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A Checklist of Questions for Your Plan Advisor

You have a lot to do when it comes to running your business.  Any time you spend managing your 401k plan may seem like too much.

With this in mind, though, you still need to know what’s going on with your plan.  Why is your fund lineup structured the way it is, how much do you pay in service fees, are your fees reasonable and competitive, does your plan receive good value for the money, is your plan operating in a compliant manner, etc…

If you are like most smaller and mid-sized employers, you likely contract with an adviser to provide guidance on your plan.  In addition, your adviser might work directly with your employees. If so, most would agree that this represents an endorsement of your adviser’s guidance.  It’s important! Many of your employees’ current financial decisions, based upon your adviser’s recommendations, will impact their future.

Providing this type of guidance is a nice perk.  You should also benefit, in theory, from the good financial health of your employees.  But is the guidance smart and sensible?  Or confusing? Does your adviser use product hype or absurd assumptions?  Does the guidance promote other investment products that will benefit the adviser? 

With your limited time, you can use this simple list of questions to better understand the guidance your adviser offers:  

DO YOU ADVOCATE MARKET TIMING?

WHAT INTEREST RATES DO YOU USE IN RETURN PROJECTIONS?

HOW DO YOU DISCUSS THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE?

WHAT TARGET AMOUNT DO YOU USE FOR RETIREMENT INCOME?

HOW DO YOU CONDUCT AN ENROLLMENT MEETING?

WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON PAYING DOWN DEBT VERSUS INVESTING IN A RETIREMENT PLAN?

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF TERM LIFE INSURANCE OR PERMANENT LIFE INSURANCE?

HOW DO YOU PRESENT AND DISCUSS RISK?

WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO DISCLOSING PLAN FEES AND GENERAL INVESTMENT FEES TO EMPLOYEES?  

WHAT KIND OF FORECASTING DO YOU USE?

HOW DO YOU USE OR OFFER ASSET ALLOCATION MODELS?

Would it be inappropriate for you to ask these questions to your adviser and get their answers in writing?  Not at all!  This is a great opportunity.  By asking just a few of these questions to current or prospective advisers you will learn a lot about how their guidance might benefit or hurt your employees. For all the hype and nonsense I hear in the industry, there are many times when no advice is better than bad advice.

 

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401(k) Deception

We have all been in a situation where we have received completely conflicting information when shopping for products from different companies.  It can sometimes be easy to determine the right choice – other times its much more difficult.

It happens in other areas of life too.  For example, after our daughter’s birth, one of the nurses working with my wife told her that her mobility would be very limited – it was likely she wouldn’t be driving and moving around actively for three to four weeks.  A few hours later, the physician dropped in for an update and told her that she would be fine in a couple of days and encouraged her to resume her schedule as soon as possible!

Many fiduciaries at smaller employers are not well-versed in the ins and outs of 401k administration and compliance.   They are at the mercy of industry practitioners (like me). Understandably, it can be difficult to distinguish the truth from the BS.   It’s hard for large firms and even more difficult for smaller firms.  Unfortunately, in the small retirement plan industry, the BS is rampant.  Here are three examples I just recently came across:

EXAMPLE 1

I was reviewing the fiduciary liabilities and obligations with the office manager of a small firm. She had been tasked with the responsibility of exploring 401k options.  As a part of our discussion, I introduced her to the fiduciary codes 3(21) and 3(38).

I explained how these two types of fiduciaries are different and how advisers can share or take some of their liability.  Some advisory firms like PlanVision are willing to accept the liability of the 3(38) Investment Manager for plans.

She had discussed this issue with another consultant.  The consultant explained that they didn’t want to hire a 3(38) because they would not be able to change the investments in their 401k lineup on their own if they hired a 3(38) adviser.

In a literal sense, this is correct.  But how often is a smaller employer interested in making changes to their fund lineup based upon their own research?  Does it make any sense at all for a plan sponsor to do this?   NO.  It’s ridiculous.  Why would an employer, who has more than enough to do already, want to take on the liability of making changes to their 401k fund lineup based upon their own selection of funds?  Also, if they went insane for a while and decided they don’t want the 3(38) service from their adviser, they could just take it out of their contract.

EXAMPLE 2

I was contacted by an employee of a plan sponsor with a relatively smallish plan.  Not tiny, but small.  About 350 participants and $5 million in the plan.   She was doing research and, smartly, was hoping to include index funds in her plan.

