All posts by Tom Canfield

It’s December 15. My day spent bottling the wine I’ll drink next year.

This is my imagined task every December 15. I even mark this day as Bottling Day on my calendar. Why do I do this? To imagine my portfolio differently.

 

We all need to form our view of risk tolerance. The real shape of my and your risk tolerance curve looks like a hockey stick. You lock in your stick – the number of years you want of zero probability of depleting your portfolio – with your spending rate and other decisions. It’s already assumed HORRIBLE sequences of bad variability in returns (early, big negative returns); we logically don’t need to pay attention to bad variability of returns.

 

 

But sticking with the stick – trusting the stick – is hard to do. We’ve all spent decades thinking that risk is the ups and downs of market returns. The financial pros only talk about risk tolerance this way. (That’s not correct! But it helps them if you fear these ups and downs.) While I want to think only in terms of our hockey stick, I also look at our portfolio in a way that helps me be more accepting of bad variability when it will inevitably strike.

 

I don’t view our portfolio as one big lump – one pile of money – that moves up and down with market variability. I view it in parts that move up and down differently. Each part has a different holding period. (Holding period is the length of time one holds on to an investment before selling it for spending.) The mix of stocks and bonds varies with holding period.

 

I don’t want much variability in the parts with short holding periods. I’ll be selling securities relatively soon for our spending; I want more bonds. I’m accepting of more variability in the parts with longer holding periods; I’m good with more stocks. Since I have many years to wait before I will sell, I have plenty of time to recover from bad variability. (I have this same view for a Trust where I am Trustee; you can read about that here.)

 

I envision that that our portfolio is in ten wine barrels, aging over the years in a precise way, and in a large vat. (It’s far too hard for me to actually display our portfolio this way on my login screen for our investment accounts, but I’d really like to. I just have to do the calculations this time of year as if it were in the wine barrels and the vat.)

 

Each of the ten barrels holds about one year of spending. The barrels are in a precise mix of stocks and bonds. I consulted with a world-class vintner who told me that the number of years (10) was the right amount of aging and that the mixes in the barrels are ideal. He told me to think that each drop of wine I drink has followed his precise aging and mix schedule. (Just that thought seems to make it taste better!)

 

The ten wine barrels are in my garage in sequence; I have bottling equipment in the garage, too. The large vat is out back down a short trail from the garage.

• The first three barrels are the Finishing Barrels, and they’re invested in 80% bonds and 20% stocks. That means their volume isn’t going to change much year to year. That barrel closest to the bottling line sat with that mix for three years.

 

• The next seven barrels are the Aging Barrels, and they’re invested in 60% stocks and 40% bonds. Barrel #4 has aged for seven years now.

• The Large Vat out back is 100% stocks. It will have the most variation in volume. I won’t touch the first drop of that for a decade. I have 10 years to recover from bad variability in the vat.

 

I woke up early today. Brrr. It was cold and icy, 17 degrees. I went out to the garage to bottle the wine that I’ll consume in the upcoming year (2018).

 

I opened the Finishing Barrel closest to the bottling line. (I’d written “1” in chalk on it last year.) and that’s what I bottled. Later today I’ll take the bottles to the house and put them in a wine cooler in the basement. I’ll consume and give away all those bottles during 2018.

 

After I emptied and bottled the first barrel in line, I had some work to prepare for next year. I rolled empty barrel #1 to the end of the line. I rolled the full barrels forward to make space for it in position #10. I wiped out my prior chalk marks and renumbered the barrels from #1 to #10.

 

I adjusted the mix in my new #3 from 60% stock and 40% bonds to 80% bonds and 20% stocks. And I got wine from the Large Vat to fill #10: I adjusted that to 60% stocks and 40% bonds. (Getting that wine from the Large Vat to the garage is the most physically taxing work. Also, the trail can be icy, like it is this year. I think I may hire someone to help me with that next year.)

 

Okay. Now I’m ready for next year, and I’m ready to show you how those two groups of barrels and vat performed over the past three years.

You can see the range or variability of returns is smallest for the Finishing Barrels (roughly 7.7 percentage point spread) and greatest for the Large Vat (roughly 23.5 percentage point spread). That’s what I’d expect.

 

I’ve had three years of positive returns in the Finishing Barrels; that’s probably a bit unusual. In the first year I had small negative returns in the Aging Barrels and the Large Vat. But those return rates don’t approach what I think of as bad variability.

 

The cumulative returns are positive for all three. The greatest cumulative return is in the Large Vat. That’s also what I would expect.

 

Conclusion. None of us should view our portfolio as one big lump that rises and falls with market returns. That tends to make us too sensitive, too emotional when we are hit with bad variability in returns. It’s really our hockey stick that defines our risk tolerance, and it already has assumed the most HORRIBLE sequence of market returns.

 

It helps to view our portfolio in parts related to different holding periods. Each part should have an appropriate mix of stocks and bonds. This example is three parts starting with 80% bond and 20% stock and ending with 100% stocks. Each part will have its own degree of variability.

 

It’s too difficult for me to actually arrange my portfolio into parts with different mixes of stocks and bonds for our investment accounts, but I can calculate at least once a year to see the results as if it were organized this way. Looking at that longest holding period (10 years away before I spend any) helps distance my potential emotional panic when I’ll be hit (We’ll all be hit.) with bad variability of stock returns: I’ll know I have a decade to recover.

Our 15% “Pay Raise” Calculation. December 2017.

If you follow the CORE in Nest Egg Care, you Recalculate this general time of year. You may have Recalculated using your 12-month results ending October 31 (like Alice) or November 30 (like me now). Perhaps you will use December 31.

 

No matter which date you choose* you find you now have a small mountain of cash that is More-Than-Enough for your current spending. You can lop off parts of that mountain as gifts now and/or you can ratchet up to a new spending plateau for the rest of your life (lives) – a healthy pay raise for 2018 and all future years.

 

Folks who don’t follow the CORE don’t know how to Recalculate, and it’s impossible for them to figure out the size of their mountain after this year’s solid returns. They also won’t know the height of their new plateau. They just can’t get to the correct story: “You can spend (and gift) Much More in 2018  and all future years than you did in 2017.” But we know the story since we know how to Recalculate.

 

My recalculation (for Patti and me) is on this spreadsheet (pdf). (As reference, you can read about my recalculation a year ago here.)

 

The work to get to see if we have More-Than-Enough for our current spending is simple. I entered three numbers on the spreadsheet in the cells highlighted in yellow. The speadsheet calculates the rest.

 

• I first entered the return rates for our stocks and for our bonds for the period ending November 30.** I get those straight from my Fidelity portfolio page when Fidelity updates the 12-month returns ending November 30. They did that in the early hours of December 5 this year. (I have stocks and bonds in separate accounts, so there is no confusion on returns for each.) The spreadsheet calculates +19.0% as our total return for the year. That was obviously driven by high stock returns.

