Tips For Maintaining Flexibility In Retirement

By Kim Bridges

Your financial status in retirement is dependent on a number of factors, including available resources, economic and market conditions, and level of expenses. Some of these factors are within our control, and some are not. Since there isn’t much we can do to alter factors beyond our control, such as the inflation rate or asset class returns, the best strategy for planning for uncertainty is to maintain flexibility in as many factors as possible.

1. PLAN YOUR RETIREMENT BEFORE RETIRING – People tend to underestimate the assets needed to fund their lifestyle for a 30-40 year retirement, and many early retirees fail to factor in the cost of health insurance that is most often self-funded until Medicare benefits kick in. It’s wise to review scenarios before retiring to determine if you really are ready financially.

2. LIVE BELOW YOUR MEANS — BEFORE AND DURING RETIREMENT – We’ve all heard the expression, “live within your means,” but to retain maximum flexibility to adjust for unplanned expenses, it’s vitally important to follow this advice. Overhead expenses of maintaining a home can create a rapid cash burn if not kept in check. Be sure you live in a home that, to the extent possible, is easily affordable (including the taxes and upkeep) and does not cause you to stretch your income. Living below your means implies that you not only have adequate income to cover your expenses, but that you have “wiggle room” for contingencies.

3. DEVELOP MULTIPLE STREAMS OF INCOME WHEN POSSIBLE – In running countless retirement models, I have found those least affected by contingencies, such as reduced returns or increased expenses, are most likely to have multiple streams of income. Non-portfolio income includes pensions, Social Security, deferred compensation, annuities, rental income, royalties, gifts, trust distributions, and so forth.

4. MINIMIZE FIXED EXPENSES DURING RETIREMENT – Fixed expenses, such as mortgage and car payments, reduce flexibility in retirement. By eliminating all possible debt prior to retirement, you give yourself more wiggle room to reduce your portfolio withdrawals in years of poor market performance or to accommodate higher health care expenses.

5. MAINTAIN YOUR HUMAN CAPITAL – This advice applies mainly to those in their earning years and early phase of retirement. During any absences from the workforce, it’s important to keep up with the education and skills that make you employable. If hard times hit, you will want to have the flexibility to return to the workforce.

6. DELAY TAKING SOCIAL SECURITY AND PENSION BENEFITS The longer you wait to take Social Security (up to age 70), the higher the benefit you will receive. The same holds true for most pensions. If you or your spouse expects to live beyond age 80, you will usually be financially better off by postponing the receipt of your benefits to get the higher amount. This additional income may be vital to the surviving spouse as well.

7. CHOOSE A WELL-DIVERSIFIED PORTFOLIO AND CONSIDER YOUR TOLERANCE FOR RISK While we can’t control economic and market conditions, we can protect ourselves from wild variations by holding a well-diversified portfolio that accommodates our risk tolerance. Diversification means strategically spreading your assets across various asset classes (such as cash, stocks, bonds, real estate and alternative investments) in a manner which produces the lowest level of risk for a projected level of return. Since asset classes behave differently under various market conditions, it is important to have a good mix and avoid overweighting a particular asset class.

8. BUILD LONG-TERM CARE EXPENSES INTO YOUR PLAN According to AARP Public Policy Institute, two-thirds of people over 65 will need some form of long-term care. With average annual costs of nearly $78,000/year for a private room in a nursing home (growing at 5% annually), failure to plan for a long-term care contingency can be a costly mistake. Many people mistakenly believe that long-term care expenses will be covered by Medicare; however, Medicare limits coverage to 100 days of care in a skilled nursing facility following a three-day hospital stay. It does not cover the costs of ongoing care. Those costs must be self-funded.

9. BE TAX-WISE AND FOLLOW A LONG-TERM TAX STRATEGY – The best way to prepare for uncertainty in future tax rates is to diversify your portfolio across tax categories and employ a long-term tax strategy. You can diversify by holding assets in taxable, tax-deferred, and tax free accounts. Each provides advantages under certain tax situations, and holding assets in all categories will allow you to make adjustments in your withdrawals to adapt to changes in the tax environment.

10. NURTURE RELATIONSHIPS WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS Good relationships with family and friends are priceless. When times get tough, they are the ones who will stand by our side and give strength. Whether an unplanned event involves disability, divorce, death, downsizing or some other financial or emotional shock, we may need to turn to family and friends for support. Fostering strong, healthy relationships will enrich our lives and provide us support during times of trial.

Kim Bridges is a financial planner for M&I Wealth Management, a part of BMO Financial Group. The firms offer a comprehensive range of wealth management services for high-net-worth individuals and families. Learn more: