When Can I Retire?

There are a couple of approaches to determine retirement readiness, and while there is no one right answer to this question, that doesn’t mean we cannot make an intelligent examination of the issues facing retirement and create a thorough framework for examining the question.

1) The 4% approach. Figure out how much you need in annual pre-tax income. Subtract Social Security, Pensions, and Annuity payments from this amount to determine your required withdrawal. Multiply this annual amount by 25 (the reciprocal of 4%), and that’s your finish line.

For example, if you need $3,000 a month, or $36,000 a year, on top of Social Security, you would need a nest egg of $900,000. (A 4% withdrawal from $900,000 = $36,000 a year, to reverse it.) That’s a back of an envelope method to answer when you can retire.

2) Monte Carlo analysis. We can do better than the 4% approach above and give you an answer which more closely meets your individual situation. Using our planning software, we can create a future cash flow profile that will consider your financial needs each year.

Spouses retiring in different years? Wondering if starting Social Security early increases your odds of success? Have spending goals, such as travel, buying a second home, or a wedding to pay for? We can consider all of those questions, not to mention adjust for today’s (lower) expected returns.

The Monte Carlo analysis is a computer simulation which runs 1000 trials of randomly generated return paths. Markets may have an “average” return, but volatility means that some years or decades can have vastly different results. A Monte Carlo analysis can show us how a more aggressive approach might lead to a wider dispersion of outcomes, good and bad. Or how a too-conservative approach might actually increase the possibility that you run out of money.

It tells us your percentage chance of success as well as giving us an idea of the range of possible results. It’s a data set which provides a richer picture than just a binary, yes or no answer to whether or not you have enough money to retire.

Even with the elegance of the Monte Carlo results, the underlying assumptions that go into the equation are vital to the outcome. The answer to not outliving your money may depend more on unknowns like the future rate of return, your longevity, the rate of inflation, or government policy than on your age at retirement. Change one or two of these assumptions and what might seem like a minor adjustment can really swamp a plan when multiplied over a 30 year horizon.

Luckily, we don’t have to have a crystal ball to be able to answer the question of retirement age, nor is it an exercise in futility. That’s because managing your money doesn’t stop at retirement . There is still a crucial role to play in investing wisely, rebalancing, managing withdrawals, and revisiting your plan on an ongoing basis.

While all the attention seems to be paid to risks which might derail your retirement, there is a greater possibility that you will actually be able to withdraw more than 4%. After all, 4% was the lowest successful withdrawal rate for almost every 30 year period in history. It’s the worst case scenario of the past century. In most past retirement periods, you could have withdrawn more – sometimes significantly more – than 4% from a diversified portfolio.

If you are asking “When can I retire?”, we need to meet. And if you aren’t asking that question, even if you are 25, you should still be wondering “How much do I need to be financially independent?” Otherwise, you risk being on the treadmill of work forever, and there may just come a day in the distant future, or maybe not so distant future, when you wake up one morning and realize you’d like to do something else.

The Price of Financial Advice

You are more likely to achieve your financial goals with my help than without it. Together, we can craft a financial plan that is more than just an investment strategy, but a comprehensive road map to accomplish your goals and avoid the hidden pitfalls which could derail your success. I’ll be there along the way to keep us on course and respond to changing markets, regulations, and needs.

That’s my value proposition. Whether your goals are retirement, college, or making your money work for you, I’ve helped people achieve goals just like yours for more than a decade. Unfortunately, there is often some reluctance to hire a financial advisor, even one who is a Certified Financial Planner professional. Recently, the scandal at Wells Fargo reminded us that that some financial firms still allow short-term profits to take priority over ethical behavior or customer needs.

Years ago, I left the broker-dealer world that was paid by commission to become a fee-based financial planner. I am not a salesman, so why would I want to be paid on a transactional basis? It is a conflict of interests and investors know this. That’s why trust is so low for the financial industry and why many people are still reluctant to seek help even when they need it.

