Why Simply Saving for Retirement Isn’t Enough? Part 1

The other day I was having lunch with a friend and we were talking about retirement and the services that Her Retirement provides. She mentioned that she’s been very good about saving money in her 401(k) and said, “I’m all set for retirement.”

This comment made me realize that the average person might also believe the same thing. Many people think they’ve worked hard for 20, 30, 40 years and they’ve saved quite a little nest egg. Retirement plan done. No need to do anything further, but keep working until you feel ready to retire and give your boss or your business the boot.

Well folks, sorry to break it to you, but this is NOT a retirement plan. It’s certainly a great start and if you have more than 4x your salary saved and your 50 let’s say, you’re in pretty good shape, savings wise. However, when you move from the accumulation phase of life (pre-retirement) and into the de-accumulation phase (retirement), you need a comprehensive plan that includes sophisticated strategies to protect you from all the inherent risks you’ll face in retirement. There’s so many things that can go wrong in retirement. You MUST be prepared. And the best way to be prepared is to be pro-active…either learning about the risks and methods to minimize them, or work with a retirement specialist like Her Retirement to understand the blind spots and then put fortification around your savings so that it lasts throughout retirement.

With the right plan and strategies, you can not only mitigate risks, but you can actually make your savings last even longer in retirement (up to 10 years or more). In our full Retirement Income Projection Analysis, we show you the impact (and importance) of:

  • Re-allocating your portfolio (to include less risk/safe money options, improve your investment return and significantly reduce fees)
  • Reducing your taxes as close to 0 as possible
  • Maximizing your Social Security filing strategy to get the most money from this critical benefit
  • Determining your most tax efficient withdrawal or draw-down strategy


In our next few series of posts, we’ll dig a little deeper into what can go wrong in retirement and more reasons why simply saving for retirement is not good enough. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we welcome you to learn more and take one of our new e-classes; try our QuickStart Income Calculator/Report, request a complimentary “Am I Ready” assessment or any of our other free or fee-based assessments.

How Much Annual Income Can Your Retirement Portfolio Provide?

Your retirement lifestyle will depend not only on your assets and investment choices, but also on how quickly you draw down your retirement portfolio. The annual percentage that you take out of your portfolio, whether from returns or the principal itself, is known as your withdrawal rate. Figuring out an appropriate initial withdrawal rate is a key issue in retirement planning and presents many challenges.

Why is your withdrawal rate important?

Take out too much too soon, and you might run out of money in your later years. Take out too little, and you might not enjoy your retirement years as much as you could. Your withdrawal rate is especially important in the early years of your retirement; how your portfolio is structured then and how much you take out can have a significant impact on how long your savings will last.

Gains in life expectancy have been dramatic. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, people today can expect to live more than 30 years longer than they did a century ago. Individuals who reached age 65 in 1950 could anticipate living an average of 14 years more, to age 79; now a 65-year-old might expect to live for roughly an additional 19 years. Assuming rising inflation, your projected annual income in retirement will need to factor in those cost-of-living increases. That means you’ll need to think carefully about how to structure your portfolio and your retirement plan to provide an appropriate withdrawal rate, especially in the early years of retirement.

Current Life Expectancy Estimates
At birth76.381.2
At age 6583.085.6

Source: NCHS Data Brief, Number 267, December 2016

Conventional wisdom

So what withdrawal rate should you expect from your retirement savings? The answer: it all depends. The seminal study on withdrawal rates for tax-deferred retirement accounts (William P. Bengen, “Determining Withdrawal Rates Using Historical Data,” Journal of Financial Planning, October 1994) looked at the annual performance of hypothetical portfolios that are continually rebalanced to achieve a 50-50 mix of large-cap (S&P 500 Index) common stocks and intermediate-term Treasury notes. The study took into account the potential impact of major financial events such as the early Depression years, the stock decline of 1937-1941, and the 1973-1974 recession. It found that a withdrawal rate of slightly more than 4% would have provided inflation-adjusted income for at least 30 years.

