Watching recent coverage of the disasters created by hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires reminded me of the importance of good planning. While natural disasters may be difficult to predict or plan for, there are other risks that can be mitigated with proper planning.
One of these is the risk of not having enough money to meet your retirement goals. Most of us dream about having all the money we’ll need to accommodate our creature comforts, recreational interests and charitable pursuits during retirement. However, we may not consider the hidden risks that could derail our retirement dreams.
Gauging Your Risk
Ask yourself these questions as you gauge your potential financial retirement risk:
- Does my lifestyle afford the opportunity to set aside savings consistently?
- Am I overly conservative with my investments such that I hinder the portfolio growth I need to achieve my goals?
- Are my assets diversified enough to protect me from adverse conditions that impact specific investment vehicles, industry segments and/or geographies?
- How would I be impacted in the event of a job loss or other life-changing tragedy?
- Am I doing everything possible to prepare physically, mentally and financially for living a really long life?
- Do I have the expertise and knowledge to adequately manage my financial affairs?
If the answers to these questions unveil hidden financial retirement risks, this shouldn’t dampen your enthusiasm for your golden years. To the contrary, when you take stock of your current circumstances, prioritize your financial goals and make provisions for mitigating risks, you increase the chances of realizing your retirement dreams and reduce the chances of potentially facing risks you aren’t prepared for.
On the Income Side
You might take comfort in the prospect of receiving a steady paycheck. However, you must consider the risk of uneven income and/or unemployment at one or more points in your life, and your retirement investing strategy needs to be sensitive to this reality.
If your profession yields predictable income and ready access to employment opportunities (such as a physician), you’ll be able to sustain more investment risk than someone whose livelihood depends on commissions (such as a real estate broker) or a cyclical business (such as a construction firm owner). This is because the high probability of a consistent income reduces the need to potentially dip into your retirement investments to support current living expenses. It also allows you to cruise through down markets without the need for untimely withdrawals.
If, on the other hand, your income is unpredictable or variable, you may need to periodically dip into income from your investments. In this scenario, you may want a more conservative portfolio that holds up well when the overall economy struggles.
On the Expense Side
If you have a high percentage of fixed expenses — such as home mortgages, car loans and rental property debt — this will limit your ability to reduce spending and might force the sale of assets at depressed prices to meet cash flow requirements. If you are unable to quickly reduce or defer monthly expenses, you may want to employ a more conservative investment approach that is less susceptible to drawdowns.
Without the ability to cut spending when the financial markets decline, you may be forced to reduce your portfolio balance. Excessive spending in a down market magnifies risk as the ability to recover losses declines as the portfolio balance drops. This is why it’s important to establish a robust emergency fund and/or restructure household finances to provide flexibility to weather unforeseen storms.
Diversify Your Investments
Risk also increases when you put too many investment eggs in one basket. For example, real estate investors often concentrate their investment properties in local markets. As we saw in 2008, real estate can decline in value, making it very difficult to sell properties for their prior values as all sellers face the same dilemma. In this scenario, price reductions can wind up causing substantial losses.
A similar but less obvious risk can occur when investors focus exclusively on holding income-producing assets. The correlation is very high among high-income producing investments, and investors stretching for income can inadvertently take on significant interest rate risk as values tend to drop significantly when interest rates rise and investors flee such holdings.
Plan for a Long Life
Life expectancy rates are continuing to move higher in the U.S. While living longer is certainly good news, we need to consider the consequences of this on retirement saving. If you live to age 95 and retire at 65, you will need to have enough assets to generate income to support your lifestyle for 30 years after you draw your last paycheck.
If you are too conservative with your investments and don’t earn enough to support your projected income needs, you will be faced with a shortfall at a time when you might not have the option of going back to work.
Identify, Mitigate and Understand Risk
The last thing you want is to reach your golden years without a pot of gold. With proper planning and risk identification, you will significantly increase the odds of achieving your retirement financial goals.
Keep in mind that risk doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Without risk, many of us wouldn’t be able to earn the types of returns we need to achieve our financial goals. However, it’s important to identify and mitigate unnecessary risks while understanding when taking on risk is appropriate. Don’t let risks sneak up on you and undermine your financial well-being.
Meet the Author
Kayla Cook, CFP®
Kayla joined the firm in 2014. She has many years of experience working in the areas of personal finance, financial planning, and investments. Kayla is responsible for analyzing a client’s financial information and determining the best approach for meeting their objectives. In addition, Kayla provides strategic wealth management for individuals, families, and organizations. She is…
- CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™
- Series 7 and Series 63 security exams
- Personal finance, financial planning and investments
- High-net worth individuals