Her employer’s plan adviser, however, told her they were not available for her plan – it was too small.   What???  Nonsense!  Their plan is not too small.  Plans of any size, including start-up plans, can use Vanguard Admiral Share Class index funds.

The real reason they can’t offer these funds is because many low-cost index funds won’t support revenue sharing! Too small?  Pathetic.

With low-cost index funds there will be administrative and support costs.  However, the record keeper can clearly separate out those costs so the employer can include low-cost index funds and the employees or employer can pay for all plan support services separately.

EXAMPLE 3

Similar to example 2.  An overseas employer with American expats inquired with PlanVision.  They are interested in implementing a 401k or 403b plan for their American staff.  During the evaluation process, they have become educated about the benefits of low-cost index funds.  They have a relationship with a large, well-known broker-dealer.  When they asked their broker if they could include index funds, they were told they could not.

Why not?  Why can’t their broker simply offer index funds and bill the plan sponsor directly for their guidance?  Because this would be too transparent!  It is simpler for the broker to hide their overall revenue if they can build it into the investments in the form of revenue sharing.  And, once again, it’s harder to share revenue from low-cost index funds.

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I’m an advocate of innovation and competition and believe they help consumers receive more value.  In the marketplace of ideas and services, there are legitimate differences in philosophy and process from firm to firm.  Understanding these distinctions is a buyer’s responsibility.

Yet many financial service firms intentionally deceive plan sponsors.  Yes, intentionally.  They know better.  In many cases, unfortunately, their business model relies on this deception.

Vanguard is a great success story.  John Bogle attribute much of their marketing success to candor. It’s easy to see why candor works so well in an industry with so little of it.

 

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The Truth About Investment Consultants and Advisers

I have been looking for a way to describe most of the guidance provided by those in the financial services industry. I’ve struggled with the best way to put it.

However, the quotable Warren Buffet provided a great take on how investors waste money on investment advice.  In this case, he is referring to “sophisticated” investors.  However it applies to everyone.  It’s happening as well with those we work with – middle class individuals and smaller organizations.

Here it is:

“Supposedly sophisticated people, generally richer people, hire consultants, and no consultant in the world is going to tell you ‘just buy an S&P index fund and sit for the next 50 years.’ You don’t get to be a consultant that way. And you certainly don’t get an annual fee that way. So the consultant has every motivation in the world to tell you, ‘this year I think we should concentrate more on international stocks,’ or ‘this manager is particularly good on the short side,’ and so they come in and they talk for hours, and you pay them a large fee, and they always suggest something other than just sitting on your rear end and participating in the American business without cost. And then those consultants, after they get their fees, they in turn recommend to you other people who charge fees, which… cumulatively eat up capital like crazy.”

And he had more:

“And the consultants always change their recommendations a little bit from year to year. They can’t change them 100% because then it would look like they didn’t know what they were doing the year before. So they tweak them from year to year and they come in and they have lots of charts and PowerPoint presentations and they recommend people who are in turn going to charge a lot of money and they say, ‘well you can only get the best talent by paying 2-and-20,’ or something of the sort, and the flow of money from the ‘hyperactive’ to what I call the ‘helpers’ is dramatic.”

I haven’t come across a better summation of what I have learned about the value of investment advice.  Keep your money.  Set up a well diversified portfolio of extremely low-cost index funds and…that’s it!

 

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The Do Nothing 401k Plan

What if your company’s retirement plan never required your employees to do anything!  Would this be a good way to run your plan?  How would it work? Consider this:

Your new 25 year old employee starts and on his/her first day of employment he is automatically enrolled at 6% and receives the company match of 3%.  The beneficiaries use standard defaults and the investments are defaulted as well to very low-cost target date funds.

Each year, with auto escalation, the contributions increase by 1%.  When your employee reaches age 35, the contributions cap at 15%.  They stay at 15% until they hit the IRS maximum or until the employee retires at age 67, whichever comes first.

Along the way, this employee never looks at statements.  They never change their contribution amount; never borrow or withdraw their money, and never have a question about their account. The contributions keep coming in – year after year. They spend their time budgeting, controlling their expenses, managing their health, and enjoying their life and their family.   They concentrate on the things they can control and don’t worry about the things they can’t.

Could you really have a retirement plan like this?  What would become of this employee (assuming they won’t go crazy working for the same company for 42 years)? Wouldn’t you be concerned that, without the help of the experts in the financial services industry, they would end up far short for retirement?

An employer would never do this because, ya know, you just can’t.  It wouldn’t be prudent, would it?  You have to hire experts to monitor your plan and make sure of whatever you need to make sure of.

