What's the scariest thing about retirement? The things we don't know. There are bound to be some surprises in retirement. But here are seven retirement unknowns that you can prepare for in advance:
1. Unexpected expenses. We carefully plan our monthly budget. We need so much to pay for the house, utilities, car and groceries. But then suddenly you need a new roof that costs $6,000, or you need a surgery with a $5,000 co-pay. What are you going to do? You need to be prepared. And if you follow a monthly budget, you may not be. In addition to your monthly budget you also need a supplemental annual budget, figuring in a realistic lump sum to cover uncertain but inevitable emergency expenditures.
2. Don't delay investment decisions. Retirement is a big step, and with everything else going on, you may not get around to reformulating your IRA and other investments to accommodate your new stage of life. It's also a big job that's easy to put off. But your investment objectives change after you retire from wealth accumulation to wealth preservation and income production. So don't procrastinate. Sit down with your spouse or financial advisor and make a decision to reinvest your nest egg for your new life.
3. Timing your retirement. Be very careful before you retire early. Your monthly Social Security benefit will be smaller and your savings will have to last longer, meaning your monthly income will be less. For example, an annuity with an initial investment of half a million dollars will bring in about $2,400 per month if you start at age 62, but $2,700 if you wait until 68. It may not seem like much, but what other way do you have to give yourself a 12.5 percent raise? If you absolutely hate your job, consider halfway options such as phased retirement or part-time work, which will supplement your lower income and help protect your nest egg from being depleted too quickly.
4. Playing it too safe. We need income in retirement, and the temptation is to protect our principle and live off the interest. But that's almost impossible in these days of ultra-low interest rates. Instead, design your portfolio to produce total returns of 6 to 7 percent, even though the interest you get might be closer to 3 percent. That means you periodically sell some investments, and there will be years when your portfolio declines and you'll dip into principle. But there will also be years when returns are higher, adding to your portfolio. This approach may seem uncomfortable at first, but it offers a higher probability of not outliving your money.
5. Figure in inflation. A monthly budget of $2,400 a month, or $2,700 a month, may seem like a reasonable amount of money to live on today. But if you retire in your 60s, you can expect to live another 20 years or longer. In 20 years, at recent inflation rates, that $2,400 will be worth less than $1,500. Social Security is indexed to inflation -- for example, benefits will increase 1.7 percent for 2015 -- but many other income producing products, such as annuities, typically are not. Inflation is yet another reason not to retire too early or play it too safe with your investments.
6. Falling victim to fraud. Everyone thinks they're too smart to fall for a scam or sleazy solicitation. Tell that to the people who invested with Bernie Madoff. Also, like it or not, as we get older our cognitive abilities slow down. We think we won't be taken in, but it happens all the time. So, only deal with reputable investment firms, keep a skeptical eye out for anything that seems too good to be true and think long and hard before jumping into any gold or real estate offer you hear about in the media.
7. Selling your life span too short. On average, a person who's 65 will live to age 85. But one out of five men, and one out of three women, will live past age 90. So, you will probably live for another 20 years, but you have to plan for another 30. That means managing your money more carefully to ensure that it will last the rest of your life and you won't have to cut back when you're older and more vulnerable. Yes, you want to have some fun in your 60s, but you also want to husband your resources so you have some autonomy and dignity in your later years.
Tom Sightings blogs at Sightings at 60 .
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