For 60 years, boomers have done it their way, so why stick with tradition for retirement?
It's no secret that many baby boomers' retirements will be underfunded, requiring these clients to develop creative retirement lifestyles to keep themselves solvent.
Let's look at a relatively typical boomer profile for Mary Gibson, CFP, of San Juan Bautista, Calif.: a client with a modest amount of employer retirement plan savings who will be highly dependent upon Social Security and/or inheritances, who lacks any life insurance other than a company group plan, who's recently refinanced a mortgage leaving little chance of paying it off prior to retirement, and who's overwhelmed by the fear of health care costs draining his meager resources.
So where is an advisor like Gibson to start in helping this client overcome these odds? Getting back to basics is usually the best place. An individual client is, after all, like a small business. If a small business was in trouble, you would look for ways to cut costs, enhance revenues and tap overlooked resources. Planning for the boomer with an uncertain future is no different.
In fact, advisors' planning strategies suggest four boomer lifestyles that will emerge to adjust for prior excesses: Working Till They Drop, Moving on Down, Getting Back to the '60s and Holding Them Accountable.
Working Till They Drop
"I see a major change in retirement plans for many boomers I advise, which is an intention to keep working long beyond regular retirement years," says Dr. Steven Podnos of Wealth Care LLC in Merritt Island, Fla. "Some plan to slow down in their current occupation and others are thinking about new careers."
Podnos, who just turned 50, should know. He and his wife switched careers several years ago-he from medical doctor to financial advisor, she from surgeon to impressionist painter. Realizing he couldn't afford to retire, Podnos says he'll work indefinitely, but in a profession that's new and exciting. Working indefinitely is something most doctors and virtually all surgeons can't do.
Steve Weydert, an advisor with Bowyer, Weydert Wealth Planning Partners in Park Ridge, Ill., concurs. "A new career in retirement should be viewed as an opportunity to be choosier about the kind of work you'll spend your time doing and to pursue or develop new interests," he says. "It really should be fun. For example, there will be the 'big kid' who parlays an interest in sports, movies or hobbies into some fun and satisfying part-time work. Lots of boomers will redefine retirement in this way."
Another variation on this trend will be knowledge workers who retire from jobs working for large corporate or government employers. Says Elaine Scoggins of Scoggins Financial LLC in Tampa, Fla., "I'm seeing boomers turn their skills and knowledge gained from lifelong employment into consulting income. Most work long enough to qualify for full pension benefits and, in their late fifties or early sixties, they turn to consulting." Scoggins sees these clients trading in their 60-hour workweeks for home-based businesses.
Yet, money isn't the only motivating force. Advisors we spoke to say boomers differ from earlier generations in that they want to keep working-because, as Podnos says, "I realized I needed to keep productive and busy to be happy."
If there's a cautionary note in any of this it might be that the workplace may not be ready for a gray-haired work force trending well into its seventies and even eighties. Then again, if boomers form a majority of this work force, is there really a problem?
Moving On Down
Unlike the Jeffersons of sitcom fame, many boomers' greatest asset-home equity-will cause them to downsize their housing and, in so doing, find financial salvation.
Bert Whitehead of Cambridge Connection Inc. in Franklin, Mich., describes this simple but effective strategy: "Move to another city and buy a home half the value of the one you live in." Going from Michigan to Tucson, for example, Whitehead says a client can get the same square feet of living space for half the price. "And a client's monthly living expenses are very closely correlated with their cost of housing," he adds.
The "moving on down" phenomenon is particularly effective for clients living in larger cities with bubbling real estate prices. Mark Rylance with RS Crum Inc. knows this first-hand as someone who works in Newport Beach, Calif. "We see a lot of people selling a Southern California residence and moving out of state to places like Oregon, Arizona and Idaho."
And Rylance helps them make these moves. One of his clients with a $3.1 million net worth, $1.2 million of which was their residence, worried Rylance when the retirement withdrawal they required approached 6%-4% seemed to him a much more comfortable and sustainable withdrawal rate.
"They sold their house, netted $1.2 million, and purchased for cash a brand new house out of state for $700,000," says Rylance. The remaining $500,000 went into the client's investment account. "Their spending dropped by $20,000 and their investment income rose by $20,000. The net result was a change in withdrawal rate from 6% to 4%, which is much more manageable."
