There are a lot of risks that we face in retirement (including early retirement). When you enter retirement, there are lots of changes happening all at once. Along with big personal changes, and lifestyle changes, there are also big changes happening to your finances. After you enter retirement one of the biggest financial changes you’ll face is a shift from a regular income source (eg. employment) to an income source based entirely on your own savings and pension. Making this switch can create a few risks, one of those risks is the risk of running out of money.
One of the biggest risks facing retirees is something called sequence of returns risk. When a good portion of your retirement income comes from your own savings this is the biggest risk a retiree can face. But what does “sequence of returns risk” mean exactly?
Before we talk about sequence of returns risk it’s important to understand that most retirement plans are based on an assumed (and constant) investment return each year. This investment return is usually assumed to happen in a straight line with the same percentage return each year. An assumed return of return of 5% would be 5% per year starting on the day you retire, but in reality your investment return is going to fluctuate from year to year, and this is where the risk comes from.
Over the short-term you will probably see your investment return fluctuate greatly from year to year. Instead of seeing investment returns of +5%, +5%, +5%, +5%, +5%, you might see +20%, +2%, -10%, +15%, +1%. In this case the average return is still +5%, but there were some huge swings from year to year. “Sequence of returns risk” refers to this sequence, the actual investment returns you see year after year.
The big risk for retirees happens when the sequence is negative for a few years in a row. Even if average investment returns recover over the long-term, that short period of negative returns can have a devastating effect on a retiree’s portfolio.
Rebalancing is one of those simple things that investors should do at least once per year. Rebalancing your investment portfolio can have a really positive impact on your long-term returns. Not rebalancing your portfolio can lead to some nasty consequences that we definitely want to avoid.
Rebalancing regularly will keep your portfolio’s risk level on target. Rebalancing can also help you avoid a lot of behavioural biases that can impact investor returns. And good rebalancing rules will help you buy-low and sell-high (which is exactly what we want right?!)
For small, medium, or large portfolio’s rebalancing should happen at least once per year. We rebalance three times per year in January, May and September. We do this as part of our tri-annual financial check-in. It’s easy to do and very beneficial. Rebalancing your portfolio can help increase your long-term investment returns and at the same time decrease your risk.
We’ve had two major rebalances in the last 5 years. During the last large decrease in Canadian equities we had to sell bonds to buy Canadian stocks. And more recently, after a big increase in stock market values, we had to sell equities to buy more bonds. Now after the recent changes in the market we will probably need to rebalance our portfolio again.
Rebalancing is something we look forward to, we know that rebalancing is a good thing for the reasons listed below. When we rebalance it means our investment plan is working the way it should and it’s a good indication that we’re on track for our long-term plan.
Investing is one of the best ways to build wealth. When you invest, you buy small a piece of a company and become part owner. And as a part owner of that company you get to share in the profit that they create. This profit can be distributed to shareholders in the form of cash dividends every few months (ie. Coke) or it can be invested back into the company to help it grow even faster (ie. Netflix).
When you invest you put your money to work. Rather than letting your money sit in a high-interest savings account, where it does next to nothing (earning minimal interest, sometimes less than inflation) instead, you give your money a real job.
When you invest, you get a higher return but this return isn’t for free. A higher return comes with higher risk. Investing is risky. When you invest it’s possible to lose a big chunk of your savings over a few years, months, or even days. The benefit is that over the long run you can earn a better return than your bank account, and this is important when you have long-term goals like financial independence or retirement (Note: you should never invest when you’re saving for short-term goals, for short-term goals a high interest savings account or GIC are the best options).
Related: My biggest financial mistake
What is the best way to invest? That depends on your specific circumstances. It depends on how much time you have, how involved you want to be, and how much you want to pay in fees etc. Investing today is easier than ever. There are new and easy ways to invest in a highly-diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds.
Which method you choose will depend on a few factors…
Financial independence is a goal for many people. Financial independence is when work becomes optional. It’s when your investments are large enough to support your annual spending indefinitely, without the need for employment income. Reaching financial independence frees you from the typical work/money/time equation. When you reach financial independence you no longer have to trade your time for money.
How much you need to reach financial independence is different for everyone, but the quick and most common metric is 25 times your annual spending. Once you reach this level of savings and investments (not including your home) you can withdraw 4% of your portfolio indefinitely. With the right portfolio your investments will grow enough each year to pay you 4% of the original principal and still keep up with inflation.
Taxes are obviously a big consideration when growing your investments. Tax free growth allows your investments to grow faster and lets you hit your goals earlier.
In Canada we have two main accounts that provide tax free growth, the TFSA and RRSP. With the TFSA you pay tax now but don’t pay tax later. With the RRSP you don’t pay tax now, but you do pay tax later. Regardless of when you pay the tax, the investment growth within an RRSP or a TFSA is tax free. Using your TFSA and your RRSP to its full potential means you can hit financial independence much faster.
In this post I’m going to break away from the typical personal finance blog post. I’m not going to share a tip. This isn’t going to be some humble brag about how much money I’ve saved. It’s going to be quite the opposite actually. In this post I’m going to share with you my biggest financial mistake. One that cost me over 5-figures.
As a fee-for-service financial planner it’s somewhat embarrassing. Not many people know this story. This happened almost ten years ago, before I learnt everything I know about personal finance. I could have saved myself a lot of stress had I known what I know now. For that reason, I’m going to share my big secrete with you and I hope it inspires you to learn more about personal finance.
I’m going to share with you my biggest financial mistake and then I’m going to break down each of the mistakes I made… because like any BIG mistake there was more than one.
Bonds seem like a really boring investment. They’re low growth. They won’t make you rich. Plus, bond prices fall when interest rates increase. And if you use a bond ETF they usually pay a tiny monthly dividend, typically not even enough to buy another share via DRIP unless you have a lot invested.
So, why would anyone invest in bonds?!?
There are a few good reasons to invest in bonds but there is ONE reason in particular that I think is very important. It’s not a typical reason you see mentioned when people talk about investing in bonds, but I think it’s one of the best reasons. It’s based on investor psychology and behaviour and it can make a big difference during a stock market dip or a full blown downturn.
Many DIY investors may not realize it, but they are their own worst enemy. There is plenty of research around investor behavior, in particular how investors like to time the market. Timing the market means investors try to buy low and sell high, but this rarely happens, if anything they do the opposite, buy high and sell low. For most DIY investors time in the market is more important than timing the market.
Morningstar does an analysis that measures fund inflows and outflows. They use this to approximate when people are trying to time the market. Vanguard did a great summary of this analysis and they found investor returns lagged the market by 1 to 2%. They estimated that behavioral coaching can be worth up to +1.5% per year for the average investor.
So as a DIY investor how do bonds help you avoid timing the market? Let me explain…