When a survey by Cerulli Associates asked about the most difficult part of working with financial advisors, the top concerns included:

  • Not sure if the advisors are recommending the best products
  • I am not sure if I can trust advisors
  • Costs are not transparent and I don’t know how much I pay advisors
  • I don’t feel like a top priority client for advisors

Boy, that is sad. Unfortunately, these thoughts are probably familiar and you may have had the exact same concerns. Luckily, you can address most of these issues by changing from a commissioned broker to a fee-based fiduciary. As a fiduciary, my legal obligation is to place client interests ahead of my own. In a 2014 survey by State Street Global Advisors, they found the top reasons why investors prefer fees versus commissions:

  • 36%: I know what I am going to be paying upfront
  • 27%: My advisor is invested in my success
  • 20%: I trust that my advisor is not selecting costlier investment products just to drive up commissions
  • 10%: An actively traded account could result in high commissions, costing more than fees
  • 7%: I can deduct investment advisor fees on my taxes

Which would you prefer?
A) I’m not sure how my advisor gets paid or if I can trust him. Am I in the best products or the ones with the highest commissions?
Or B) I know exactly how and how much my advisor is paid. My advisor is paid by me for providing advice over time not a commission for a sale. My advisor has my best interests in mind.

At Good Life Wealth Management, our approach is simple and transparent. We offer two programs:

1) Premier Wealth Management. For investors seeking holistic financial planning and wealth management. Our fee is 1% of assets under management ($250,000 minimum). Most common needs include retirement income planning, portfolio management, college savings, tax and estate planning, and risk management.

2) Wealth Builder Program. For newer investors seeking to build a personally-tailored financial foundation. The fee is $200/month (under $250,000). Most common needs are IRAs, employee benefits, net worth analysis, student loan advice, savings strategies and term life insurance.

The fee conversation often takes center stage for the decision about choosing a financial advisor. But it shouldn’t. We ought to be focusing on what we can do for you and about how working together will put you in a position to be more likely to achieve your goals. Investors work with me because they want peace of mind knowing that I have their back. My clients are very intelligent and could undoubtedly “do it themselves”. But that is not what most successful investors do. Why not?

  • They have better uses of their time. They would rather spend their time on work, family, or collecting cat figurines (or insert your actual hobby).
  • They recognize that they “don’t know what they don’t know”. Most people don’t have the interest in studying finance in their spare time, but even if they did, there remains the risk of missing information and not keeping up with new developments.
  • Leaders delegate to experts. You can’t be an expert at everything. You should have a good CPA, Attorney, and Financial Planner who know you so well that they can anticipate your needs.
  • It’s tough to be objective about money. For couples, conversations about money are often, how shall we say, counterproductive? An advisor brings an outside perspective, expertise, and insight to create a plan that works for both of you.

I remember the first day of ECON 101 at Oberlin – Professor Zinser started the class by writing this on the board: TINSTAAFL. There is no such thing as a free lunch. If you’re looking for financial help, it’s fair to ask what it will cost. That’s because if someone is offering you a free lunch, you know that it may ultimately be a very, very expensive lunch. Know what you are paying your financial advisor. Ask.

If you’re looking for comprehensive planning, or just help with a couple of questions, give me a call. Yes, there is a price for financial advice. I aim to make that cost completely transparent, so you can have the confidence to move forward and get to more important questions about how we can achieve your financial goals together.

Boost Confidence, Improve Your Finances


Which comes first, confidence or success? I believe that in most facets of life, confidence is a prerequisite for success. This is true whether you are a business executive, athlete, musician, teacher, or any other profession. Of course, there is a virtuous cycle where success reinforces confidence, but it has to begin with confidence in the first place.

The Benefits of an Older Car


The average car on the road today is 11.5 years old today, according to USA Today. Today’s cars are more dependable and long-lasting than ever and yet for many consumers, transportation remains their second largest expense after their home.

