolonged market correction. Otherwise, the amount that we will collect will compound 7% annually for every year my wife waits between age 62 and 70.

For some people, this plan might seem too conservative.  For me, being a little on the conservative side is important.  That is because I am retiring at a young age.  I have to plan on being able to fund a retirement of at least 35 years for both my wife and myself.

For me, I don’t see it as being overly conservative.  I see it more as being flexible.  By only planning on a 1.8% withdrawal rate, we have a great amount of flexibility.  If we had to increase it to 2.8%, our success rate only falls to 98% on the Vanguard Monte Carlo Nest Egg Calculator.  If my wife had to work two more additional years, her pension would jump to 80% of her last annual salary.  Also, I will most likely still work part-time because I want to continue to take advantage of my catch-up contributions in my retirement accounts.

That is how our future plan looks.  It is over 11 years from now.  I don’t want to get too excited.  Between now and then, we will work hard, save, invest, take care of our health, and enjoy every day.

Also, please check out the following links from some of the top personal finance blogs to learn about the #DrawdownStrategy Chain:

Anchor: Physician On Fire: Our Drawdown Plan in Early Retirement

Link 1: The Retirement Manifesto: Our Retirement Investment Drawdown Strategy

Link 2: OthalaFehu: Retirement Master Plan

Link 3: Plan.Invest.Escape: Drawdown vs. Wealth Preservation in Early Retirement

Link 4: Freedom is Groovy: The Groovy Drawdown Strategy

Link 5: The Green Swan: The Nastiest, Hardest Problem in Finance

Link 6: My Curiosity Lab: Show Me The Money: My Retirement Drawdown Plan

Link 7: Cracking Retirement: Our Drawdown Strategy

Link 8: The Financial Journeyman: Early Retirement Portfolio & Plan

Link 9: Retire by 40: Our Unusual Early Retirement Withdrawal Strategy

Link 10: Early Retirement Now: The ERN Family Early Retirement Captial Preservation Plan

Link 11: 39 Months: Mr. 39 Months Drawdown Plan

Link 12: 7 Circles: Drawdown Strategy – Joining The Chain Gang

Link 13: Retirement Starts Today: What’s Your Retirement Withdrawal Strategy?

Link 14: Ms. Liz Money Matters: How I’ll Fund My Retirement

Link 15: Penny & Rich: Rich’s Retirement Plan

Link 16: Atypical Life: Our Retirement Drawdown Strategy

Link 17: New Retirement: 5 Steps for Defining your Retirement Drawdown Strategy

Link 18: Maximize Your Money: Practical Retirement Withdrawal Strategies Are Important

Link 19:  ChooseFI:  The Retirement Manifesto – Drawdown Strategy Podcast

Please remember to check with a financial professional before you ever buy an investment and to read my Disclaimer page.