Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 18.
Many Americans lament the reality that they'll face tough financial times in retirement.
According to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, 45% of Baby Boomers expect to experience a reduced standard of living in retirement. "Meanwhile, 83% of Generation X workers anticipate they will have a harder time achieving financial security than their parents did, and just 18% of Millennials foresee a comfortable retirement," the study adds.
Having to reduce lifestyle expectations in retirement is a refrain money managers hear all the time.
"Sadly, those study results aren't surprising, because we often hear from people who have real concerns about outliving their money," says Joshua Mellberg, an investment advisor and founder of J.D. Mellberg Financial Investment. "So many aspects related to a traditional retirement have changed. For one, people are living longer, which means they need either to save more money or find ways to make what they do save last."
Couple that with lower-than-expected retirement savings, worries about Social Security and health care costs, and you have a perfect storm brewing among U.S. retirees.
To battle back, Americans in or near retirement should study the financial habits of successful retirees, and match their efforts. "Mainly, that means controlling the things you can control," adds Mellberg.
Start with these five financial habits that savvy retirees have embraced in their post-working years:
5. Retire based on your financial assets, not your age - Traditionally, when people think about retirement, they pick a target age rather than a target amount in their portfolio, Mellberg sasys. But that may not be the right approach. "While you might have a certain age in mind, it can be more worthwhile to create a retirement plan that's based on your finances," he explains. "That will give you a much better chance of having enough money to last you the rest of your life."
4. Don't be afraid to take risks - In many cases, it is best to minimize risks - and that's especially true with finances for those approaching retirement, Mellberg says. "But you also don't always want to live your life on the safe and boring side," he says. Mellberg says that smart retirees use a portion of their savings to purchase an annuity, which provides them a set amount of income for life, much like a pension. "Once you know your retirement income is in order," Mellberg says, "you can be free to take some risks in other areas of your life and pursue your lifestyle goals."
3. Always know where you stand - Kevin O'Brien, a financial advisor and founder of Peak Financial Services, in Northborough, Mass., says that successful retirees know what their expenses and cash flow needs are on a regular basis. "They've also run retirement plan projections, using best-case and worst-case scenarios, know their probability of success, given best-case and worst-case scenarios," he says. "But they adapt by living within their means, and do not overspend unnecessarily."
2. Leverage dividend stocks - Douglas Carey, founder of WealthTrace, a web-based financial software firm located in Boulder, Colo., likes seeing retirees use solid dividend-growth stocks to create income in retirement that will cover their expenses. "Bonds will not cut it these days with interest rates so low," Carey says. "I've found that if a person has 40% of their retirement portfolio in bonds and switches that to strong dividend-growth stocks with a history of never cutting dividends, the retiree's probability of never running out of money jumps by over 30%." Carey says he has found "time and again" that the strategy of delaying social security until age 70 combined with investing in strong dividend-growth stocks is a winner. "I've worked with many successful retirees on this strategy, and it has allowed all of them to retire stress-free," he says.
1. Have a great savings withdrawal strategy - Money managers point to a common problem among new retirees - what's the best way to withdrawal money from savings when you're out of the workforce? "While there is a practical answer here, what's often underlying this question is the anxiety one feels knowing that paychecks are going to stop," says Patrick Meyer, director of wealth management client services at Unified Trust Company, in Lexington, Ky. "Most likely, you've been gainfully employed and there has been a paycheck deposited into your bank account regularly since you can remember. When those paychecks stop, you'll have to start withdrawing from your savings, but you may not be sure how to approach the issue." Meyer says the smartest retirees draw from their after-tax savings accounts first, such as checking, savings, investments, and brokerage accounts. "If you're not yet at the age where you have to take required minimum distributions from IRAs and other tax-qualified accounts, then this is the general rule," he explains. "You draw from these first because it makes the most sense from a tax perspective. We counsel clients to draw from after-tax accounts before they reach age 70, because it helps minimize taxes and allows the tax-qualified accounts to continue to grow."
Being money-savvy in retirement is all about educating yourself, talking with your financial advisor and having a disciplined, ongoing plan to allocate your retirement assets out in the most efficient manner possible. Using the above tips as building blocks can help you build that "smart" retiree financial plan of your own.