 

• I also entered the inflation rate for the year. That’s the Cost of Living Adjustment rate stated by the Social Security Administration each October for payments for the upcoming year.

 

The spreadsheet does the rest once I move the calculations one cell to the right. So, what do we find? Here’s a summary table similar to the one in Nest Egg Care, page 72.)

 

 

 

1. The spreadsheet shows that if we chose to only adjust our current spending for inflation, we have over $147,000 more than is needed to support that $47,000 in spending – a small mountain of cash. (And that’s before applying our multiplier.) Wow! Wow! Wow! We certainly could chose to make LARGE gifts this year from that.

 

Do we lop off all or a portion of that mountain now? (Alice lopped off $25,000 off her mountain this year.)

 

2. If we don’t lop off any of the mountain now, the spreadsheet shows that our Safe Spending Amont (SSA) per $1 million starting Investment Portfolio increased to $54,000 –  $7,900 more per year than last. (I again would apply our multiplier to get the total we can spend.) That’s a real increase of nearly 15% this year and 20% more than the $44,000 we started three years ago. That $54,000 is a whole new plateau: $54,000 in constant dollar spending for the rest of our lives; it won’t ever be worse than that. We’ve left our initial $44,000 in the dust.

 

You can also see on the table that after the withdrawal of $54,000 our Investment Portfolio is about $60,000 greater now (in constant dollars) than the $1,000,000 we started with. (See the row “Invest Portfolio after withdrawal” and the row below which states the result in C$2014.) That surprises me a bit.

 

You can also see that I’ve displayed the More-Than-Enough relative to our initial $44,000 Safe Spending Amount. (See cell below the one with $147,531.) That’s saying that if we dropped back to that spending level (which is possible for us to do), we have $187,000 More-Than-Enough.

 

Those two now have me scratching my head about how long I can wait before I would be forced to sell stocks when they’ve cratered. That time is stretching out to longer than I really think is necessary. Within a few days I’ll have next year’s Safe Spending Amount in cash. (I’ll peel that out monthly to our checking account.) And because Patti wanted an extra Reserve at the start of our plan (See Part 2, Nest Egg Care), I have about two years of spending sitting in short term bonds. That adds up  to three years. And now that $60,000 looks like fourth year to me. And that $187,000 strikes me as a huge cushion. I didn’t think I’d wind up like this. I feel like I’m wearing two belts and two sets of suspenders.

The question is: should we lower our Reserve (increase our Multiplier)? Patti is beginning to understand: that extra Reserve she wanted is looking superfluous now. But I’ve decided to wait a year. We certainly don’t have pressure to lower the Reserve (raise the Multiplier) to be able to spend more in 2018. I’ll look at this again next December: might be a big year for gifts.

 

* Pending a wild decline over the next few weeks in December for those who recalculate based on December 31.

 

**You can see at the top of the sheet that I used November 30 as year-end this year as compared to December 15 in prior years; it was too confusing to get 12-month return rates at a mid-month point. It’s much easier to get those rates for every November 30. The change this year means I’m using return rates for 50-weeks: December 15, 2016 through November 30, 2017.

A perfect gift idea for your loved ones: start 529 College Savings Plans

This is the time of year that we all think about giving to others we care about. If you’re like Patti and me, you have some left over from your 2017 Safe Spending Amount. Or, if you’ve recalculated for next year (following the CORE), you know that you have a small mountain of money that is More-Than-Enough for your current Safe Spending Amount. You can easily give some of that away and still increase your Safe Spending Amount for 2018. That’s what Alice did.

I mention in Nest Egg Care that my friend Chet gave $5,500 to his 22-year old daughter’s ROTH IRA last year. What a great gift. In effect, at age 65, she’ll open the envelope that’s held that $5,500 for 43 years and, at expected rates of return, find it has $80,000 in today’s spending power. Tax free. Wow.

 

I also like the idea of using a 529 College Savings Plan (or plans) as a way to give to your heirs – your children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren (even if not yet born). I like 529s for a bunch of reasons. Here are the top five for me from the list below: the specific use of your gift may be one you like; your gift is not irrevocable; your gift grows tax free; you have wide flexibility as to who benefits from the plans you start; plans can be very low cost.

 

I dug to understand 529s better than I had before, but you’ll likely have to dig more. I read the detailed descriptions of 529 College Savings Plans available at both Fidelity and Vanguard and talked on the phone to their representatives; they were extremely helpful. (The plan document from Fidelity was 88 pages long!) I looked at the descriptions of plans at T. RowePrice and Charles Schwab on the web, but I didn’t download and read the details of their plans. I’m sure your brokerage house will have a detailed information package and a representative who can answer your questions. You can also find many sites with excellent information. You can get overwhelmed.

 

The basics. You open the 529 plan. You are “owner” of the account (529 uses a different legal term, but “owner” fits my brain more easily.) You name a child as the beneficiary for each account. You also name a successor owner on your death for each account.

 

I like the restriction that means disbursements from this account have to be used for educational expenses. Patti and I like to give gifts that are then used for educational expenses, and clearly a 529 fits that bill. I guess that really means we don’t like gifts that might result in immediate, frivolous spending.

 

Your gift is not irrevocable. If in the future you find you want or need this money you can withdraw it from the 529 – perhaps you’ll get extremely worried when hit by bad variability of market returns; or you may have large, unforeseen healthcare expenses. You pay a penalty tax on the growth portion, and the growth portion is taxable income (similar to an early withdrawal from an IRA), but you have your money back.

 

You don’t even have to tell your children about the gift. You can tell them in a few years when you know you’ve dodged bullets of bad variability of stock returns, for example, and are more comfortable about truly giving it away.

 

The growth and distributions are tax free. The account compounds with no federal taxes and distributions for eligible expenses are not taxed. Eligible expenses are for post-high school education. (They’re what you’d expect: tuition, books and computers, room and board; you’ll find more detail on these eligible expenses.) The hassle, if you want to call it that, is that you (as owner) must keep records to ensure that you spend for eligible expenses.

 

The right choices for your plan result in really low investing costs. Low investing costs means your investment is compounding at rates very close to what the market is going to give. This is particularly important for plans that might be inter-generational. (See below.) Plans have costs for states (the official trustee of a plan), brokerage house administrative fees, and fund fees (expense ratio). Even with these three, total investing costs are the range of .10% per year at Fidelity (New Hampshire plan) and Vanguard (Nevada plan) if you invest in Index Funds – which is the obvious choice for long-lived plans. Almost too good to be true.

 

You have flexibility as to who receives the benefit of the 529 plans you open. You are not required to spend the amount in a 529 plan on the beneficiary you initially name. You (or your successor owner) can move money in a 529 plan to others in your family (among plans with the same owner). Let’s assume you open accounts and name each of your five grandchildren as beneficiary. You can move money from the plan of one grandchild to the plan of any other. Family is defined broadly; it’s just not lineal descendants who can benefit.

