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Pre-Retirement Rules

Guidelines to help make retirement planning and actual retirement easier.

Blogger Colorado Wealth Management Fund (CWMF) had a post at Seeking Alpha titled 12 Retirement Rules You Need In 2018. CWMF focuses on REITs so some of the rules were about REIT investments while some of the other ones were broader in nature related to saving money efficiently, avoiding unnecessary risks like penny stocks, don't let short term noise drive long term decisions and one related to REITs that I believe in wholeheartedly which is to avoid non-publicly traded REITs.

In a related post. Gil Weinreich cited a study from Wharton that shows pre-retirees are taking on too much leverage while having too little in savings. One more link from Paul Merriman who boils it down to saving more money and living below your means.

1) Save a lot of money.

I say this all the time and the simple reason is that if you are able to save money it makes every other aspect of your life easier. To CWMF's post there are ways to save that are more efficient than others and certainly you should take advantage of those efficiencies but first things first, save money regularly. The most efficient way is to contribute to a plan at work where you get a match from your employer. If you contribute 10% and that gets you a dollar for dollar match on 5% that is obviously like getting a 50% return before even thinking about how to invest it. There are two types of 401ks; the traditional 401k where you get a tax deduction on the way in while paying tax on withdrawals and the Roth 401k where there is no tax deduction going in but withdrawals are not taxable. I don't think of one being better than the other, there are great arguments for both kinds, I personally have both traditional retirement assets and Roth. I think having some of each is ideal.

The second most efficient retirement vehicle in my opinion are Health Savings Accounts (HSA). You get a tax deduction going in and can take withdrawals tax free when taken for healthcare expenses. It's actually a little sweeter than that. If you spend $500 on something medical now, as a younger person you can just hold onto that documentation until later and take the withdrawal years after the fact. This presumes you can pay for medical expenses out of pocket as you go, but if you can, then it could be a large account to draw on tax free. Of course all the better if you make it retirement age with minimal money spent on healthcare as function of being healthy either due to lifestyle, luck or both.

2) Don't wait until you're retired to plan your retirement.

This pertains to if you want to retire, when you want to retire, what you want to do once you retire, how much you think you need to retire, what you'll do if you fall short of the amount you think you need, how take Social Security (take it early, wait and let it grow, there are valid reasons for both), be prepared for the possibility that retirement turns out to be psychologically challenging.

The fact that you're reading this post is probably a strong indication that the topic interests you. Addressing each point in detail in this blog post would turn it into a manifesto but those are all things I have written about before that you can search for here at TheMaven or at randomroger.com. Quoting Joe Moglia, former CEO at TD Ameritrade and current football coach at Coastal Carolina, "no one will care more about your retirement than you."

3) Live below your means.

Similar to saving money as noted above, you will make every aspect of your life easier if you can live below your means. This is easy to understand, everyone knows they should do this but actually doing it can be difficult. And to Gil's link above, avoid unnecessary debt. If nothing else, owning less house than you can afford and driving cars for as long as possible goes a long way here.

4) Stay as healthy and fit as you can.

As kind of a recurring theme to this post, you will make every aspect of your life easier if you exercise regularly and vigorously and make smart dietary choices. Again, everyone knows they should work out and eat less sugar but it can be difficult to do but once it becomes part of your routine it gets easier. I touch on the financial aspect above but more specifically, I have cited that report from Fidelity that gets updated every year about how much a couple retiring at 65 should plan on spending in retirement. The last I saw that number was $277,000. Divide that number by 30 years of retirement comes out to $9233 per year. If lifestyle choices can cut that annual number in half until your 70 or 75 or any other age, think of how much better off you'll be. There is an element of luck to this of course but smart lifestyle choices won't make it worse. Aside from the financial benefit, the emotional value of being able to do the things you like for longer is priceless.

5) Keep your investments simple.

If you can't buy it in a brokerage account as a do-it-yourself-investor, you should think long and hard about buying it. Products not available in brokerage accounts tend to be very expensive and riskier than they appear. There are plenty of products that are available in brokerage accounts to be avoided as well. If you don't understand what a fund does and the explanation doesn't clear it up for you then you're probably better off avoiding that fund (it could be a great product but you need to understand what you own).

6) Pick an investment strategy that you feel gives you a reasonable chance of reaching your goal and then stick to it no matter what.

There are many valid strategies whether you choose one yourself or hire an adviser. None of those valid strategies will be the best one for all periods. You will not always outperform. There will be times that you underperform. One very valid approach I have written about many times is called 75/50. It seeks 75% of the upside with only 50% of the downside. Do the math, over the long term the numbers are great (if you can actually achieve it) but read that last sentence again. It is designed to underperform up markets. You may not have any interest in 75/50 but it illustrates the point that all strategies will have periods that they lag. All that matters is whether you have enough when you need it or close to enough. If you think your number is $1 million and you end up with $925,000 you'll probably be ok versus thinking you need $1 million but only ending up with $475,000.

No list can be thoroughly comprehensive but these are good building blocks to hold onto before and during retirement.