Here is a question for you: “How much have you thought about retirement?”
I hope you answered: “A lot.”
According to experts, that would mean that you are also planning for retirement, which in turn means that you are likely to take the steps necessary to prepare for retirement.
This was one of the questions posed in last week’s quiz, which was created by Annamaria Lusardi and Olivia Mitchell, authors of “How Ordinary Consumers Make Complex Economic Decisions: Financial Literacy and Retirement Readiness,” published in the 2017 Quarterly Journal of Finance.
Most of you who took the quiz last week had the right answer: 87% of you thought about retirement a lot, compared with only 26.5% in the national study reported by Lusardi and Mitchell.
If you did not have a chance to test yourself or if you would like to see the composite results for those who already took the quiz, go to juliejason.com/surveys.
What’s the next step for thinkers and planners?
First, set a tone. I suggest caution and “healthy skepticism.” The reason: Simply put, after retiring, you and your employer stop funding your retirement plan, such as your 401(k). If you make bad investment decisions (however you define them) before retiring, you have some time to make up for them.
After you stop working, things are different. No new money is coming in to your 401(k). Missteps have greater impact and become more difficult to repair. In the worst case, a wrong decision may find you starting a job search at age 70 or 75.
Every potential retiree faces this issue simply because retirement is usually a once-in-a-lifetime event. Since we learn to invest experientially, trial and error has to be kept to a minimum. That’s why planning is so important at this point in time.
Second, don’t start with investment ideas; think about yourself first.
Before doing anything else, contemplate how you will be using your retirement account in the future. As a start, consider two possibilities. Is this money you will need to pay your bills in retirement? Or is this extra money that you want to leave as a legacy to your children, grandchildren or charity?
If you will need to live on your retirement account, you must structure your 401(k) portfolio for income production that will increase over time to offset inflation. If you do not have experience in structuring a portfolio in this manner, now is not the time to experiment. This is a very serious matter since you do not want to make irreparable mistakes with money you will not be replacing through additional payroll deductions.
If you are growing your retirement account for legacy purposes, then you have a little more leeway. The account will be bigger or smaller depending on how well you invest, but at least your own lifestyle will not be affected. For legacy purposes, don’t forget to review new 2020 beneficiary rules under the SECURE Act. (If you missed my column on the topic, please email me at email@example.com.)
Third, if you need your retirement accounts to supplement your retirement income, you will find a wealth of online information to help you and thousands of financial professionals to guide you.
Next week, let’s talk about those resources. In the meantime, send me questions or stories about your experiences finding the right kind of help at this stage of your investment life cycle. Let me know what’s on your mind by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or taking the retirement preparation survey at juliejason.com/surveys or surveymonkey.com/r/RetirementPrep.