Other later studies have shown that broader portfolio diversification, rebalancing strategies, variable inflation rate assumptions, and being willing to accept greater uncertainty about your annual income and how long your retirement nest egg will be able to provide an income also can have a significant impact on initial withdrawal rates. For example, if you’re unwilling to accept a 25% chance that your chosen strategy will be successful, your sustainable initial withdrawal rate may need to be lower than you’d prefer to increase your odds of getting the results you desire. Conversely, a higher withdrawal rate might mean greater uncertainty about whether you risk running out of money. However, don’t forget that studies of withdrawal rates are based on historical data about the performance of various types of investments in the past. Given market performance in recent years, many experts are suggesting being more conservative in estimating future returns.

Past results don’t guarantee future performance. All investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investing strategy will be successful.

Inflation is a major consideration

To better understand why suggested initial withdrawal rates aren’t higher, it’s essential to think about how inflation can affect your retirement income. Here’s a hypothetical illustration; to keep it simple, it does not account for the impact of any taxes. If a $1 million portfolio is invested in an account that yields 5%, it provides $50,000 of annual income. But if annual inflation pushes prices up by 3%, more income–$51,500–would be needed next year to preserve purchasing power. Since the account provides only $50,000 income, an additional $1,500 must be withdrawn from the principal to meet expenses. That principal reduction, in turn, reduces the portfolio’s ability to produce income the following year. In a straight linear model, principal reductions accelerate, ultimately resulting in a zero portfolio balance after 25 to 27 years, depending on the timing of the withdrawals.

Volatility and portfolio longevity

When setting an initial withdrawal rate, it’s important to take a portfolio’s ups and downs into account–and the need for a relatively predictable income stream in retirement isn’t the only reason. According to several studies done in the late 1990s and updated in 2011 by Philip L. Cooley, Carl M. Hubbard, and Daniel T. Walz, the more dramatic a portfolio’s fluctuations, the greater the odds that the portfolio might not last as long as needed. If it becomes necessary during market downturns to sell some securities in order to continue to meet a fixed withdrawal rate, selling at an inopportune time could affect a portfolio’s ability to generate future income.

Making your portfolio either more aggressive or more conservative will affect its lifespan. A more aggressive portfolio may produce higher returns but might also be subject to a higher degree of loss. A more conservative portfolio might produce steadier returns at a lower rate, but could lose purchasing power to inflation.

Calculating an appropriate withdrawal rate

Your withdrawal rate needs to take into account many factors, including (but not limited to) your asset allocation, projected inflation rate, expected rate of return, annual income targets, investment horizon, and comfort with uncertainty. The higher your withdrawal rate, the more you’ll have to consider whether it is sustainable over the long term.

Ultimately, however, there is no standard rule of thumb; every individual has unique retirement goals, means, and circumstances that come into play.

More ways to help stretch your savings

  • Don’t overspend early in your retirement
  • Plan IRA distributions so you can preserve tax-deferred growth as long as possible
  • Postpone taking Social Security benefits to increase payments
  • Adjust your asset allocation
  • Adjust your annual budget during years when returns are low

Tax considerations

Prolonging your savings may require attention to tax issues. For example, how will higher withdrawal rates affect your tax bracket? And does your withdrawal rate take into account whether you will owe taxes on that money?

Also, if you must sell investments to maintain a uniform withdrawal rate, consider the order in which you sell them. Minimizing the long-term tax consequences of withdrawals or the sale of securities could also help your portfolio last longer.

Her Retirement affiliates are available to provide complimentary 1-on-1 workshops to review your situation and to provide help in determining how much income your portfolio will provide. He/she can also complete a full Retirement Income Projection Analysis (RIPA) to give you some further insight into how long your current nest egg will last.

When Is 6% Versus 7% a Better Rate of Return???