Last November, I purchased a used car, and not the typical 2-3 year old gently used vehicle, but a 2002 Toyota 4Runner with 179,097 miles. I wanted a larger vehicle to transport my three big dogs and wanted something I wouldn’t worry about getting muddy or scratched.

Admittedly, I have been leery of older cars. What if they break down? The last thing anyone wants is to have unexpected large expenses trying to keep a dying vehicle on the road. And I especially do not want to have an unreliable or unsafe vehicle when it is 102 degrees in July or 20 degrees in January.

Well, I’ve lived with my old car for a year now and will give you a full report, including a breakdown of all my costs. I drove the car almost every day and put just over 11,000 miles on this year (the photo is my current odometer reading: 190,182 miles). During that time, it has been 100% reliable (knock on wood…). The car has always started and worked perfectly. I have had zero breakdowns and no unplanned maintenance.

As a student of behavioral finance, I think people’s car buying choices are interesting to study. Most of us buy what we want, but then create a rationalization that sounds good for why we “need” a new car. Oftentimes, it’s really about projecting an image of success or trying to fit in with others in the office, neighborhood, or group of friends.

Many people prefer a new car, under warranty, to avoid the unpleasantness of having to pay for car repairs. This is known as “loss aversion”, which means that the pain of a $500 loss is much more intense and memorable than the satisfaction of a $500 gain.

Getting a new car every three years may cost $400 or $500 a month regardless of whether you lease, finance, or pay cash. With an older car, your depreciation can be very small, and instead your main expense is typically maintenance. You may end up spending $800 twice a year in repairs and upkeep. That sounds terrible, but which costs more: $400 a month, or $800 twice a year?

Having a used car may leave you on the hook for unplanned repairs, but the chances are good that those repairs will be a small fraction of the ongoing cost of getting a new car every three years. It’s loss aversion that makes $1,600 a year in unplanned repairs feel much worse than the fact that you might save $400 a month ($4,800 a year) by not having a car payment.

I paid $4,500 for my Toyota, and had to pay $316.75 in sales tax and registration fees. My biggest expense for the year was for a set of four new tires, $744.84. I did all the work on the car myself, including three oil changes, replacing the rusty radiator, hoses, and thermostat. I changed the fluids, including brake, transmission, power steering, and differential oil. I installed a new air filter, PCV Valve, and wipers, and cleaned the intake twice. In total, I spent $521.23 on maintenance, which was quite low since I did the work myself.

According to Kelly Blue Book, the current value of my vehicle is $4,044, so my estimated depreciation for the year was $456. Including depreciation, my cost for the year was $2038, which works out to 18.4 cents per mile (not including fuel). My insurance cost was much lower with this car; I kept the same high level of liability coverage as my other vehicles, but dropped collision. The annual insurance premium was $510.40, less than half the cost of our other vehicles.

What are the takeaways from this experience? A couple of thoughts:

  • A well-maintained vehicle can certainly last 150,000 miles or more. Your best choice is always to keep your current vehicle for as long as possible and remember that even if you spend a couple of thousand on repairs per year, that is a small amount compared to the costs of depreciation associated with the first 5 years of a new cars’ life.
  • Buying a used car is always going to be a bit of a gamble. Do your homework and choose a vehicle known for its dependability and ease of repair. Keep up with routine maintenance, using the manufacturer’s recommended schedule. Get to know a trustworthy independent mechanic.
  • I know that keeping a car for 10 years is a great idea, but for me, I just get bored with a vehicle after a couple of years and want something different. Knowing this preference, I can buy a used car every couple of years and not have the staggering depreciation costs of new vehicles.
  • It’s okay to spend money on cars, but if you think that retirement, paying down debt, saving for college, or growing your net worth are more important, than you need to make sure to prioritize those goals ahead of new cars. Every financial planner has met lots of people who have a new Mercedes but who “can’t afford” to contribute $5,000 a year into an IRA. Make sure your spending reflects your values and goals, and is not based on what you want others to think.