 

You can think of your gift as stretching out over two or more generations. I like this potential. That means your gift now can compound for many years. Here’s an example of how this might work. And you can refer to this sketch.

 

My friends Joe and Judy have two daughters and five grandchildren. They plan to put $50,000 total into five 529 plans that they will open this year – $10,000 in each plan with the grandchild as beneficiary. (This would be their first large gift like this, and they do like the fact that it’s not irrevocable.) Joe will be owner and daughters will be successors. However, Joe and Judy think their two children and spouses will actually pay for all the college education expenses for the five. Perhaps Joe and Judy will help out, but that’s separate from this $50,000 in their mind.

So in that sense, the total may sit there for years before any is tapped for eligible expenses. And it’s easy to shift money from grandchild to great grandchild. As each great-grandchild is born, the owner at the time (Joe or a daughter) will open a new 529 plan and move money into it. So eventually beneficiaries of the initial gift are the great grandchildren (and, of course, their parents who will have to spend less on college expenses).

 

That $50,000 could be viewed as $400,000. It may be 15 years on average before Joe and Judy’s grandkids marry and have children; it may be another 15 years or so for their children to reach the age when the owner is cutting checks for expenses. In 30 to 35 years, $50,000 compounds to about $400,000 in today’s spending power (constant dollar amount). Wow. A $50,000 gift is terrific. I’d consider a $400,000 gift as a legacy. And of course Joe and Judy and their daughters’ families can add to these accounts in future years.

 

You may get a state tax deduction for your gift. Patti and I live in Pennsylvania, and a gift to a 529 plan with one of us as owner is tax deductible even if it’s another state’s plan. We save about 3% of our gift in lower PA income taxes. (And we avoid future PA inheritance tax.) Your state may or may not give a tax deduction for one of these really low cost plans like the Fidelity/New Hampshire or Vanguard/Nevada plans. You’ll have to do some homework to figure out what’s best for you; if your plan might be long-lived, you might want a really low cost plan even if that means you forgo the state tax deduction. Here’s an excellent site that describes the deduction for each state.

 

Alice thought about all this and, in essence, said, “I’ll just give the gift to each of the two 529 plans my son has already set up. I don’t want to be bothered with any decisions as owner down the road. And I’m really giving it; I trust I won’t want it back. In effect, my gift is to him, and he put it in the 529s. He can take the PA state tax deduction.”

 

Conclusion. We retirees should consider gifts to a 529 College Savings Plan. If you are starting out on your retirement plan, you may not be comfortable about giving away some of your calculated More-Than-Enough. Your gifts to 529 plans you set up are not irrevocable. You can easily move money from the plan of one family member to another. Some or all of your gift might be inter-generational, meaning your gift now has the potential to compound to much more in today’s spending power.

 

Your worry point is far down the shaft of your hockey stick.

Most of us worry about bad variability in stock returns. Our focus, our worry point, is usually no further than 12 months away.  The image in our head is a seesaw or roller coaster. When we’re retired – with the right plan – our real worry point is many years away, typically decades for most of us: that point is the first possible time we might deplete our portfolio. You totally control that point and the probability of depleting your portfolio in the years thereafter by decisions you make for your retirement financial plan. The correct image in our head should be a hockey stick.

 

Financial risk is defined in terms of variability of returns. We’ve had it drummed into our heads that risk is measured by one-year variability of returns. The statistical measure of the ups and downs of one-year returns (Standard Deviation) calculates that stocks are three times more variable in return than bonds. We can view stocks as a wildly swinging seesaw. Bonds less so. We therefore correctly conclude that stocks are riskier than bonds.

This model of annual variability in returns as the measure of risk, fear, and worry is reinforced time and time again. Financial professionals are excellent in probing to make customers “Feel the Pain.” The pain they want you to feel is FEAR. It’s the same fear our ancient ancestors on the savannah felt when they heard unusual rustling in the bushes behind them. “Is that a predator that might kill me?” Financial folks like clients who think variability  of returns is the predator that might kill them. Some argue that some financial professionals exploit fear to sell investment products you don’t need.

 

This image of risk, fear, and worry is incorrect for our retirement financial plan. The right approach to a plan removes the variability of market returns. What? Yes! A seesaw or roller coaster is the wrong image of risk. The correct image is a hockey stick.

 

We must use a Retirement Withdrawal Calculator (RWC) to get the right view of risk, fear, and worry. The right kind of RWC tells us the ABSOLUTELY MOST HORRIBLE sequence of annual returns we might face in the future. Once we know that sequence (and the few others like it), we then set our spending rate such that we know that we WON’T DEPLETE OUR PORTFOLIO for any number of years we pick. That rate is our Safe Spending Rate (SSR%). (We must follow certain investing rules that RWCs implicitly tell us to follow; the most fundamental rule is for us to keep as much of what the market gives us in returns as possible.)

 

This approach – ALWAYS SPEND AT A RATE THAT ASSUMES THE WORST FUTURE POSSIBLE FUTURE – has taken out all concerns about the variations of annual returns. We’ve assumed no variations of cumulative returns. Only the absolute worst. The basics of our plan is built on NO OPTIMISM about the future.

 

(We can see from the data an RWC presents, however, that it’s 99% probable that the sequence of returns we really will experience will be better than worst case. And the average sequence we might experiece is much better. In that sense, we should be very optimistic. Part 3 of Nest Egg Care shows we can figure out if we’re no longer on a WORST CASE track and if we can step up our spending. But even when we step up, our spending rate will always be based on the worst possible future from there on out.)

 

We can plot the probability of depleting our portfolio from the data an RWC gives us. Typically all of us will pick a spending rate that gives us decades of zero probability of depleting. That plot on a graph is a long line at zero. Then there’s an inflection point and a rising probability of depleting thereafter.

 

I like to think of each of the plots for a spending rate as a hockey stick: a long shaft, an inflection point, and a blade angle thereafter. And I like to describe the stick in terms of spending per $1 million initial portfolio value. A 3.5% spending rate is a $35,000 hockey stick, for example.

You can also see on this graph that a 3.5% spending rate results in about 32 years shaft length (years of zero probability of depleting). That 3.5% spending rate is not much different than one would calculate if one  assumed zero percent real growth over that period. And that’s generally true for all return sequences that RWCs build: the worst sequence of returns for any period of time has long stretches of zero percent cumulative return; shorter sequences of return are worse and cumulate to less than zero percent return.

 

Your decisions COMPLETELY control the shape of your hockey stick – the year-by-year probability of depleting your portfolio. Remember: there is no Market Return Risk in your stick, since it’s assumed the WORST EVER sequences of returns. You’re in complete control of the shaft length of your hockey stick – the point where the blade angle rises. Your first decision is to pick a desired shaft length (years of zero probability of depleting) and you then know your spending rate. Two other decisions you make can shorten or lengthen that stick. Many retirees ignore investing cost – the net cost all of us incur relative to market returns when we buy and hold securities. But that’s an important design decision: high cost shortens your hockey stick significantly. A stick that you think is safe is rendered unsafe with high investing cost. And your choice of mix of stocks and bonds also affects shaft length, but (surprisingly) to a much smaller degree than investing cost.

