By Scott Funk
While I’m not a financial planner or advisor, my job working with retirees over last 15 years has convinced me that most people have a better understanding of how to work towards retirement than how to live in retirement. This should not be a surprise, as saving and accumulating are ingrained in many of us from an early age. Spending down that money, however, is not something we got much training in.
Beyond the money math, there are challenges like timing, taxes, emergencies, longevity and protecting the surviving spouse or partner. Did you retire into a bear or bull market? How do you limit how much of your savings go to taxes? If a loved one needs money badly or an unexpected expense imposes itself, can you manage? How long is long? It’s likely one member of a partnership will live into his/her 90’s. Is it even possible to live with the person you love most and plan for life without him/her? Or without you?
Answering these questions is the bridge. They take you across from accumulation to distribution in a realistic manner. You’d be surprised how many people go into retirement with no concept of the impact taxes will have on their retirement savings. Or the role timing plays. You plan and do everything right, but retire in 2009–the middle of a financial crisis you never anticipated.
Emergencies are tough because you don’t retire expecting needs or events to derail you. One of my clients summed it up perfectly, “What are you going to do when your kid is in crisis? You can’t just stand there and watch things go from bad to worse when you have money in the bank to help.”
Longevity is a good thing, but few of us understand what it means to be ninety years old. Sharp and active for someone nearly a hundred is still frail, and maybe even befuddled, compared to that same person at sixty-five.
These are the challenges that make drawing down your savings different from accumulating it. You need to see things from a different angle, not as you expect life to be, but as life might turn out. It is no longer about how much money you made, but rather how long can you make the money last.
Sometimes, that means a different utilizing kind of advisor. Always, it means managing risk and accepting the inevitable realities of being in that phase of your life which is regrettably described as “the end of life.”
Tough stuff, yes. Aging in Place doesn’t happen by accident and it takes courageous planning.
Scott Funk is Vermont’s leading Aging in Place advocate, writing and speaking around the state on issues of concern to retirees and their families. He works as a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage and HECM for Purchase specialist. You can access previous Aging in Place columns and Scott’s blogs at scottfunk.org.