Planning to Retire – A Financial Autobiography
I love owning a home. And even better, owning a home free and clear by the time we retire will make our retirement less expensive and more secure. But I personally don't see a home as an investment. It's not diversified and if we depend on the ability to cash in on it then we have to give up our freedom to choose where we live. So for now our goal is to own a home free and clear by the time we retire but not to rely on the equity in the home for living expenses during retirement.
Defined benefit assets are assets that pay out a fixed sum of money, typically until one dies. There are three traditional types of defined benefit assets – Social Security, Pensions and Fixed Annuities. Both Social Security and pensions are basically a form of insurance, the business model is that lots of people 'pay in' but most people die early enough to use their contributions to pay other people's benefits. Well, that was the theory, and it worked just fine until people did the really inconvenient thing and started living too long. In the case of annuities the business model is built more around offering lower than market returns. In either case Marina and I are assuming we will have no defined benefit assets available to us during retirement.
I'm good at obsessing. That's why it was so important for me to understand the limits of what I could know about the future. But in the same sense I also need to understand that the specific plans I make today for how to achieve our retirement will, inevitably change. Thankfully, change in the financial world doesn't come all that quickly.
As I stare at the hundreds of pages of notes, several programs (including a seemingly endless series of discarded macros and source code), numerous spreadsheets, piles of academic articles, endless websites, a shelf full of finance books and of course years of effort, I can't help but think this all would have been a lot simpler if I had just hired a financial planner.
As Bernstein explains in [SWN] just about everything I need to know in order to plan for retirement isn't just unknown, it's unknowable. Geometric average stock returns? Distribution pattern for bond returns? Correlations between stocks and bonds? Nobody knows and it looks like no one actually can know. My solution to this conundrum is relatively straightforward: I guess.
Here are the folks whose shoulders I depend on in writing these articles.
The "Planning To Retire" articles are not intended as an introduction to personal finance or retirement planning. Even if I were qualified to write such an introduction (and I am not), many others have gotten there before me and done, I suspect, a substantially better job than I could have. Therefore below I list specific books that I believe will prepare the reader to understand this series.
Reading books, articles, etc. on retirement planning is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing. To help me make sense of it all I started to write notes. These notes provided details on the what, the how and the why of Marina and my's retirement planning process. As I talked with my friends about the contents of those notes I found that although nobody had exactly the same financial situation as Marina and I, nevertheless, there were more than enough similarities for each of us to learn from the experiences of the other. It was this realization that inspired me to start writing a series of articles on how we have gone about our retirement planning process. This article is the introduction and outline for that series.