Once you understand your stick, it may take time to grow to trust it. I attended an evening presentation last week, and the speaker said it takes six months to change a behavior – it takes that length time to rewire the thought patterns in your brain. It’s not easy to shift your thinking from the image of the seesaw or roller coaster of daily, monthly and annual variability of returns to a hockey stick. But we all need to do that.

 

You can see here that I really like our stick! It’s the one Patti and I will use for our 2018 spending – a $47,500 stick (a 4.75% SSR%). I tell myself as look at that stick: “You should not be very concerned about one year or even two years of bad variability of returns. Your real worry point is nearly two decades away. Put worry into the distant future. Enjoy More. NOW.”

 

14.5X on my investment. Other Baby Boomers did that, too.

The game of Save and Invest that we retirees have played for decades has turned out to be a somewhat easy game. The timing has worked out great for us. We retirees have ridden an above sequence of annual returns for stocks. That’s added up BIG TIME for retirees who saved and chose the logical, simple way to invest.

 

Baby Boomers were born between 1945 and the early 1960s. Therefore, I’m about the oldest Baby Boomer. I’m using the example here of an investment made in 1981. I was 36 then. The youngest Baby Boomer would have been under 20, so he or she was not in the phase of Save and Invest then. So, maybe 1981 is applicable to folks who were at least in their late 20s in 1981 and could get serious about Save and Invest. Those are folks born in 1952 or earlier. They’re 65 or older now: that’s about 15% of our population; 48 million of us. Oh, if we Saved ANYTHING and Invested logically in 1981, we are very happy campers today.

 

IRAs that you could contribute to, separate from your employer’s retirement plan, started in 1981. You could contribute up to $2,000. You can contribute $5,500 now; that’s really the same inflation-adjusted amount of purchasing power as $2,000 in 1981. As it is now, the contribution was deductible from income for the calculation of Federal Income Tax. (That deduction is subject to certain income limits now and maybe then, too, but those never applied to me.) (Let’s forget in this discussion that I’m pretty sure I also invested that piece of taxes saved.)

 

Did you contribute? I did. I was 36 in 1981. I’ve always been a saver and investor. A top priority every year was to first contribute to my IRA. In 1981 think I drove a nine-year old VW Beetle, purchased used. I got a $50 Earl Scheib paint job, so it actually looked pretty good. But I certainly wasn’t spending on a fancy car. Saving for my IRA was at the top of my list. I remember I was compulsive about writing a $2,000 check on about December 29 and mailing it on December 30 so it would be deposited and invested in my IRA on January 2.

 

I know how that $2,000 invested on January 2, 1981 turned out, since I made three good decisions.

 

The simple and obvious one was that it was always invested in stocks. My time horizon was going to be 30 years, maybe more, and for that length of time I knew stocks would outperform bonds and anything else I could consider in my IRA. Real stock returns have averaged about 6.4% over the past 90 or so years. That 6.4% translates to a doubling in purchasing power in every 11.25 years following the rule of 72. Over 30 years, I could have expected about 6.5X increase in purchasing power.

 

The second great choice was a mutual fund that closely matched what the market has given us over all those years. (I’ll get to my exact fund in a bit.) But let’s just assume I invested in a boring and dull Index Fund that, actually, because of its expense ratio, gave me a bit less than what the market would have given me without those costs. About the only one around at that time (Index funds first started in 1976.) was the Vanguard fund that tracked the S&P 500 index: VFINX.

 

The third best decision was that I did not change what I held all those years. I blithely blew right through some periods of very bad variability in stock returns. The real decline for stocks was about -14% in 1981, the first year out of the box. (I don’t remember regretting my investment that year.) The stock market declined by -22% in one day in 1987. Oh, my! The cumulative real decline for 2000, 2001, and 2002 was -42%, and who can forget the almost -39% real decline in 2008, the worst year in the history of the stock market dating back to 1802? Call it faith in the long run or inattention: I never changed what I held.

 

How did that turn out?

 

Let’s assume I put the $2,000 in an envelope on January 2, 1981 and wrote on it, “Open only on January 2, 2017 for your spending to enjoy that year.” (I think you have the idea that I have a series of envelopes like that.) How much was in that envelope when I opened it on this past January 2, 2017, 36 years later?

 

I can use the “Growth of 10K” graph at Morningstar.com to see how a starting investment $10,000 investment grew over any time period. (You enter the start and stop dates in the upper left hand corner on that graph.) I can then see how $10,000 invested  grew. When I do that for my 36 years, I find VFINX went up 40X. That envelope contained $80,000 for spending to enjoy this year!

 

So, in real terms, I put in $5,500 of today’s purchasing power and had $80,000 for spending in 2017. That’s 14.5X in purchasing power. That means over that period I averaged a real return rate of 7.7%, not 6.4%. That was obviously a better than average 36-year sequence of returns. That’s the same stretch of stock returns all retirees experienced. The stock market has been very, very good to those of us who saved and invested in stocks in ways that most nearly matched what the market has given.

 

What’s in the next envelope that I will open this coming January 2 for spending in 2018? I put in $2,000 on January 2, 1982. When I open it on January 2, 2018, it would have traveled its own 36-year journey of returns. I can magically peer into the envelope using that same Morningstar graph. We’ll see what happens in the remaining weeks before January 2, but right now I can see $98,000 in that envelope! More than the 1981 envelope! An even better 36-year sequence! More Fun in 2018 than in 2017!

 

(I actually invested in FCNTX. I’m sure I picked FCNTX for a logical reason, so I’d like to think I was a very smart person to have picked it. But I now really think that it just turned out to be a lucky pick. You can use the same Morningstar “Growth of 10K” graph and see how that turned out. [I sold my last FCNTX in the fall of 2014 when Patti and I set our course for our Spend and Invest game, but my replacement investment that I mention in the book has performed close to FCTNX since then.])

 

 

Conclusions:

 

For those of us who saved many years ago and invested in stocks that simply mirrored what the market has given us, it’s been an amazing ride. We’ve been able to travel a favorable – above average – sequence of stock returns. Those returns and the effect of compounding over many years has meant many multiples of increase in purchasing power.

 

We retirees still have a long planning horizon. For most of us, it’s more than two decades. We have slices of our portfolio that we’ll hold for many years. Stocks will almost certainly outperform other alternatives for those slices, and (when we travel other than a horrible sequence of returns) almost certainly will result in multiples of their current purchasing power.

 

If you have heirs who would use your gift now to put into an IRA, as an example, the ultimate purchasing power of those gifts will almost certainly be many times your current gift.

