How To Retire In Style
In the spirit of the holidays, I’m sharing a happy truth: many people do, in fact, retire rich. Who are these rare birds and what can they teach us?
Rich Retire #1—The Pension Holder. If you have a large pension in 2014, you likely are or were a government employee. Many government workers receive pensions equal to 75-80% of their working salaries. In some government departments, it’s the unwritten custom for department heads to bump a worker’s salary 20% or so when he or she is a year or two from retirement. This boosts the employee’s base for his retirement pay.
Of course, in the private sector, pensions have gone the way of the slide rule. So let’s move on.
Rich Retire #2—The Small-Business Owner. If a self-employed person builds up a small or mid-sized business that he can sell when he’s ready to retire, that can fund a comfortable lifestyle during his nonworking years. Sure, it’s not “retirement investing” in the traditional sense, but it’s a path that’s worked for many entrepreneurs.
Rich Retire #3—The exceptional investor. Investors who lock in large boom-time gains are a step ahead of most. Those who resist the ever-so-tempting urge to spend that extra dough can watch it grow, and just like that, a rich retirement is theirs for the taking.
Rich Retire #4—The exceptional saver. A friend’s dad used to tell him, “Save 10% of your pay once you start working and you’ll be a millionaire by your mid-40s.” This friend’s dad was wrong. It didn’t take him that long. Ultra-disciplined savers live their lives this way, setting themselves up to retire rich without a last-minute race to the finish line.
Rich Retire #5—The former debtor who pays himself now. Except for those born independently wealthy, many of us spend years paying down sizable debts, such as a mortgage or educational loans. The rich retire clears those debts as soon as possible, but continues to make those payments… to himself.
Paying off your mortgage is a golden opportunity. Say it eats up 30-40% of your income. After you write that last check to the bank, you can save and invest 30-40% of your income without adjusting your lifestyle the tiniest bit. That money starts to compound, and pretty soon your real wealth is growing in leaps and bounds.
Joining the Flock
If you’re one of these rare birds, your biggest financial problem is the kettle of hawks eager to confiscate your wealth and redistribute it to those who haven’t exercised as much financial discipline as you have. On the other hand, if you’re not part of this flock, there’s likely still time for you.
Though the statistics often sound bleak for people who’ve spent 40-plus years as capital-S Spenders, it’s still possible to change.
Build a realistic plan. Some friends of mine had 20-plus credit cards, each with large balances. The exorbitant interest rates charged by credit cards makes paying off large balances extremely difficult. But these friends wrote out a tight budget, focused on paying off one credit card at a time, and with each success took a large pair of scissors and cut up the card and celebrated—on the cheap.
Large debt can make people feel out of control. It’s often overwhelming. But we all have a lot control over the expense side of our ledgers. You can’t un-spend money you’ve already spent, but you can reduce what you spend today, the next day, and the day after that. Those reductions can help you eliminate debt, and from there, you can follow the path of Rich Retiree #5—start making those debt payments to yourself.
Sell off large assets. Are you still living in a McMansion? Could you capture some of that equity and add it to your nest egg? Downsizing to the Goldilocks house—the one that’s not too big and not too small—can help you reduce regular home maintenance costs and property taxes. In high-tax states like Illinois, for example, it’s not unusual to pay well over $10,000 in real estate taxes.
Do you need a new luxury car every three years? Do you own a boat you take out on the lake once or twice a year? Jettison all of your unnecessary stuff and you’ll be many steps closer to a comfortable retirement.
Reduce your overhead. Do you really need to pay the cable company $100-plus per month for channels you never watch? What other fixed monthly expenses are wants disguised as needs?
This is emotionally tough stuff. We have friends who gave up their country club membership because they decided a comfortable retirement was a much higher priority. It was a straightforward decision in theory, but a lot of their friends are at the club. It’s hard to give up life’s little luxuries, especially when giving them up means excluding yourself. But when those luxuries are keeping you from a comfortable retirement, it’s time to bite the bullet.
Ask yourself the tough questions. Are you spending on status and prestige to give yourself an emotional boost? Many of us do this without even knowing it. But is a rich retirement worth giving up for status?
Know your bottom line. When baby boomers run their retirement numbers the first time, many are shocked. They realize they’re not saving nearly enough to retire comfortably. Up to this point, they’d never had to live within, much less below, their means.
Depending on your age, it can be difficult to save enough to replicate your current lifestyle in retirement. You can, however, begin to control your expenses fairly quickly. Once you do that, you can determine what kind of lifestyle you can realistically afford and build a plan to get there. Or maybe you’ll decide to work a few years longer or launch a second career so that you can maintain your current lifestyle over the long haul.