Q. I will be retiring in a year or two and would like to get your recommendation on some reading material that can provide me with some basic information to prepare for the big event. I will be dealing with Social Security, a 401(k), a company pension, and an IRA. My funds are rather modest, so I will not be dealing with millions of dollars. Any recommendations you can give will be appreciated. —G. M., by email
A. A big part of preparation is learning that your retirement isn’t just about investments. With both Social Security and a pension, in fact, your modest IRA/401(k) assets may only provide a small supplement to your other income. As a rough rule of thumb, you can think about taking 4 percent from your financial assets every year.
The rest is about learning to adapt, to feel free, and to enjoy the new flexibility you will have. Everything I’ve seen and read suggests that decisions about how you live, where you live, and what you choose to do are far more powerful than decisions you make about money and investments. Basically, investment decisions are a side show. They are an important side show, but they are not the main event. Focus away from money and you’ll have more ways to deal with the financial side of retirement.
One of my favorite books in this genre is “Get a Life: You don’t need a million to retire well” by Ralph Warner. The book introduces you to people of modest means who are retired, happy, and don’t worry about money.
Another is “Rags to Retirement” by Gail Liberman and Alan Lavine. This book takes you through more stories about people who have retired on surprisingly little.
“Retire on Less than you think”, by Fred Brock, is more systematic and discusses simplifying your life, where you might live, investing your assets, and dealing with health insurance.
“Successful Aging” by John W. Rowe, M.D. and Robert L. Kahn, Ph.D. is a broader book about longevity and our society. It dispels many of the unhappy myths about aging and retirement.
When it comes to investments, short books are essential. William J. Bernstein’s “The Investor’s Manifesto: Preparing for Prosperity, Armageddon, and Everything in Between” is a great start.
Finally, your most precious asset is your health. If you haven’t already started, this is a good time to start learning what you can do to maintain your health better than you did while working.
Q. I am a 53 year old single female. I’m financially stable and looking forward to a partial retirement at 65, or before if possible. (I have a part-time business I enjoy and will keep working at as long as I can).
I am considering adding a life settlement to my retirement portfolio. I have about $100,000 to invest long-term. I have been told by a representative from one company that I could easily double my investment in 4 years. He says they have experienced double-digit returns over 19 consecutive years, with an average of 14 percent.
I like the idea of putting some of my investment dollars in a vehicle that is not correlated to the stock market, especially now in these uncertain times. However, your rule has always been, "if it sounds too good to be true – it probably is". Does this fall into that category? —G.B., Carrollton, Texas
A. It does. The basic problem with life settlements is that this is an unregulated market without real securitization or active trading. Perhaps someday it will be. If so, the first beneficiaries will be the large institutions that can afford to buy large quantities of individual policies and pool the inevitable risks of owning them.
What the people selling these high-margin, high-commission deals are slow to tell you is that you may be on the hook for paying future premiums and that each of those payments and each month of actuarial delay will reduce your return on investment.
Say “Thanks, but no thanks.” Stick with liquid, traded and public investments. When push comes to shove, the anxiety of market ups and downs is far preferable to investments of uncertain value with no ready market.