Anticipation: my recalculation date is less than 3 weeks away

I peaked. The R in the CORE is coming up for me: Recalculation. Oh, boy. Wow. Unless the world falls apart over the next three weeks Patti and I have dodged the bullet of “bad variability” of returns for three years now. It’s waaay better than dodged! (It’s obviously been that way for you, too.)

 

I can use the Morningstar site to obtain the returns from any past recalculation date to the present for any mutual fund.* (You can see on last year’s calculation sheet that I picked December 15 as my annual recalculation date, and that’s an awkward date; it’s a pain using mid-month as the date to obtain 12-month returns. I want to switch my calculation date to November 30 for this year and all years in the future. So my return data for this year will be from December 15, 2016 through November 30, 2017 – 50 weeks this year.)

 

Anyway, I can see that through the period from last December 15 to last Friday my stocks (in total with my mix of US and International) are about +18% and my bonds are about +2.5%. With my mix of stocks and bonds, that’s going to translate to maybe +16% overall for my 50-week year.

 

I took out 4.6% (our applicable Safe Spending Rate) last year to get to our Safe Spending Amount for 2017. We paid ourselves that, and we’ll spend or gift all that over the next few weeks. The +16% gets that 4.6% that back and more. It’s clear: we will have more than enough for our current spending. That means one of two things: Patti and I can increase our Safe Spending Amount for 2018 (that’s our stated plan) or we keep spending the same and gift the More-Than-Enough. (Or, a combination of the two. That’s what Alice did after her recalculation date of October 31.)

 

I’ll keep you posted – literally. I’m guessing I’ll be able to post my calculation based on actual returns as of November 30 easily by Friday, December 8.

 

* You use the “Growth of 10k” graph and enter start and end dates to get the total change of a $10k investment over the period. From that you can get the percentage change.

Alice’s 16%!!! pay increase for 2018. How did that happen?

Recalculate is an annual task if you Live the CORE. Alice follows the CORE. She chose October 31 as her date for Recalculation. I stopped by Monday to help her with the recalculation, rebalancing, and decisions for 2018 spending. She’s not super with spreadsheets, but she’ll get there.

 

Wow. Alice is living the life. We reviewed 2017. She had a blast. “I’ve never had so much fun with my money.” Alice enjoys traveling, and that she did. It was hard to keep track what part of the world she was in or which set of friends she was traveling with. But she tells me her best trip was ten days with her grandson in Costa Rica.

 

She did a great job on her spending. She spent her total pay (Safe Spending Amount) for the year, and she actually had to do some work to spend it all. That cooking school in Italy was the icing on the cake. Way to go, Alice!

 

And 2018 will even be better: a terrific year! Her portfolio increased by +18% over the last 12 months. This was fueled by stock returns of almost 24%. Recalculation showed she earned a big potential pay increase for 2018 – an increase in her annual Safe Spending Amount. It’s more than 16%, not that piddling 2% adjustment for inflation. She can step up to a new, 16% higher spending plateau for the rest of her life.

 

Recalculation also showed she had a hefty More-than-Enough if she chose to keep her pay at the same real level in 2018 as in 2017 – staying on her current plateau. She could gift all of that More-Than-Enough now. What to do? Ah, a delightful dilemma.

 

Alice has had a strong desire to help her two children and two grandchildren. But she never understood what was safe to spend. Or, if she was happy with her current spending, she never could understand if she had More-Than-Enough that she could gift to them while she was alive. Now she understands. Do you understand these two?

 

Alice decided to give $25,000 in total to her children and grandchildren out of her More-Than-Enough. This will be the first gift like this for her. I’m thinking it won’t be the last. She’s particularly pleased to be helping her granddaughter who may have some special needs in the future. I can envision it now. “Wow. We never expected this. Thanks, Mom. We love you.”

 

Part of her gifts will go 529 College Savings Plan accounts that her son has for her grandchildren. She’ll make the gift but her son will get a state income tax deduction for her gifts!  (I’ll add a post on 529 plans in a bit to explain that.)

 

With these gifts Alice reduced her Investment Portfolio and her More-Than-Enough amount, and therefore she can’t increase her paychecks by 16%. But the $25,000 was not all of her More-Than-Enough. She’s still steps up  to a higher plateau, just not one that’s 16% higher. She’s taking a big trip in January, so she’s going to be able to put some of her added SSA to good use right off the bat.

 

Conclusion: Live the CORE! It’s most probable, as Alice found, that at some time in the future you’ll accumulate more than needed for your current spending. When that happens – and it’s likely that it will happen for all of us in 2017 – we will face the same delightful dilemma that Alice worked through. Do we increase our Safe Spending Amount by as much as we can? Or, do we gift the  More-Than-Enough? Or, a bit of both?

I’m an (ultra) Conservative Investor. They label me as (ultra) Aggressive.

A financial plan has to consider two aspects: 1) How Much Do You Plan to Spend from Your Portfolio Year-By-Year and 2) How Do You Invest. Those two pieces of the puzzle have to fit together. You can’t judge one without the other. But if you took your plan to a financial pro (or asked him/her to start on a plan), he or she would almost certainly only consider the second puzzle piece, “How To Invest,” in officially judging if you were “Conservative” or “Aggressive”. A plan that I think is (ultra) Conservative will be judged as (ultra) Aggressive. This makes no sense to me.

 

Here’s my story.

 

My brother-in-law and his wife created a Trust about 10 years ago. I agreed to be Trustee. The Trust held option shares in his privately held company and almost no cash to invest. There wasn’t much for a Trustee to do.

 

They chose to create a Trust primarily to avoid future estate taxes. Maybe those shares would be worth a lot in the future. The Trust will pay for educational expenses for their children and for potential extraordinary health-related costs. But the primary beneficiaries of the Trust are grandchildren – not yet born when the Trust was formed. The Trust legally exists until the death of the last child to die. That’s perhaps 70 years in the future. That’s a really long investment horizon.

 

My brother-in-law’s company was sold about five years ago, and the option shares turned into REAL CASH to invest. Oops, all of a sudden, I had real work to do. I had to get that invested correctly.

 

I consulted with a lawyer, and I decided that I needed to hire a financial advisor, even though I thought the investment decisions were not complex. It was a CYA action to avoid any potential liability of being both Trustee and Investment Advisor to the Trust. And I needed someone to carry forward if something happened to me. (Don’t think I’ll be around for 70 more years!)

 

I found Mike, a very good guy and financial advisor with lots of professional initials after his name. I liked his firm and the other folks there. Mike agreed with me on investment structure for the Trust and agreed to a very reasonable fee; he knew the Trust would be a very long-term customer.

 

I first developed a cash flow plan that forecast year-by-year cash needs that I then put into four groups. I was somewhat conservative in my estimate of cash needs, overestimating how much I would actually need to spend each year (primarily taxes and distributions for educational expenses). I grouped my years of cash flow needs. Some people might call these groups “buckets.” I chose to use the analogy of “wine bottles and barrels” instead. Here’s the arrangement of the bottles and barrels.

