Getting clients to invest more and spend less is easier said than done.
Kathy Dollard knows first-hand about the need to save more and spend less from both sides of the advisory fence. To help keep retirement and education savings goals on track, her family has embarked on a moderated spending plan since her husband was laid off from his job earlier this year.
They're foregoing expensive vacations in favor of day trips to Cape Cod, and spending time with friends in Maine. In an effort to cut their clothing expenditures in half from its year-ago level, Dollard, a CFP licensee, has assigned her two teenage children a monthly clothing budget. "It's funny how giving them a fixed amount to spend has helped them recognize when they really need something, and when they don't," she observes wryly.
If only she could bring that lesson home to some clients at her Boxborough, Mass.-based firm, Nashoba Financial Planning. Like other financial advisors interviewed for this story, Dollard finds that, despite serious discussions and computer-generated illustrations about the shortfalls they face if they don't get serious about saving and investing more, some people just can't curb their spending enthusiasm enough to get the job done. "One of the hardest things I have to do as a financial planner," she says, "is to convince people of the need to change their lifestyles."
Dollard is not alone in her observation. Judging from this country's mounting credit card debt and abysmally low savings rate, living beyond one's means never died with the 1980s; it just found its roots and quietly continued to blossom. During the 1990s, individuals could spend freely while feeling secure in the illusion that soaring stock market returns would bridge the gap left by sloppy saving habits. Now, without the safety net of those returns to fall back on, the gamble has gotten much riskier.
Even a severe and sudden blow like a layoff doesn't always prompt a reality check, at least initially. "Some clients who've been laid off strongly resist giving up luxuries, even at the expense of long-term savings plans," says John Moshides of Moshides Financial Planning Group in Buffalo, N.Y. "They try to hold on to a lifestyle longer than they should."
Those hit by layoffs aren't the only ones affected. From individuals hoping to retire early, to parents facing crushing tuition bills in a few years, to retirees who just can't fathom the possibility that they might outlive their savings, the need to bite the spending bullet crosses virtually all lines of class and age.
Moshides knows several wealthy physicians approaching retirement age who buy life and disability insurance through him, but have chosen to manage their own money. "These guys were day traders in the 1990s," he says. "I saw them make ten times their original investment, only to have it come crashing down. I can think of at least five examples of fortunes made and lost within a few short years." Although he hasn't discussed the situation in detail with them, he draws the inevitable and obvious conclusion that they will have to work longer or accept a lower standard of living.
Like other financial advisors, Moshides uses charts and illustrations to show people how much they need to save. But he is also careful to stop short of pushing the point past a client's comfort level. "If someone is intent on taking money out of a retirement account to pay country club dues, there is not much you can say to change his mind," he says. Besides, he adds, a client may have extenuating financial circumstances he is not aware of that permit such financial leeway.
Such leeway usually is not an option for many retired clients of Cathy Pareto of Investor Solutions in Miami. "Sure, we break out the software and drill out reports," she says. "But once you've reached retirement age and have created a certain standard of living, it can be tough to scale back even if the numbers say you should."
Some clients go through a kind of sticker shock when Pareto tells them that tidy six-figure accounts they've worked a lifetime for won't necessarily provide for an elaborate lifestyle for 20 years or more. She recalls one husband and wife in their early seventies, with a balanced portfolio of about $340,000, who recently bought a new Lincoln Town Car and joined an expensive country club against her advice. "In the end, it's their money," she says. "I'll make the point, but I won't resort to scare tactics."