Getting Back To The '60s
Some of my own boomer friends have theorized that many less-prepared brethren may end up back in communal housing reminiscent of our developmental years-the '60s. That's not such a far-fetched idea, says Alan Lavine who, along with wife Gail Liberman wrote "Rags to Retirement" (Alpha Books, 2003).
In their chapter, "Victor and Ruth Barnard: Livening Up the Neighborhood," Lavine and Liberman describe three forms of "intentional communities" under experimentation by boomers and other retirees. It's not just 1960s' types who are embracing this living format; some retired military officer's families are as well. These include "Co-Housing," "Commune-Style Housing," and "Shared-Living Residence Programs."
Co-housing communities are usually clusters of homes facing each other to encourage contact among neighbors, who often share meals and other activities in a common house. Generally, homes are smaller than what residents may have lived in previously, and occupants come together based upon explicit common values. (For more information, visit www.cohousing.org.)
Commune-style housing differs not so much in its physical aspect but in the fact that residents may follow a common spiritual path and even share income. Shared-living residences are smaller-scale affairs with three or more unrelated people living in one home and sharing common areas (as some of us boomers did in college).
The challenge in all of these arrangements is setting up policies and procedures everyone can live with. Once that hurdle is crossed, the financial benefits can be substantial.
Holding Them Accountable
Linda Leitz of Pinnacle Financial Concepts Inc. in Colorado Springs, Colo., often sees couples who don't think seriously about saving for retirement until their forties or fifties and, in the worst of cases, must make dramatic lifestyle changes. "They [not only] need to downsize their house and get a low, fixed mortgage payment, they need to replace their [luxury] cars with more sensible ones and, if the their adult children are looking to them for financial bail-outs, the clients need to take a tough love approach." Continuing to work into their seventies, if health permits, will be a certainty for these clients. In other words, this lifestyle will be one of pinching pennies.
Some of these clients will see the light of their precarious situation and take measures of their own accord. Says Scoggins, "I see clients who have managed to build up some kind of nest egg for retirement as reluctant to start drawing down on the money they've amassed. With projections for low returns in the coming decade, they realize that the longer they can keep that nest egg untouched, the more it will carry them through the many years left of their life span."
Of course, the gains from cost-cutting can be helped along by creative investing, too. Many advisors opt for guaranteed-income products, which hold the client accountable to a predictable, but limited, income stream. But is this the right approach?
Dan Danford of the Family Investment Center in St. Joseph, Mo., believes boomers need financial flexibility to manage a successful retirement. "Insurance and other companies are actively developing and marketing fixed-annuity products for this group. From my viewpoint, the last thing the average boomer needs is to lock in a payment they'll be forced to live with for another 30 years!" Danford, himself a boomer, adds, "Would any of us want to live in the same house we bought 30 years ago? If we had developed a budget 30 years ago, could we have envisioned new cars costing $30,000 apiece, or gasoline at almost $3 a gallon? Would we want the same income?"
In other words, Danford cautions against having clients reach irrevocable retirement decisions today that they'll be regretting many years from now. Which is why Whitehead uses a bond laddering strategy. "Starting with the year the client retires, we try to create an income stream from their bonds, plus their Social Security and any pensions, that gives them the same cash flow they were accustomed to prior to retirement."
The big advantage, says Whitehead, is a psychological one. With the bond ladder as a safety net, the clients can afford to take more risk in the rest of their portfolios and feel comfortable with those risks, as Whitehead says was true of his clients during the down market of 2000-2002.
Of course, all of this assumes the client has enough money to begin with. Our entire premise is that boomers are in trouble. But should this, too, be reexamined? Bedda D'Angelo of Fiduciary Solutions in Durham, N.C., thinks so. "I've worked with boomers my entire career. About ten years ago, just about the time my own unsolicited offer of AARP membership came in the mail, my clients began asking me if they could quit working. At that time, they couldn't because they were still paying off mortgages and putting kids through college. But that has all changed."
The reasons, says D'Angelo, are that many boomers have substantial home equity, some have sizable 401(k) balances and/or inheritances, most have shepherded kids through college and married off their children, and boomers will be eligible for Social Security. "Many are very happy to downsize to a less complex lifestyle, which also reduces expenses. In truth, most have enough."
Bottom line? We can prognosticate as much as we want, but only time will tell exactly how boomers will fare as a generation in retirement. Nevertheless, it's reasonable to suppose these lifestyle trends will not be uncommon.
David J. Drucker, M.B.A., CFP, an independent financial advisor since 1981, now writes, speaks, and consults with other advisors as president of Drucker Knowledge Systems.