 

Bottles: wine that is bottled from the finishing barrels each December. It’s the cash the Trust will spend in the upcoming year.

 

Finishing barrels (3) hold three-years of cash needs – holding periods of one through three years. (A holding period is the length of time you hold onto an investment before you sell it for spending.)

 

Aging barrels (7) hold cash needs for seven years – holding periods of four through ten years.

 

A Large Vat holds the remainder. The first drop of wine from the Vat would be consumed not before ten years.

 

 

Mike and I both agreed that the following made perfect sense in terms of investment structure. We both agreed that this was a conservative plan plan given the holding periods for the barrels.

 

Bottles: cash in the Trust’s checking account

 

Finishing barrels in one account with Mike at 80% Bonds and 20% Stocks

 

Aging barrels in one account with Mike at 40% Bonds and 60% Stocks

 

Large Vat in one account with Mike at 100% Stocks

 

I next multiplied my cash forecast by the mixes for each group of wine barrels. That total multiplication added up to 85% Stocks and 15% Bonds in the accounts with Mike. Made perfect sense.

 

Mike and I met to sign the final paperwork to set up the account. He had one required form for me to sign that asked two questions as best as I remember:

 

1. What would you do if stock returns were below 0% next year? This was a multiple-choice question with answers ranging from Sell All Stocks to Do Nothing.

 

Of course I marked “Do Nothing.” I knew real stock returns have been below 0% about one-third of all years, so this this seemed like a strange question to me. My average holding period for the total invested is probably 30 years. It’s 100% probable that stocks will outperform bonds over that period, so I’d be foolish to sell Stocks if the return falls below 0% for one year. That seemed like a really silly question to me.

 

2. I then had to mark how I classified myself as an investor. The choices ranged from Conservative to Aggressive. I marked Conservative. (As Trustee, I’d be crazy to mark anything else.)

 

Mike said, “You can’t mark that box.”

 

“But, Mike, we’ve been all through this. My cash needs are really low relative to the amount of money that is there. I’ve probably overestimated my cash needs. Heck, I don’t even think I withdraw the dividends that will be earned in any year. This pool of money can only grow over time; it will never run out. I’m being conservative to overly conservative in the way I’ve forecasted cash flows and the way we’ve structured the three accounts. Don’t you agree?”

 

“Yep, I agree, but you have to put your checkmark in the Aggressive box. (I think he would have said Wildly Aggressive if that existed.) My compliance officer and the regulators would not permit me to have you invested in 85% stocks if you don’t check the Aggressive box.”

 

So, I erased my checkmark and placed it in the Aggressive box. It made no sense to me.

 

If I had not thought it through, I would have simply checked the Conservative box and just taken the advice from the pro. With an advisor other than Mike, I might have been convinced that 85% stocks was too Aggressive and Risky, exposing me to undesireable liability. I would have (incorrectly) lowered the mix of stocks significantly.

 

Why is this? The label financial folks are geared to judge a portfolio is in relation to one-year variability of returns, and for one-year periods stock return rates are more variable than for bonds (but the opposite is true for long holding periods). If I bought into that thinking, I would wind up with an investment mix that made no sense for the Trust’s long, long time horizon.

 

Conclusion: When we’re retired our financial plan has similar components to this story.

 

We have a long investment horizon. We clearly don’t have 70 years, but we typically are planning for a retirement period that may last decades.

 

We have different investment horizons or holding periods for when we will actually sell securities from our portfolio to get cash to spend. Those holding periods will range from one year to maybe 20 years or more.

 

Our investment piece of the puzzle is related to our spending rate piece of the puzzle. For example, a lower spending rate means a greater portion of stocks will be in the Large Vat. That’s going to work out to a greater overall portion of stocks.

 

When you use Nest Egg Care to make your decisions for your financial retirement plan, I think you’ll agree that your plan for spending and for mix of stocks and bonds will shout “Conservative” to you. I definitely think of our plan that way. But that plan could very well be labeled “Aggressive” – implying you are imprudent and overly risky for an intelligent, sensible retiree. You’ll most likely have to shut your ears to those who only look at one piece of the puzzle.

Why is it important to rebalance our mix of stocks and bonds in our portfolio?

Annually rebalancing back to our chosen mix of stocks and bonds is far more important for us retirees than it is for younger folks. Rebalancing is “required” when you’re following the CORE principles in Nest Egg Care.

 

I think many folks who are not retired don’t rebalance their portfolio that often. Nor do they need to in my view for their retirement accounts, in particular. These folks typically have many years before they reach retirement. Their holding period – the length of time they hold an investment before they sell it to obtain cash for spending – is long, maybe 20 years or more.

 

I recently read the book, The The One-Page Financial Plan, by Carl Richards. I generally liked the book, but I was struck by the statement for one section of the book, “Rebalancing Is the Seventh Wonder of the Investing World.” Richards states that rebalancing your mix of stocks and bonds is “forcing yourself to take money from the thing that did well last year (sell high) and you’re moving it to the area that did less well (buy low).” There’s no further explanation of the effect. Rebalancing sounds nice, but that just doesn’t hang together for me for retirement savings.

 

When younger folks work through the process of rebalancing for a number of years, they’ll think, “When I rebalance, I’m usually selling stocks to buy bonds. Stocks have greater return potential than bonds. When I rebalance each year for a number of years, I think I’m just lowering my total dollar return. Why am I doing this?”

 

Good question! The long term real return rate for stocks is about 6.4% and it’s 2.6% for bonds; the rate for stocks is 2.5X that for bonds. (And compounding over many years expands the dollar effect.) It’s hard to argue that you want to hold bonds for long holding periods.

 

Let’s look at the probabilities and returns for a 20-year holding period. For that period, stocks will outperform bonds about 96% of the time. Also, the worst average annual return rate for stocks is greater than that for bonds (The worst 20-year rate is actually positive for stocks, but negative for bonds.); and over those years the effect of compounding expands the basic 2.5X return advantage.* Holding bonds for that length of time is a “bet” that is on the wrong side of the probabilities and return potential.

 

Yes, holding a significant portion of bonds smooths out the variability of one-year returns. But younger investors shouldn’t buy into the logic that lower one-year variability of returns is good and therefore pay for that with a low mix of stocks that comes at the expense of a whopping difference in portfolio value in the long run.

 

I have always had a long-term perspective in my Save and Invest phase. I viewed each annual amount I contributed to my retirement accounts as an investment packet, each with a long holding period – typically more than two decades. Therefore, each of those annual contributions had to be invested in stocks. Therefore, overall I was invested 100% in stocks; I obviously never had to rebalance my retirement portfolio. I tolerated periods of “very bad variability” in stock returns, but I rode through them. (You can read more about my results of just sticking with stocks for one year’s contribution – one investment packet – to my retirement account in a future post.)