And to be sure, no person would behave this way and I am not advocating for it. In fact, our business is based upon the notion that the value we provide in the form of guidance to organizations and individuals on their retirement plans will produce a better outcome for the plan participants.

But the financial services industry is simply filled with too much nonsense and jargon that passes for professional assistance.  Much of this guidance comes at a steep price – which acts as a drag on the earnings of plan participants.  It is an unnecessary transfer of wealth from people trying to save and plan for their future to the careers of those in the industry.

I am confident that this simple, do nothing approach would, in most cases, produce a better outcome than relying on an industry that spends millions on investments that try to beat the markets, more millions providing consulting services evaluating these investments, and even more millions on marketing dollars to promote these investments and consulting services.

 

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Why I Recommend Vanguard

BY USING VANGUARD FUNDS, I think my clients will have a higher likelihood of having more money in their accounts in the future than if they use comparable investments from other mutual fund companies.  Sounds like something Captain Obvious might say.

OF COURSE NO ORGANIZATION IS PERFECT.  Within Vanguard I am sure there are large and small disagreements on company direction. However, there are specific long-term aspects of the Vanguard approach which should help my clients achieve the best results.  The following are the top four reasons, in no particular order, that Vanguard helps me help my clients:

PROMOTION OF LOW-COST INDEXING.  Behind the legendary efforts of John Bogle, Vanguard has been the major driver in promoting the benefits of low-cost indexing, also known as passive investing, as the smartest way for people to invest.  They are not the sole provider of index funds, and there are many other champions, however they are clearly the leading proponents of this approach.

CONSISTENT MESSAGING.  By and large, the Vanguard message has been the same throughout the years.  Set-up a well diversified portfolio of low-cost investments and, thru the ups and downs, let the markets work for you.   Sure, they offer active funds and ETF’s.  However, their active funds are significantly less expensive than most and this has not diminished their advocacy of indexing.

VANGUARD DOESN’T PAY ADVISERS.  In an industry full of conflicts of interest, this is critical.  I receive no compensation or commissions from Vanguard to promote their investments.  Nothing. Zero.  Zip.  Nor do they assist my firm by sponsoring events or paying for our marketing efforts.  It has been liberating to provide my services to clients in a direct way.  My clients know exactly how much I make and who pays me (they pay us on a flat fee basis).  The guidance that I provide is no longer compromised by how I am compensated.

NO HYPE.  In all of my dealings with Vanguard, they have never hyped returns or products or “new” angles on investing.  This is very refreshing.  In my experience, I have come to believe that the more an investment is hyped by the financial services industry, the less good it is for the investor.  Of course education and guidance are important and part of the process in helping people become better investors and aware of their options.  But hype is something entirely different.  And I don’t get hype when I interact with Vanguard.

IT’S QUITE SIMPLE.  With my 20 years of experience, when I consider the factors important to investor success, I am confident that recommending Vanguard will give my clients the best chance to get the most return on their investment.

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How Do Your Employees (en)Roll?

Enrolling in a workplace retirement plan is an important event for many people. The decisions they make will have an impact on their lives today and well into their future.  One way you can have a great plan is to offer your employees an excellent enrollment experience.

What is your process right now?  Is it anything special, or unique?  Have you even given it much thought?  Do you give them a packet of information or a link to a website or 800 number?  The following is a checklist for an enrollment process which would be better than most:

1)  Provide concise information about the plan.  This should be made available in either an on-line or printed format.  Be smart about the volume of information you provide – most employees will never read a 40 page brochure or review multiple pages of a website.  Information would include a description of the plan features, the investments, and additional services that might be available during enrollment. Employees should be given the option to review this information at their convenience prior to enrollment.

2)  The enrollment should be completed on-line.  Most of the information should be pre-filled for the employee at the plan administration website – the employer uploads the information as a part of the payroll process.  Each employee would verify the accuracy of the information.  Then they would identify their beneficiaries, indicate the amount they want to contribute, and select their investments. If an employee has limited access to a computer at home or on their own, employers should offer a workstation.

3)  Guidance from a human.  This is a critical link.  Most employees struggle to determine the amount to contribute and the investments that make the most sense for their situation.  They are not well equipped to make these determinations.  Some have no idea where to start!  Professional human guidance can make a difference in a few different ways.  An adviser can help each employee assess how their contributions fit into their budget and how to prioritize saving for retirement.  They can also provide an educational overview of the asset classes and funds offered by the plan.  They can provide this guidance based upon each employees’ experience with investments.

