Conditions within Longevity Individual Retirement Planning Liability-driven Investing Retirement Decision Making Retirement Income

How much do you need to retire happy?

How much do you need to retire happy?

By Offain Gunasekara •
Originally posted: Posted: Sept. 5, 2012 at

M. Ray Grubbs

What is your number?

That question is often directed at people dreaming about how much savings they will need to achieve retirement bliss. But M. Ray Grubbs, professor of management at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., says the query misses the point. There is no magic amount of money than can guarantee a secure retirement for everyone. Individual wants, needs and circumstances dictate how much cash will be enough to see you through the golden years.

In the following interview, Grubbs discusses how to zero in on the precise amount you need to retire comfortably.

Is it financially smart to set a retirement date when retirement planning?

Absolutely. A specific retirement date is essential, as it provides an absolute target or goal for the retiree and advisers. If I set a date to retire on Jan. 1, 2018, I make important decisions each day and each month that lead to that goal. If I do not, then my decisions made today will likely be different.

For example, if a 25-year-old has a vision of retiring at the age of 50, this will drive a disciplined approach to investing and spending that can yield that goal over a 25-year work life. I may take a pass on that Porsche in favor of a Ford. However, if that same 25-year-old had a vision of retiring at the age of 75, then day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year financial decisions will be different.

What is the ideal amount needed to retire presently? What do you think the amount will be in 25 years?

Let me be very clear with this response: I have no idea! And neither does anyone else. There is an infinite number of variables for individuals and families, (so) there is no way to specify a single number that will suffice for retirement.

I have seen cases where a retiree had negative net worth, certainly not an ideal amount in anyone’s calculation. But that person retired comfortably with two pensions and Social Security in amounts well in excess of their expenses. In this case, zero dollars was an ideal amount. In another case, a retiree had a net worth in eight figures. That retiree is now bankrupt due to poor — really too soft a word here — spending habits. They spent themselves into bankruptcy, so in this case, eight figures was not an ideal amount.

When pre-retirement expense planning, what are a few ways to reduce your monthly costs and save more money for your retirement?

I … can offer no advice about how to cut an individual’s expenses. I have enough trouble doing that for myself to give others advice. But I can offer some experience that is serving me well.

The framework that follows is the Modern Retirement Theory pyramid — a priority-ordered series of funds established for specific expense purposes.

I keep a spreadsheet of all my expenses on a monthly basis. As I go through my monthly expenses, I take note of what I may reduce.

Then I look at all expenses and separate all those that I define as base expenses — those expenses that I must incur month to month to live with my chosen lifestyle. It is important to develop income that is stable, secure and sustainable to cover base expenses, and slightly more if that makes an individual comfortable.

As I come to a comfort level for my base expenses, I direct my attention to what Modern Retirement Theory calls contingencies. These are unknown expenses that can serve to derail retirement plans. Contingencies are such issues as disabilities, inflation, market returns, long-term care and death of a spouse that all retirees should think deeply about before initiating their retirement.

Next, my attention turns to discretionary expenses. Discretionary expenses are those lifestyle expenses that are wants and not needs, such as a new car, a cruise or a month in Tuscany, Italy. By definition, these expenses are not necessary to live and can be delayed if circumstances warrant, but not discarded.

Finally, if there is anything left, I contemplate legacy expenses. If I have resources available after providing for base, contingency and discretionary expenses, I can leave assets to a charity or to family members.

For people who want to travel during retirement, what tips can you offer so they can live out their dreams of being world travelers and still be financially stable?

I can only answer this in the context of the Modern Retirement Theory pyramid. If that person has covered their base and contingency expenses first and has resources to dedicate to discretionary expenses, I say book the trip now. But do not (book trips) and leave base and contingencies uncovered.

Is there an advantage to using a retirement planning coach?

I suggest there is benefit to using anyone who can help the retiree understand the context within which decisions can and must be made. But take the time to understand the perspective of the coach or adviser. To many insurance salespeople, there is an insurance solution to most all questions. If you seek advice from an investment broker, advice usually takes similar forms regardless of individual needs. Just be cautious about a coach or adviser, and know how they think.

We would like to thank M. Ray Grubbs, Ph.D., professor of management at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., for his insight.

Read more:

Conditions within Longevity Individual Retirement Planning Longevity Retirement Decision Making Retirement Income

MRT 101: 2 Unknowables

MRT is not exclusively an income solution; it is a comprehensive retirement planning framework and process. Therefore, retirement income is a derivative of the MRT planning framework. Presuppositions propel and shape outcomes. The MRT paradigm was developed to address the beginning point of most retirement plan models that are sanitized, unrealistic and unhelpful. MRT believes unknown realities of the individual retirees in the real world form the context for all retirement planning.

There are two fundamental truths that must form the foundation of financial planning, particularly retirement planning.  First, the individual will never know with precision how long they will live and correspondingly how long their money will need to last.  It just simply cannot be done in the individual case.  It can be approximated for large groups of people but never for the individual.  It must be accepted and acknowledged that longevity will never be known for the individual, therefore, any financial planning framework must accommodate planning in the face of the unknowable.

Others have proffered dynamic withdrawal guidelines advisors can use for client portfolio withdrawals. These models are helpful if clients and advisors accept the premise that historical group results via longevity tables and portfolio Monte Carlo simulations should be applied to individual retirees. These models are only helpful if an individual believes that using group statistics for their plan is appropriate. In our view these models fail to help individuals steward all their wealth resources and attempt to predict the future for individuals through group statistics.

Secondly, once the retiree and their advisor accept the irrefutable fact that they cannot foresee the retiree’s longevity, they must also acknowledge that they cannot foresee what the retiree will face during the remaining year (or months or days) they have left.  This is what we refer to as “conditions within longevity”.  You just don’t know and can’t know when your spouse will die, when your child will be in an accident, when you will become disabled, when you will be laid off from your job, if you will have a negative sequence of returns upon retirement, etc.

MRT is specifically designed with these two unknowables as the basis of retirement planning for individuals. No one knows how long they will live (Longevity) nor what life will be like  (Conditions within Longevity).  MRT approaches the problems of retirement planning from this realistic, individual centered perspective.

MRT offers a plan that thinks through the individual retiree’s whole situation by helping thoughtfully to assess, weigh pros/cons, and navigate implications of possible decisions. So often, the modeling that is shown in research is like a sterile, sanitized lab. Instead, retirement is more like an organic garden environment where weeds and storms exist. MRT simply recognizes that the future for individuals is unknown. Planners and individuals cannot always know when a storm is coming, but can take steps to minimize the effects of unpredictable natural occurrences through careful planning using the MRT framework and planning process.