Early retirement is a wonderful dream, but in some cases that ends up being a nightmare. So let’s looks at some common pitfalls of planning for early retirement.
1) Underestimating expenses. It’s amazing how during your working left you get use to your lifestyle that you tend to forget about certain items like health benefits, replacing your car, your water heater, roof and the list goes on. When your planning for an additional 20 years of retirement you better make sure you check your expense list twice. One way to plan for this is to make sure when you go into retirement that everything is new or that you have planned for an extra replacement money. So for cars and houses a good minimum is $2000/year extra expense to cover those unusual expenses.
2) Not having any margin of safety on your calculations. It’s nice to hope that things turn out just the way you plan, but let’s face it, life doesn’t work that way. So you better leave some wiggle room when doing the math. In my case I drop my expected rate of return by an extra 1%. Some people like to boost their expenses by an additional 10%. Either way works out fine, but you do want to have some cushion there.
3) Not enough diversification in your investments. In order to avoid having your retirement savings go up in smoke you need to make sure you can suffer some serious damage to your savings. The solution is to avoid putting all your nest eggs in one basket. You most likely want a conservative mix once you get near retirement, but not too conservative that inflation takes you down in twenty years. So you most likely want a high interest savings account, bonds/CD’s, at least one REIT and a mix of other equities in Canada, US and the world.
4) Forgetting about taxes. Knowing your Canada or US tax law is required to build a good portfolio as much as diversification. For Canadians you need to know about the three types of investment income and how each is taxed.
5) Unrealistic expectations. You can’t travel the world and live in five star resorts and leave work at 30. Ok, perhaps one in 13 million can, but I know that isn’t me and most likely not you.
6) Emotional considerations. Some people do all the math and planning but forget one thing. What are you going to do with all that time? So they end up bored and go back to work. My question is what’s the point of saving if you don’t have a plan for your activities in retirement! Early on in your planning you want to start considering this. After all you don’t want to forget about enjoying your life now and you also want to ensure you will continue to enjoy your life in early retirement.
On my personal library shelf I have built up a small collection of some of my favorite retirement planning books. Out of all of these the one I like the best so far has been Stop Working – Start Living by Dianne Nahirny.
Dianne retired at age 36 and during her working life never made much of a salary (around $20,000/year), but she did make good money off a few house deals. She left the working world with a net worth of just $225,000. So the obvious question is with such a low net worth how is she financially independent? That is the lesson of the book: control your costs or they will control you.
Her book has two parts, the first part focuses on attitudes around money and how she came to her freedom day. More than anything what I was left with was the idea was to control your day to day spending and stop wasting money on things that don’t mean anything to you (ie: your power bill). That way you feel fine spending money on those luxury items you really want. In Dianne’s case, it was things like a antique gold locket, fur coat and a trip to Europe on the Concorde.
The second half of the book gets down to how to control your money. Some her examples are a bit extreme for my taste, but it proves the point. If your creative there is little no end in sight on ways to avoid costs and save money. The added bonus to her methods is you will be a kinder to the earth as you waste fewer resources. Which is exactly how I view it. I’m not saving the planet with low wattage light bulbs, I’m saving a few bucks and now have a $40/month power bill, so I’m taking that savings and building up to buy a new LCD TV.
Well it appears I inspired the Canadian Capitalist to dig out his pencil and do some calculations on his early retirement. He came up needing $1.36 million to leave the working world at age 55. Which to me proves assumptions are everything when it comes to retirement calculations. So for full disclosure on my previous posts (Part I, Part II and Part III) here is what I assumed.
1) That I will collect CPP at age 60 and that I will generate no more CPP contributions after I turn 45.
2) That OAS will exist in some form or another program will take it place to ensure I don’t starve to death as a senior when I turn 65.
3) That all my calculations were done in today’s dollars.
4) Which is why you will notice my assumed rate of return was around 5% for most of my calculations. To date my RRSP has been around 8% interest, so I cut out 2% for inflation and left 1% as a buffer for things to go wrong, except for my wife’s investment account, since it is structured as being more aggressive.
5) I only used a 4% safe withdrawal rate on my work pension calculation. The reason is that the 4% rate is intended to be used for those who want to preserve most of their capital. For my early retirement, I intend to use up almost all of my capital. So for my RRSP’s I assumed a 5% withdrawal rate.
Those are all technical assumptions, which can very from person to person depending on your comfort level with the government and your investments.
The single biggest factor in determining all those numbers is: what do you want to have for an income? For me I chose a very low number compared to a lot of people’s comfort level ($25,000/year for two people). Yet that number is perfect for me. My current lifestyle is very cheap for the most part. I like to garden (which reduces food costs), cook(again reduce food costs), read books (free from the library), write (ok there is some power cost to run the computer) and watch movies (again mostly from the library, but also borrow from friends). My low number offers me something that can’t be bought otherwise: time.
So if you plan a retirement with golf every day and trips around the world every three months you will need a lot of money, but if your looking just for more time with friends, family and to develop new hobbies or revisit old ones you might want to have a look again at the high income number.
I know that if I retire at 45 that I will be taking a risk, that the markets could crash or the government cuts my benefits. Yet, the reward for that risk is another 10 years of good health to do what I want is worth it to me.