When utilizing proper Gamma retirement planning strategies an investor can experience significant positive effect when taking income from their retirement portfolio.  Most advisors today don’t employ a Gamma-Optimized strategy

“When it comes to generating retirement income, investors arguably spend most time and effort on selecting ‘good’ investment fund/managers – the so called Alpha decision – as well as the asset allocation, or Beta decision. However, Alpha and Beta are just two elements of a myriad of important financial planning decisions for the average investor, many of which can have a far more significant impact on retirement income.”  -David Blanchette, CFA, CFP , Head of Retirement Research at Morningstar Investment Management and Paul Kaplan , Ph.D., CFA, director of research for Morningstar Canada

A research report written by David Blanchette, CFA, CFP, head of retirement research at Morningstar Investment Management and Paul Kaplan , Ph.D., CFA, director of research for Morningstar Canada entitled;  Alpha, Beta, and Now …Gamma, explains that most retirees and their advisors are still focused on Alpha and Beta planning strategies which focus solely on investment management decisions when developing a retirement income plan. Both Alpha and Beta are statistical portfolio measurements. Alpha (negative or positive) measures manager effect within the portfolio, while Beta measures the risk or volatility of an investment portfolio versus a representative benchmark. Their research and paper concluded that utilizing a new statistical measurement they call Gamma (the effect that different retirement planning variables have on a retirement income plan) can now be confidently utilized for retirement income planning. As they explain, “We estimate a retiree can expect to generate 22.6% more in certainty equivalent income utilizing a Gamma-Efficient retirement income strategy when compared to our base scenario (traditional investment strategy only: Alpha/Beta planning). This addition in certainty-equivalent income has the same impact on expected utility as an annual arithmetic return increase of 1.59%”.

This is certainly an eye opening conclusion to an extremely thorough and riveting research report on Retirement Income Planning that absolutely validates why Her Retirement’s pragmatic and research based approach to retirement income planning works so well. The difference is that Her Retirement has looked at the  research of Blanchette, Kaplan, Finke, Phau, and Milevsky, as well as many others over the years, and developed a pragmatic approach that incorporates many of the same principles and strategies for maximizing a retirees’ retirement outcome.

Volatility and Sequence of Return Risk Must Be Part of the Equation

As a quick reference, recent research has indicated that when a retiree begins to take income from their portfolio it’s imperative to reduce volatility in the portfolio in order to increase the portfolio’s survival rate. The evidence concludes that for any stated rate of return, the portfolio with the lowest volatility will survive the longest when taking income from the portfolio. On the converse, the portfolio with the highest volatility will suffer portfolio failure the quickest.  With this knowledge, we constructed a portfolio to statistically reduce risk, to the greatest extent possible, while offering the highest return for that risk. Our recommendation was to utilize a moderate portfolio consisting of 50% diversified stocks and a 50% position in Equity Index Annuities (EIAs) linked to various globally diversified indexes.

In addition, a major risk that must be calculated to assess its effect on a retirement projection is Sequence of Return Risk. This is the risk that a portfolio will suffer major losses in the early years of retirement. This event would be known as “negative” Sequence of Return Risk and would have a negative effect on the survival rate of the portfolio (i.e. the portfolio would have a much shorter lifespan and a retiree would run out of money far sooner). On the converse, there is “positive” Sequence of Return Risk where the portfolio has tremendous upside growth in the early years or retirement. In a positive sequence of return environment a retirement portfolio would experience much greater potential portfolio survival (i.e. the portfolio would last much longer while taking income from the portfolio).

An “average” Sequence of Return Risk is a market environment where there is average or lower overall volatility in the portfolio which would give the portfolio moderate survival ability while taking income from the portfolio.

In summary, depending on the market environment (negative, positive or average) what the retiree experiences early in their income phase will have a direct effect on the portfolio survival rate…even with identical portfolio returns over the long term.  A retirement income projection analysis must calculate the effect Sequence of Return Risk has on the long term survivability of a retirement portfolio. This will assure the highest probability of portfolio survival based upon the income strategy employed.

Based upon the below retirement projection, one can see how the practical application and effect  of a Gamma-Efficient retirement income strategy can have greater impact on income when compared to a traditional Alpha Beta strategy that is employed by most retirees and advisors today.  In this recently completed retirement projection for a new client we found the following:

After projecting the client’s traditional Alpha Beta retirement strategy (the “before” scenario), we reallocated the client’s current 80% diversified stock and 20% diversified bond portfolio to a more conservative allocation that would offer less return, but would dramatically reduce the portfolio’s volatility, while also offering reasonable growth potential.  The client’s retirement projection variable was reset to the “new” reallocated portfolio and the results of the “before and after” are quite compelling.