 

Now that I’m retired, it’s completely different. The “game” of Spend and Invest is different from the game of Save and Invest. Once a year I’m selling securities from our nest egg to get cash for next year’s spending. In effect, I’m dissipating our nest egg; I’m not accumulating. My mindset now has to be Remain Worry Free! That’s a BIG SHIFT from the many decades of Save More to Accumulate More!

 

But I stick with one key view of my investments. Just as I viewed each added investment in my retirement account as an investment packet, I now view our total portfolio as a series of spending packets. Each spending packet or slice of the total has a different length of holding period. Some very short. Some very long (hopefully). I’ll consume slices in sequence. We want bonds in many of those spending packets. Why?

 

 

We want to hold more bonds for packets with short holding periods. Let’s assume I’ve just sold securities from our investment portfolio for spending over the next 12 months. (Conceptually it’s sitting in my bank checking account.)

 

The packet that I’ll hold until next year at this time should be almost solely bonds; at most it should have only a splash of stocks. That makes sense from understanding the probabilities and investment returns. For a one-year holding period it’s only somewhat more probable that stocks will outperform bonds. (Stocks beat bonds just 60% of the time for one-year holding periods.) The downside performance of stocks is scary: the worst one-year return for stocks is disgustingly worse (-39% real return) than the worst one-year return for bonds (-11% real return).*

 

As I think through the slices for future years, more stocks makes sense – the probabilities that stocks outperform bonds improves quickly; the worst performance of stocks is about equal to that of bonds;  the compounding of expected return rates makes stocks more attractive. I still want to have bonds in many slices, but at some point the slices should be 100% stocks.

 

I want to hold bonds, since they’ll keep my emotions in check when “bad variability’ strikes. We’ll be hit (in all probability) with “bad variability” of stock returns in the future. We build our retirement spending and investing plan by assuming we will face horrible sequences returns; that’s what drives our Safe Spending Rate (SSR%) to a low level. I know our SSR% will ensure a long life for our portfolio even in the face of horrible sequences. But when I’m hit with that first instance of “bad variability” of returns my sense of Worry Free may be shaken. The fact that I hold bonds will help. I repeat my “self-talk” speech to prepare me, “Isolate yourself from the emotional stress of ‘bad (possibly disgustingly horrible) variability’ of stock returns, even if that means your portion of bonds means lower total returns over time. You’ll be less stressed and even perhaps happy that you hold bonds in a year when stocks hit the skids and bonds don’t. You’re past the time of life when Accumulate More! was paramount. Now its paramount to Remain Worry Free! Remain Worry Free!”

 

The decision on mix of stocks and bonds is one of five key decisions for any retirement financial plan. As you work through Nest Egg Care, you’ll make your decision on mix of stocks and bonds from information we get from two Retirement Withdrawal Calculators (RWCs). Mix has two effects on your financial retirement plan. It has an effect on the year-by-year probability of depleting a portfolio for any given spending rate. And it has an effect on the probable value of your portfolio over time. (I’ve done my best in Nest Egg Care to help you understand the tradeoffs of these two effects; you want to engage the “slow thinking” part of your brain on this one!) Therefore, when you’ve completed your Worksheet in Nest Egg Care, your choice of mix is a “strategic” decision. You want to stick with your strategic decisions over time.

 

The mechanics of RWCs always assume we start each year with the same mix of stocks and bonds. Just to review, an RWC assumes a mix of stocks and bonds (We input that mix.), and the RWC starts every year assuming that design mix. That means it has rebalanced the portfolio to that design mix after it’s withdrawn the chosen constant dollar spending amount for the upcoming year. We’ve got to follow that same process. Rebalance annually.

 

Conclusion: We retired folks want to hold bonds in our investment portfolio, and we must rebalance our mix of stocks and bonds back to our design mix at the end of each year after we’ve taken our withdrawal for spending in the upcoming year. (Rebalancing is not as simple of a task as I initially thought. It’s much easier if you rebalance at the same time you are selling securities for your spending amount in the upcoming year. You have a spreadsheet in Resources on this site that will help you rebalance annually.)

 

 

* See Stocks for the Long Run, Chapter 6, Table 6-1 and Figure 6-1. Jeremy Siegel. Fifth Edition. 2014. McGraw Hill Education. Chapters 5 and 6 are pretty dog-eared in my copy.

How do Retirement Withdrawal Calculators work? What can they tell you?

We use a Retirement Withdrawal Calculator (RWC) to help us find our Safe Spending Rate (SSR%), and the calculator also tells us, in effect, How To Invest to be confident in that Safe Spending Rate.

 

The key information we get from an RWC is the understanding of the most HORRIBLE sequence of financial returns we may face in the future. We then always plan for the worst and adjust if it isn’t the worst. Planning for the worst market returns essentially eliminates the uncertainty of market returns: they can’t be worse; only better. The focus on most HORRIBLE allows us to decide how much to spend and how to invest to lock in as many years of zero probability of depleting our portfolio as we want. We can then squarely face the last uncertainty that we cannot control – lifespan.

 

You can find a good description of how “the right kind” of Retirement Withdrawal Calculators work in Chapter 2 of Nest Egg Care. (There’s a slew of the wrong kind of calculator.) The book uses two RWCs, and I consider them as two different “brands” of calculators. FIRECalc and Vanguard calculators have good descriptions of how they work on their home or other pages. But here’s another description.

 

All* RWCs are based on “The Road”. The Road is 91 years of annual stock and bond returns from 1926 through 2016. That’s the period of the most detailed, accurate record of returns. There have been ups and downs along that road and even long periods of up and of down. Over that complete period, the real return rate for stocks is about 6.4% per year and 2.6% for bonds. The Road gets longer each year; it will be 92 years long at the end of 2017.

 

RWCs build Road Segments. RWCs use annual  returns of The Road to build a bunch of Road Segments in any length you choose. Since year-by-year returns have varied, the sequence of annual returns for each Road Segment will be different. Some segments will average close to the long-term return averages, but others will average far worse and others far better.

 

In the book I use the example of Road Segments 23 years in length. One brand of RWC uses the annual returns to build a set of tens of Road Segments for this length and another uses annual returns in a way that results in a complete set of more than trillions and trillions of Road Segments. (Really!) (It’s so many that even with the speed of computers it has to use a sample to represent the total segments it could build.) You can ignore those differences in technique. RWCs fairly assemble the complete range of road segments we might face.*** We get to the same understanding for our financial retirement plan with both RWCs.

 

All Road Segments lead from a starting point, and we don’t know the segment we will ride on. We’d like to think that we could start our retirement journey, pick a road and travel to where we want to go. It doesn’t work that way. We don’t get to pick our road and therefore pick our sequence of future annual returns. All we know is that we’ll ride along a road that is very, very similar to one the RWC has constructed. We can think of the complete set of of Road Segments we could ride into the future as “All Roads Leave from Rome” in all different directions rather than “All Roads Lead to Rome”: some treacherous; some with average ups and downs; some smooth sailing almost every year.

