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Planning for the New Normal Retirement

The need for retirement planning didn’t really exist until well into the 1970s. Up to that point, people worked until age 65, spent a few years in leisure through their life expectancy which was about 69. Many retirees of that era were able to coast into retirement with a cushy pension plan. Over the next few decades, as life expectancy continued to expand, as did the number of years in retirement, financial planners came up with simple rules of thumb for determining how much a person would need at retirement in order to maintain his or her lifestyle.

That’s where the 70 percent rule came from. People were told that they would only need 70 to 80 percent of their pre-retirement income to preserve their lifestyle throughout their golden years. While that may have worked for retirees back in the 1970s and 80s, it could spell disaster for today’s retirees.

It’s not your Grandfather’s Retirement Anymore

Today’s retirees face a whole new set of financial challenges. Many are carrying mortgages and other debt into retirement. Health costs have increased nearly ten-fold. And, because we are living longer these days, health care costs will consume an increasing piece of the retirement budget. About 50 percent of today’s retirees find themselves sandwiched between their own kids, who may still be in college, or struggling to break free of the nest – and their aging parents who may require assistance in their daily living. Some retirees are actually finding that their retirement income needs may be as much as 110 percent of their pre-retirement needs. So much for the rules-of-thumb.

Better to Manage your Risks than your Investments

Today’s retirement savers are finding that there are no certainties in the markets, or in the economy. The only certainties that do exist are the risks they face leading up to and all the way through retirement. The two biggest risks all retirees must confront are longevity risk and inflation risk. Unlike market risk, which can be avoided by simply taking your money out of the market, these two risks are inescapable. And, most people are either unaware of these risks, or have not fully grasped their significance in planning. It seems like decades ago that we experienced any real inflation. And, it has only been in the last couple of decades that the life expectancy rates have been accelerating.

For today’s retirees, longevity risk is a new phenomenon. While people may understand that they can expect to live longer, few realize that age longevity is constantly expanding, meaning that the higher your attainted age, the greater your life expectancy. The risk of longevity is further compounded by the risk of inflation. Even at an average inflation rate of 3 percent, the cost of living will double in 20 years which could put many retirees’ life style in jeopardy.

Retirement as a New Life Cycle

For this reason, most retirees are viewing their golden years not as retirement, but as a new life phase in which earnings from some form of employment or a business may be a necessity. But, who says that is a bad thing. Many people can’t imagine themselves coasting through 30 years of life without being able to apply their skills or knowledge in a meaningful way. For many, it is an opportunity to regenerate themselves through new opportunities and new knowledge. Instead of an ending phase of life, retirement will be looked upon as a new life cycle in and of itself.

The prevailing attitude among a growing number of pre-retirees is that they aren’t going to limit themselves by trading a life of work for a life of leisure; rather they are going to take control and trade in work that they no longer want to do, for work they will really like to do.

Today’s retirees are finding that retirement requires at least as much psychological and emotional preparation as it does financial preparation. So, retirement planning needs to include a thorough assessment of human assets and liabilities along with an assessment of financial assets and liabilities. It is no longer enough for retirees to know how much money they will need to live; they need to know how they will be able to make the most of this new life stage.

By focusing primarily on financial issues, traditional planning reduces retirement to an economic event with its financial objectives marked by a finish line. The dangerous misconception it perpetuates is that, if you hit the finish line, on time and on goal, your planning is done and you’ll have a successful retirement. While it may address the financial goal of creating a sufficient standard of living, it doesn’t address the larger, more important issue of the quality of life.

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