The Results Speak for Themselves

The retirement projection assumptions utilized for this analysis were as follows:

Rate of Return Estimates –
Global Stock Portfolio @ 8% net
Global Bond Portfolio @ 3% net
Equity Index Annuity @ 4% net

Current Portfolio at 80% global stocks and 20% bonds = 7% melded return estimate (net)
Proposed Portfolio at 50% global stocks and 50% EIAs = 6% melded return estimate (net)

Additional Assumptions –

The client is currently 53 years old and preparing to retire at age 62 with a net retirement income need of $5,000 per month. We inflated her income needs at a 3% adjustment per year beginning immediately in the projection.  Her current portfolio is valued at $450,107. She also has a small pension that will begin at age 65 paying her $11,124 annually. As well, the client will begin taking Social Security income at age 62 in the amount of $2,473 per month with a 2% cost of living pay increase per year. The client also has $25,000 per year rental income. We increased the rental property income at 1% cost of living adjustment. The analysis will also assume a marginal tax rate of 17%.

All these assumptions and variables were entered into our Retirement Income Projection Analysis (RIPA) system and here are the results:

The Results – Results presented on both a negative and average Sequence of Return environment

Negative Sequence:
Current Scenario – Age 90 Client Runs Out of Money
Proposed Scenario – Age 90 Client has $818,887

Average Sequence:
Current Scenario – Age 95 Client has $1,355,620
Proposed Scenario – Age 95 Client has $1,625,598

As we see by the above results, it’s imperative to develop a strategy that will utilize risk reducing investment vehicles to assure an income portfolio’s survival over the long term. Traditional stock and bond growth strategies employed by most are not enough. A Gamma-Efficient portfolio strategy must be utilized to assure the highest probability of portfolio survival.

Why 6% is better than 7%?

A new paradigm needs a new strategy:  growth vs. income planning; Alpha Beta planning vs. Alpha Beta and Gamma strategies to generate a better retirement outcome.

As Blanchette & Kaplan explain, “Alpha and Beta are at the heart of traditional performance analysis; however, as we demonstrate, they are just one of the many important financial planning decisions, such as savings and withdrawal strategies, that can have a substantial impact on the retirement outcome for an investor.”

The above “current vs. proposed” is a very real and very typical scenario with many retirees. In most, if not all cases, the results will be the same… math is math and there’s really not much debate in how numbers calculate. This is an important and valuable outcome scenario where a combined stock and equity index annuity portfolio (generating a 6% return) is clearly better than a stock and bond portfolio (with a 7% return).

We have witnessed clients that are “annuity phobic” due to all the media’s misinformation and hype, as well as the all stock proponents who wrongfully claim that all annuities are too expensive.  We’ve also witnessed clients that are “stock phobic” due to more rhetoric about how one can lose all their money in the stock market and stocks are no place for retirees to invest due to the risk. We purport that the best approach is a combination approach (based on research and factual numbers, not hearsay).

We also suggest several additional Gamma strategies/products to further increase the portfolio’s life expectancy:

Single Premium Immediate Annuities (SPIAs)
Dynamic Withdrawal vs. Traditional Static Withdrawal
Sound Social Security planning with sophisticated Social Security timing software

At Her Retirement we focus on the same five important financial planning decisions/techniques as suggested by Blanchette & Kaplan’s Alpha, Beta and now…Gamma research:

1) A total wealth framework to determine the optimal asset allocation
2) A dynamic withdrawal strategy
3) Guaranteed income products (i.e., annuities)
4) Tax efficient allocation decisions
5) Portfolio optimization that includes a proxy for the investor’s implicit and/or explicit liabilities

“We believe retirees deserve an investment and income planning experience that is founded on long-term, research and evidence-based results NOT rhetoric.  And we’re committed to providing this for them.” -Her Retirement