How much is enough?
“I have enough money to last me the rest of my life – unless I buy something.” – Jackie Mason
No one really needs to be the richest person in the graveyard, but everyone wants to know that they’ll have a comfortable, worry-free retirement.
After you’ve worked for some 30 or 40 years to create the retirement of your dreams, you need to know that you’ll never outlive your savings, and that you can have a meaningful impact on the lives of your children and grandchildren.
My long-time clients Norm and Mary (the names have been changed to protect the innocent) suffer from what I’ll call retirement-income anxiety. They have a defined-benefit pension, Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) incomes and $500,000 in an investment portfolio.
We send them monthly statements. Mary stresses over the bottom line. She’s happy when it’s up from last month, but she phones when it’s down. The markets have done well for the last three years so Mary is happy. Their portfolios are conservative, but even small dips worry Mary.
We’ve even implemented my “basket strategy,” with three years of income in short-term savings, three to six years of income in medium-term investments and the rest in growth-oriented investments.
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They feel they’ll never be rich, but they’re more than comfortable. Or at least they would be if they believed they could be. Yet, Mary still worries. They buy virtually nothing other than the basics. They’ve given up pretty much everything they used to love that costs money. For me, it’s sad to see.
As the boomers retire in greater numbers, the questions are asked more and more. Will I have enough money to retire and live the lifestyle of my dreams without having to worry? How much is enough?
Financial planner Diane McCurdy deals with this in her book, How Much is Enough? Balancing Today’s Needs with Tomorrow’s Retirement Goals.
As McCurdy points out, everyone’s magic number is different. She calls it an Enough Number – the amount of money you’ll need to retire. This excellent book will help you find the number that’s right for you, and then shows you how to roll up your sleeves to create a plan to get where you need to be.
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This may sound like hard work, but it’s not, nor is this a tough read. McCurdy has an entertaining writing style and shares real-life stories to make her points.
While McCurdy points out that $1 million is the savings amount that’s often thrown around, you may require considerably more or less depending on your situation and the retirement lifestyle you want.
“What makes your Enough Number different,” she writes, “is that this is a completely customized calculation for you. It takes into account how much you must spend, how much you can save and what you want to do with it. Unlike standard calculations, your Enough Number gives you choices.”
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Any retirement plan needs to be flexible. If your result, for example, indicates that your money will last only until age 75 – then adjustments are necessary. What if you work two additional years, or put away an extra $50 a month? What if you do part-time or contract work for three years after leaving full-time work? How about trimming your retirement income by $5,000 a year or selling the lake cabin?
McCurdy tells of a couple who were nearing retirement with virtually no savings. They spent everything they made with no regard for the future.
“There was no limit to the things they could find to spend their money on,” she wrote. “Nothing I did or said seemed to help them understand the crisis they were in.”
Finally, she asked them, ‘If you can’t live on $90,000 a year now, how do you expect to live on $20,000 after you’re retired?” That’s when they took heed and changed their ways.
This process isn’t onerous, but like any worthwhile endeavour it requires some effort. A necessary first step is tracking your cash flow so you know where your money goes. McCurdy recommends tracking ALL spending for two months. Her book shows you how. Unless you’re one of those fortunate few who has oodles of money, your efforts will fail in the absence of a spending plan.
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I’ve observed that some people are unwilling to do what it takes to succeed financially. The will often say they can’t afford to invest for their future but they blow hundreds of dollars a month on crap that does nothing to improve their lives and endangers their future.
This is a useful book for anyone who is determined to protect their family and build a strong future.