Road Segments from a specific starting location are based on a mix of stocks and bonds.** We could think about stocks as black and bonds as white, so the set of Road Segments could be any tone of grey. We could think of all the roads leading from Rome as charcoal grey (75% stocks). Other locations have roads of a different tone. For example, after we’ve understood Rome, we can go to Paris where the roads are lighter grey or Vienna where their roads are darker grey to understand the impact of lesser or greater mix of stocks.

We fill up our tank, set a fuel consumption rate, and start on our journey. The fuel in our main tank is the amount we’ve accumulated throughout the years for the start of our journey. Nest Egg Care uses the example, in essence, of a starting tank of 1,000 gallons. It uses the example of a fuel consumption rate of 44 gallons per year (4.40% consumption or spending rate).

 

RWCs report the fuel level in our main tank as if we rode each and every Road Segment it constructed. An easy way for me to understand the year-by-year calculation of fuel level in our main tank is to envision that we start on one Road Segment and at the end of each year we pull into an unusual kind of refueling station. During the year we’ve consumed 44 gallons of fuel, and our unusual refueling station either adds more fuel (Yay!) or takes fuel out of our main tank (Ugh.). The percentage of fuel added or subtracted is based on the annual return rate for that year we just traveled.

 

A few RWCs also remove fuel for a cost we investors incur year after year – our investing cost. Our net investing cost is a subtraction from our fuel tank and is expressed as a percentage of the fuel in our main tank. A mutual fund’s Expense Ratio is an example of an investing cost. Advisor fees, if any, are another example.

 

Each year an RWC records the amount in your main fuel tank right before you’re ready to remove the 44 gallons for your small feed tank for your travels in the upcoming year. We can then graph the year-by-year fuel levels in the main tank for each Road Segment you might travel. Graph 2-4 in the book is a plot, in essence, of the year-by-year fuel level in the main tank for a 4.40% consumption or spending rate. (That graph is for roughly 70 23-year Road Segments from Vienna. The Vanguard RWC builds so many Road Segments that they just merge into a visual blur.)

 

You can generate a conceptually similar graph to the one in the book now at FIRECalc.com. Just hit the submit button on the home page, and you’ll get a graph in a new window of the year-by-year fuel level for each of the Road Segments it constructed for the inputs on the home page. (That standard graph from FIRECalc is of 30-year Road Segments from Rome; the segments are based on a much longer Road [since 1871] than you really want to use for your decision-making. See Nest Egg Care for the logic on this and how to correctly use FIRECalc and Vanguard for decision-making.)

 

What do we want an RWC to tell us? We first want an RWC to tells us when a spending rate runs into trouble – how many years is it before we reach a point that we’ve depleted our main fuel tank such that we can’t fill our smaller feed tank for one more year of travel? That’s our primary worry-point. That one Road Segment is the most HORRIBLE one we might face, and we build our plan for spending (and other decisions) around that segment. Our planning always assumes we will ride the most HORRIBLE Road Segment in the future. Planning that way essentially takes the risk or uncetainty of market returns in our decision making. We’re always able to find the spending rate that ensures zero probability of depleting our portfolio for as many years as we want. It can’t be any worse. It can only be better.

 

And we want to how many Road Segments might fail the next year, and so on – the year-by-year probability of depleting our main fuel tank (our portfolio). That’s important data for the years after the many years of zero probability of depleting our portfolio.

 

It’s not very likely that we will ride on the single most HORRIBLE sequence of returns, and we want to know what happens when we don’t. We want the RWC to tell what our fuel level might be in any year in the future for the whole set of Road Segments we might travel if we never changed our rate. If we can increase our consumption rate over time, we have a much more more fun trip.

 

Our choice of readily available RWCs narrows to just a few. It’s hard to find an RWC that gives us the year-by-year probability of depleting a portfolio. It’s hard to find an RWC that tells us anything about the fuel level in our main tank for the many Road Segments we might ride. I don’t know why so few are really helpful, but that’s the way it is. That’s why Nest Egg Care focuses on the the FIRECalc and Vanguard RWCs. They tell us the most.

 

When we put our chosen RWCs through their paces we learn key investing rules and tactics for a safer and potentially more enjoyable trip (more spending). We vary three key inputs to set after set of Road Segments and methodically record the results. We can see the effect of different spending rates (the most obvious input we want to understand), and then for a given spending rate we can see the effect of different mixes of stocks and bonds and different investing cost. Again, we’re always looking to see what happens to safety of our plan – primarily the number of years of zero probability for depletion – and to potential portfolio value over time.

 

We learn that we can lock in and control that distant point in time for first possible depletion with our decisions on spending rate, mix of stocks and bonds, and investing cost. Our decisions can take out all uncertainty about how far that point is in the future. We also learn that we can decide to move that point farther away during our journey if we want to.

 

We learn that we control the potential, expected portfolio value as we travel along. (Think of expected portfolio as the value we’d have if we rode the average, not the worst, sequence of returns.) We find that some changes in those three parameters increase the safety of our plan and also increase potential portfolio value. (We love those decisions!) We find that some small tradeoffs in two parameters result in the same level of safety but far greater potential portfolio value. If we can increase portfolio value with no change to safety, that’s terrific, too.

 

Nest Egg Care is one thorough task master: it’s put two RWCs through their paces. Hard. You don’t have to go through the methodical steps to understand what the RWCs are telling you. Nest Egg Care has distilled the evidence. You’ll understand, and you’ll make the right decisions for your retirement financial plan.

 

 

Conclusion: If we are serious about building a proper financial retirement plan, we need to use and thoroughly understand what Retirement Withdrawal Calculators can tell us.

 

RWCs are a key tool that will get you to you the correct Spending Rate for the start of your journey. Rules of How to Invest become clear. You’ll understand the tactics of what you can do during your journey to be safer and safer if needed or desired. And you will know if you have more than enough in your tank for your current spending rate and therefore can increase your spending for a far more fun trip.

 

 

 

* Some RWCs are based on someone’s projection of a future returns that aren’t related to the past. I really don’t trust those, since I have no understanding of the assumptions. I’d argue that using historical returns is going to give us retirees the right kind of information for our decision-making.

 

** For this description I’ll ignore the fact that RWCs might also store returns for different segments of stocks (e.g., small cap vs. large cap) or fixed income investments (e.g., short-term bonds; long-term bonds). It turns out that that level of detail is far, far down on the list of important decisions for your financial plan.

 

*** Well, no one can guarantee that it’s the complete range, but those really horrible Road Segments built from history are really, really bad. You can read more about that in Nest Egg Care. We don’t really have to try to imagine that we should add in worse Road Segments to understand the future.