4)  Meeting times should be variable.  Employees should have the option to receive guidance either during work hours or non-work hours.  Some people are fine getting this done at work while others prefer doing this at home or in another setting.  This flexibility will enable some to focus better during the process.

5)  Guidance should be optional.  Some employees are comfortable enrolling on their own.  They just need a listing of their investment options and returns and an explanation of how to complete the process.  They should not be required to visit with an adviser or a website or watch a video about how to enroll if they can do it themselves.

6)  Advisers should not use the enrollment encounter as an opportunity to sell other products and services to the employees.  It is common for many retirement plans of smaller employers to be used as a venue for advisers to grow their personal book of business.  This is nonsense.  Advisers should be justly compensated for their time and effort in supporting the plan, but should not use their interactions with staff to sell other products or services.

7)  The encounter should take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes.  While this may vary from person to person, most employees can have a successful enrollment session relatively quickly.  A good educational and enrollment session can take 20 to 25 minutes.  Some may take longer if they have more detailed questions or issues that need to be addressed.

8)  Use enrollment as a starting point.  Some of your employees may want more personal guidance down the road, either in the form of additional education or planning.  Let them know that the enrollment is just a starting point.  You can provide additional personal guidance down the road, when they are ready for it, and when they are not distracted by setting up their account.

What is your process?  Is their anything special you do for your staff?  How could you make yours better?

 

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The Real World of Smaller Employers

I have been working with smaller employers for 20 years.  I have enjoyed the people I have met and how I have been able to provide service to their organizations.  I am keenly aware of the challenges they face in moving their businesses forward.  There is much to do and limited staff to get the job done.

When I hear of the suggested steps and processes an employer should take, according to many industry practitioners, to prudently manage their retirement plan, I see a huge disconnect between the recommendations and what will ultimately get done.  Smaller firms simply don’t have the time or money for all this.

Unfortunately, too many practitioners in the retirement services industry promote complexity to imply value in their additional costs and services.  But much of this just takes advantage of the vulnerability of smaller firms.  And it really is a shame because in the long run it impacts the quality of life in retirement for their employees.

Smaller employers need help and smart simplicity.  A great way to accomplish this is to simplify the investment lineup and Investment Policy Statement.  Use primarily low cost index funds, eliminate revenue sharing, and reduce fund turnover.  Get rid of the jargon no one understands, endless reports no one reads, and the unnecessary meetings no one wants to go to.  This approach may not be as pristine as those of large or mega employers, but it will still be prudent.

Ultimately, there is no excuse for smaller employers for not adequately meeting their obligations. Their employees rely on them to manage a benefit that is important to their future.  They still have to do their job and protect their employees’ interest first and foremost.   But all of the nonsense fees, conflicts of interest, and complexity doesn’t help and this is something that the financial services industry should not be proud of.

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One Small Company in St Paul MN – One Great 401k Plan for America

Does a small company in St Paul MN have a retirement plan that is so good that it’s significance is worth comparing to the first moon landing?  That’s probably a stretch, but their plan is a great model for other employers, both large and small, to emulate.  It is likely one of the best plans in America.

John Kingrey is the recently retired Executive Director of the Minnesota County Attorney’s Association (MCAA) and responsible for implementing the new plan before he left.  MCAA has just 5 employees and uses a simple 401k matching plan.  With the new plan, the employees’ average cost is .15% per account.  The industry average for small plans is around 1.30 to 1.40%.  As you can see, the plan is very inexpensive for the employees.  And with just 5 people, the MCAA plan is far smaller than what is even considered a small plan.  John agreed to answer a few questions about their new plan.

Thanks for your time John.  You just recently retired as the Executive Director of a trade association in St Paul MN.  Can you tell us a little about the organization you retired from?

The professional trade association was a membership organization which provided training, public policy development, and advocacy for it’s members. It had a budget of approximately $750,000 funded through dues, product sales, and grants.

One of the things that you were able to implement prior to your departure was a change in your arrangement for your retirement plan.  Prior to the change, how long were you with your current provider?

We were with another provider for approximately 13 years. It was a provider that I recommended due to the positive experience with my previous employer.

How aware were you and/or your staff of the overall fee structure of your plan?

We did not appreciate and had only limited knowledge of the fees associated with our previous plan. When we reviewed how those costs could be reduced, it made sense to restructure our plan.

When you started to learn more about your plan and your options were you surprised at how much you could reduce the cost of your plan?

