Allow me to introduce the portfolio everyone has--- but that few appreciate. I call it the Personal Decision Portfolio. It's a "portfolio" of decisions that you and I can make that have a major effect on our future security. Unlike the investments decisions that now fill the daily paper, glossy magazines, Internet, and television channels, these decisions are seldom effected by daily events or important pronouncements from persons in high places. At best, all concern about returns on financial assets is irrelevant. At worst, it can have a limited effect.

Add all these decisions together and they can be as important as Social Security, your 401(k) plan, or your corporate pension (if you're going to get one.) All these decisions work to increase retirement income or to reduce retirement expenses. If you can't raise the bridge, lower the water.

  Here's my list. You can probably add to it.

•          Pay off your home mortgage. At the risk of being terribly obvious,               a check you don't have to write is income you don't have to have.               Income you don't have to have is taxes you don't have to pay. As               I've pointed out in many Q&A columns, retirees find that they must               make IRA withdrawals to cover mortgage payments. Those withdrawals,               added to income, make their Social Security benefits taxable. Since               each dollar of additional investment income can make 50 to 85 cents               of a dollar in Social Security benefits subject to federal income               taxes, additional dollars to repay mortgage debt or other forms of               credit are taxed at the equivalent of very high rates. Will it               affect you? Start checking your expected retirement income against               the taxation of Social Security income now.

•          Move to a Smaller Home, Condo, or Apartment. Here's where               downsizing can really help you. Suppose you own a house worth               $180,000, free and clear. It probably costs about $9,000 a year to               maintain even though there is no mortgage. Sell the house, tax-free,               and move to a $90,000 condo and you'll have a $90,000 fund left for               paying the $4,500 annual expenses of the condo. Basically, you'll               have lifetime shelter expenses virtually covered.

•          Move to a Smaller Home or Condo in a Less Expensive Area. Chances               are you can do it without moving very far. But you can also do it               by making a big change. The furthest extreme is to move to another               country. While that may literally seem outlandish, thousands of               Americans now live in Mexico where you can rent a home or condo               inexpensively and gleefully cut your cost of living without               feeling one whit of deprivation. Check the growing list of books               on the subject at your local bookstore. Some people worry about               losing access to Medicare by moving abroad. My personal bet is               that so much access to Medicare will be lost in the next ten years               that medical care for Americans will be a Mexican growth industry.

•          Delay your retirement by a few years: Social Security. This is a               powerful lever. If you were born in 1943 or later, for instance,               each year that you delay retirement beyond full retirement age will               increase your monthly benefit by 8 percent. The same person,               thinking of retiring at 62, would see their benefits reduced by               25 percent from what they would receive at age 66. The decision to               work to age 67 instead of age 62 eliminates years of private               medical insurance expenses and increases Social Security benefits               by 44 percent. Wring your hands over Social Security if you want,               but unless you're earning mega-bucks, chances are Social Security               is a major part of your retirement income.

•          Delay your retirement by a few years: Private Savings and Pensions.               Here's where money and income can really start to grow. The               typical private pension benefit doubles from age 55 to age 65,               implying an annual increase of 7 percent, compounded. During the               same period, additional contributions to a company 401(k) plan can               grow substantially. Suppose, for instance, that your 401(k)               balance is only equal to two years of your income, e.g. your               salary is $60,000 but your balance is $120,000. In that case, a               typical plan with a 50 percent match on the first 6 percent of               payroll would have you able to add 9 percent of income a year or               4.5 percent of the balance in your plan. Add 10 percent for the               return on your account and your annual growth rate will be nearly               15 percent, allowing your plan balance to double in about 5 years.

The biggest returns in life are on tenacity and flexibility. Financial cleverness is barely in the race.