Retirement planning is only one component of a holistic financial plan and although retirement has a higher probability than all the other risk areas, this is the area we find people being the worst prepared for. Retirement doesn’t happen at 65… it happens when you make it happen!
Planning for retirement is much like planning a flight in a light aircraft. Before you embark on this journey you have to check if your aircraft is in a good enough condition to make the trip, what the weather conditions will be like so that they can be used to your favour and that you have enough fuel in your tank to reach your destination.
This process can be compared to going to see a financial adviser and doing the maths. However, as you fly en route to your destination, things are bound to change. You have to constantly measure your progress and adjust your plan. Setting up a retirement plan is therefore only the first step along a protracted journey.
When formulating a plan you should seek a long-term engagement with a financial adviser that you trust to assist you on your path. Here are a couple of pointers to head you in the right direction:
- If you plan on retiring at 65, time and errors in assumptions play havoc with the numbers over such long periods. Therefore, err on the side of caution with your assumptions about life expectancy (longer rather than shorter), retirement age (not later than 65 or your company policy), inflation rate (CPI is too low in my view) and expected returns (use very long term historic numbers and adjust downwards).
- Be specific in your goals. Spend time pondering what you want your life to be like at retirement and plan to reach these goals. Remember though that this plan will need adjusting as you go along.
- Be sure you match your tolerance for risk with your investment strategy. Bad outcomes are often not the result of bad long-term performance of the investment but because of the investor’s reaction to short term volatility.
- Be aware of your costs. There are generally three types of fees on an investment (i.e. fund manager fees, platform administration fees and adviser fees). Make sure you are comfortable that each fee taker is worth their fee by looking at the value proposition of each.
- After five years or so, start using actual money weighted returns instead of projections. There is no sense in projecting at 12% if your actual return over the past five years was 8%. (Some interpretation of the period in question and subsequent returns is obviously required.)
- Ask the adviser to show you the impact of different average growth rates as well as different retirement dates to understand the profound impact changes like these have on your plan. Extending your retirement age from 60 to 65, for example, can completely wipe out a big shortfall. Remember that there are many different approaches to reaching your goals if you are coming up short. Increased contributions is only one of them.
- Think holistically about your planning. You can consider direct shares, unit trusts or property as an alternative investment, if it suits your tolerance for risk/volatility. You would do well to take note of the geographical allocation of your investment too. We find many people’s portfolios are very badly diversified from a geographical perspective.
Most importantly, monitor your progress at least once a year. Not checking whether you are on course or not can have a detrimental effect on your projected plan.
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