Early retirement wasn’t in your plans, and then along came COVID-19, an unprecedented economic shutdown and massive furloughs. So much for your retirement savings plan or that target date fund you selected based on your planned retirement date. Now what?
First and foremost: Don’t panic. Depending on your age, you likely have 20 to 30 or even 40 years to continue to grow your retirement nest egg. Even though you are retired, you will not need your entire savings on day one. Relax. Take a deep breath and embrace Plan B.
You need to have a realistic sense of your retirement needs. So here you are retired earlier than expected. What do you need for a comfortable retirement? Fidelity Investments suggests a retirement savings rule of thumb for individual which calls for saving 1x your salary by age 30, 3x by 40, 6x by 50, 8x by 60 and 10x by age 67. Like all rules of thumb, there is wiggle room, but the goals are a reasonable guide. Don’t worry if you are short of the goal right now; proper asset allocation can make up some of the shortfall. And just because you may be retired, you don’t need all of the money now. You still have time to save and invest. Remember Stephanie Mucha, a retired nurse, who added to her investment portfolio on a fixed income and gave away $5 million before she died.
Sell your target date fund and manage the allocation between stocks and bonds yourself. If you find yourself retired sooner than you expected, there are a few things you can do to catch up to your goal. One is to make sure you are taking enough risk. Though the following study is old, the principles remain true today. TIAA-CREF in 1998 conducted a study titled, “Investing for a Distant Goal: Optimal Asset Allocation and Attitudes toward Risk.”
The most informative part of the study displayed three asset allocation models set forth by three prominent financial experts: Jane Bryant Quinn, Burton Malkiel and Jack Bogle. The experts established recommended stock allocations for future goals. The allocations were established 40 years to goal, 30 years to goal, 10 years to goal and less than 10 years to goal. Jane Bryant Quinn had the most aggressive allocation to stocks (100% in equities 40 years to goal and 80% still allocated to equities 10 years to goal).
The TIAA-CREF researchers employed an average equity return of 9.2% (which was provided by Ibbotson based on stock returns from 1926-1995). Not surprisingly, Quinn’s portfolio outperformed the other two. Over a reasonable period of time, stocks rarely disappoint. So just because you are retired, don’t run from stocks – you’ve still got a lot of living to do.
Pay attention to fees. The DOL published an analysis of the eroding effects of 401(k) fees on long-term investor returns. The study analyzed the impact of a 1.5% annual fee over 35-years versus the impact of a 0.5% annual fee. The study assumed no additional contributions to an initial investment of $25,000. The return assumption was 7%. The 1% higher fee compounded over 35 years, reduced the ultimate account balance by 28%. When accumulating wealth for an early retirement, every penny counts. And reasonable fees may be the difference between a more comfortable lifestyle in retirement. A 28% more comfortable lifestyle.
COVID has thrown a curveball to so many Americans who have worked their entire lives to retire comfortably. But we are a resilient people, and now is a good time to regroup, reassess your retirement situation and establish a plan based on your goals and your needs. Thomas Edison didn’t succeed immediately in developing the light bulb. He famously said: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” But as we all know, Edison eventually reached his goal.
So will you.