The staff was very surprised that the fees and administrative costs could be reduced by more than 50%. They were involved in the decision to switch plans.

As a trade association, how did your Board of Directors respond to the idea of changing to a new arrangement?

Since the Simple 401k funding was capped, the Board supported the move to a new plan as a sensible way to provide an additional benefit to employees through reduced fees.

In your situation, the trade association decided that it would pay for some of the costs of plan support such as record keeping and advisory guidance.  Why did you do that?

The Board supported my recommendation to pay for some of the costs of plan support as a way to provide an additional benefit for our employees. Otherwise, those costs – albeit small – would have been picked up by the employees. Since our Simple 401k was capped, this was a reasonable way to provide an additional benefit to our staff.

With your new plan, your employees only pay the costs of the funds and then can also pay a small fee if they want personal planning assistance as well, is that correct?

The employees pay a small fee for personal planning. I was very impressed with the clear, straightforward information provided through the plan’s website at no cost. My only regret is that we didn’t make the move sooner.

Thanks John.  MCAA’s new plan is a nice legacy for the employees.  Congratulations!

You can contact John directly at jkingrey6849@gmail.com with questions.  

 

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Advisers and Brokers Square Off

There is quite a bit of buzz about the status of advisers in the financial services world. The Department of Labor is pushing to require an adviser to employ a fiduciary standard when providing guidance to their clients on retirement assets (both IRA and employer based plans). This has actually been a debate for some time now. However, the President has weighed in recently supporting a fiduciary standard for retirement advisers so it has gotten increased attention.

With a fiduciary standard, an adviser is required to act in the “best interests” of their clients. On the other hand, a broker/dealer is only required to provide recommendations that are suitable for the client. As such, the argument is that a client will always be better off by working with someone that is working in their best interests. That sounds right, doesn’t it? I am not sure it is and I think this argument misses the point.

An important aspect of the debate in determining what is suitable is adviser compensation. It is argued that if an adviser is paid on commission instead of by a fee directly from the investor, they are less likely to work in the client’s “best interest”. While certainly not complex, I don’t think it is quite that simple.

Let’s look at an example. Assume a 62 year old wants to (or is convinced to) transfer $250,000 from their low-cost 401k plan. How might two advisers handle this based upon whether or not they are a broker/dealer or a fiduciary? Adviser A, the broker/dealer, recommends the client transfer their 401k to A shares with American Funds and invest in a mix of bond and stock funds. We will estimate that the client pays 2.5% on the investment. That would total $6,250. The adviser gets a portion of that, right? (Some goes to the adviser and some to the firm). Good payday – but maybe the adviser has been providing service and guidance to the client for a long time and has “earned” it. The client still pays the ongoing management fees of the funds going forward. Also the adviser will continue to generate income in the form of trailer commissions on the account.

Adviser B, the fiduciary, recommends a managed program that charges the account 1% a year. That would work out to be $2,500/year. (Again, some of this fee goes to the adviser and some to their firm). But that fee would change as the size of the asset changes. As the asset gets larger, say it grows to $350,000, the annual fee is now $3,500. What a great income stream for the adviser! In addition, the client also pays the various fund fees used in the managed program.

So, which option is in the client’s best interest? First of all, was it even advisable that the client transfer their money from the 401k plan? Maybe it was, but maybe it was not. We indicate it was a low-cost plan. However, neither adviser is paid if they recommend that the client keep his or her funds in the plan. It doesn’t mean that an ethical adviser would not make this recommendation. However, they clearly do not have a financial incentive to do so.

It is obvious that the client will end up paying a lot more, and I mean a lot more, in fees with the fiduciary. Of course, the fiduciary will argue that they get all of this awesome service, investment guidance, and value going forward. Maybe they do, but couldn’t a broker provide this as well if they want to maintain and grow their business. Sure they could – and many do. So in which case is the client better off?

Frankly, I think both of these options are pretty crappy for the client. In both cases, they are paying too much for help. (They could leave the funds in the plan or use a well diversified index fund with Vanguard and be far better off in my opinion). But in both cases, the adviser has a strong financial incentive to promote the benefits of their approach, right? In fact, the fiduciary has a much stronger financial incentive to convince the client of the value of their 1% program, which continues to pay the adviser significantly year after year.

What I believe is most important is the total dollar amount of the adviser’s fee and how it is affected by the client’s decision, whether or not they are a fiduciary. In both examples, the adviser is well compensated – whether by commission or by fee. Fiduciaries have their own ”biases” and I get tired of fiduciaries promoting their “objective” advice while charging outrageous fees and claiming that they are working in the best interests of their clients.

FULL DISCLOSURE: PLANVISION IS A FIDUCIARY FOR ALL OUR CLIENTS. Regulation requiring a fiduciary standard would be, ya know, good for our business and all that – we would clearly gain from this requirement. But we would rather have our business promoted on its own merits than on misleading labels. We are proud of our model and how it supports our work with our clients. We decided to structure our business in this way for many reasons. However, it is not the idea that we can puff out our chest and call ourselves fiduciaries. We prefer being a fiduciary, but what is more important is the value we provide to clients at a low cost and how we have no financial incentive to push investors to invest their money in a certain way. So, in spite of the fact that it would theoretically be a boon to PlanVision if a fiduciary standard is required, we cannot get behind this.

By the way, while I am not a big supporter of this change, the argument of broker/dealers that the smaller investor will be left behind with this standard and no longer receive guidance is ridiculous. Give me a break! Whether or not this change goes through, there will always be opportunities for investors with modest portfolios to receive advisement. These investors don’t need hours of service, quarterly meetings, and endless reports they won’t read. They can do fine with straightforward, concise, affordable guidance.

In our recent Ebook How To Improve Your Employer’s 401K Plan, we encourage employers to work with a fiduciary. However, we are also careful to point out that there are many good broker/dealers and many overpriced fiduciaries. I have observed how “fiduciaries” make recommendations for products and ideas that I think are way overpriced. I also think they are guilty of many of the same misleading and ridiculous sales tactics used by broker/dealers. In fact, the word “fiduciary” might be one of the most overused words in the industry these days. It’s as if each firm is trying to outFiduciary every other firm.

Like everyone else, I do not know exactly how this will roll out (even though I think it will ultimately happen). I am not trying to be cute or contrarian with this viewpoint. I just don’t know if this will have the impact people think it might - it may have little effect on consumers. If people want real change, demand that all fiduciaries charge for their time instead of as a percentage of managed assets. I would be curious to see how many of the fiduciaries who promote the pristine nature of their model respond to that.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

 

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My Parents, Retirement, and How Much Retirees Spend

For the Holidays, my parents came to visit.  They are both in their early 80′s and are of generally good health.  I consider them to be middle class people who have always worked hard to support and provide for their Family.  We spent some time discussing their current standard of living and their finances.  During the discussion, I asked if they would share with me their monthly expenses so I could write about it for my work.  They were happy to come up with the number.  In fact, they did it in about 10 minutes.

After some back and forth discussion about different bills, their total cost on their monthly fixed expenses are about $1,500.  This includes all of their bills and insurances and property taxes.  And it includes cable TV and mobile phone service as well.  Of course, they have some discretionary spending not included in that number.  Food, travel, other household purchases, and well, whatever else comes up.  (They are fortunate to receive health care coverage through the Veterans Administration – my Father served in the military in both Korea and Vietnam with more than 20 years of service.)

Using some conservative estimates (and I think these are really, really, really conservative), I add in another $25,000 in annual expenses.  This brings their total to $43,500.  How  similar is this to other people?  In my experience with other people like my parents I would say it is very similar.  My parents have the benefit of having their health care fully paid, but other than that I see their expenses as being quite in line with most of the middle class retirees I counsel.      

Their main goals at this point are to continue to live independently and enjoy and support (when necessary) their Family.  By and large, that’s it.  They have a large Family with four children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  They agree that they do not have nearly the same consumption, or close to it, as when they were raising their Family and in early retirement.  They are now enjoying their days with their Family in a much slower pace.

My point in this exercise with my parents was to validate my view of how people live in their mature years.  If you listen to many financial services firms or retirement commentators, you hear of an impending retirement disaster.  However, this is built upon the expectation that retirees have growing annual expenses in their retirement years.  It is assumed that people have the same “standard of living” for the remainder of their life and, with inflation, their costs go up every year. Sure, that might be the case in their first few years of retirement, but I have never observed that. Over time, as people slow down, their expenses settle down.

Of course, we are all different and have unique goals and motivations.  And any retiree faced with a significant long term care event can see their financial world turned upside down.  This is a risk that cannot be denied.  But many people will be able to get by, and enjoy their life as it is, simply because their lifestyle moderates over the years.  If you want to know how much you need, you need to know how much you will spend.  And looking to how other retirees are doing and how they get by can be a great place to start!