Q&A: Still Invest When Retired?

Like always, it depends on what your goals are.

Question: My wife and I are in our mid-70s and believe that we’ve done a good job of retirement planning. We receive $90,000 a year in pension income between us, and we have about $300,000 in savings and investments. We don’t have a mortgage or car payment. We live frugally, spending only about $4,000 a month, which leaves us with a lot of discretionary monthly income that goes into our military credit union. We do have children and grandchildren and expect to leave some money for them when we’re gone. In fact, we’ve set up trusts for that purpose. But meanwhile, since we have sufficient income, why should we invest any money in the stock market or stock funds?

Ric: My initial response is that I agree with you. I can’t think of any reason why you need to risk any of your money in the stock market.

But let me frame that answer a little differently so that I give you two options with vastly different rationales and let you decide which you prefer.

On the one hand, you’re absolutely right to ask why you should gamble any of the $300,000 you’ve amassed on an investment that’s volatile and unpredictable. If your goals are to retire in financial comfort and to preserve your ability to generate the income you need to maintain your lifestyle for the rest of your lifetimes, you’ve already accomplished them. Why risk it?

But we also could argue that the $300,000 you’ve saved isn’t really yours. We could say that it belongs to your children and grandchildren. You acknowledge that you’re not going to spend it in your lifetimes, so the bulk of it will likely end up with them. You’ve even gone to the trouble of creating trusts for them.

Because you’re only in your 70s, the two of you probably are going to live another 20 or 30 years — certainly enough time for the $300,000 to grow substantially. You are the caretakers, the custodians, the stewards of that money on behalf of your children and grandchildren.

If we take the attitude that the money will ultimately be used by them, they will need to have it grow at an effective rate of return, beating the rate of inflation that otherwise would erode it. If you keep it in a bank account, credit union, CD, money market account or T-bill, where it earns less than the rate of inflation, it will lose some, perhaps much, of its value by the time your heirs receive it. They won’t inherit $300,000 in real economic terms. You’ll be investing in a way that guarantees a loss in value.

Thus, from a multigenerational, estate-planning scenario, some of the money — perhaps 20%, 30% or 40%, but certainly not 80% or 90% — should go into a broadly diversified, globally based portfolio where it may grow in real economic terms.

That’s the only argument I can think of for why you should have some of the money invested in the stock market. Frankly, it’s a pretty good argument.

But remember: There is no wrong answer. Either the latter makes sense to you or it does not. It’s purely attitudinal — your personal preference, because even if the two of you don’t put anything in the stock market, you’re going to be financially secure, which is the goal.

If you do invest some of it in the stock market, you two will still be financially secure — and you’ll help improve your children’s and grandchildren’s financial stability at the same time. So, you see, both answers are correct.

Should you decide that you prefer the second option, I recommend that you talk with a financial advisor concerning how much to invest in a diversified portfolio and how that portfolio should be constructed. That’s something we do for clients all the time, so if you’d like our help we’d be happy to assist.

And while we’re at it, let me offer a third idea: Give some of the money to them now. If you’re in your mid-70s, your kids are likely in their 40s and 50s. Assuming you live to a normal life expectancy, your kids won’t get their inheritance until they are in their 70s. They won’t need the money then — any more than you’d need to get a six-figure inheritance today.

Rather, they need their inheritance now. They are in the prime spending years — paying for college and weddings for your grandchildren, struggling with mortgages, saving for retirement, and perhaps facing job losses, medical issues or other big costs. Instead of making them wait 20 to 40 years to get an inheritance you know you’ll give them anyway, why not distribute some of it to them now?

I understand why this hasn’t occurred to you: Your parents left you money when they passed, and you simply figure that you’ll do the same. But life is vastly different today than it was in generations past. People used to die in their 60s, meaning heirs got bequests in their 30s and 40s. But nowadays, you’ll live into your 90s or beyond, delaying the bequests to a point when they’re not needed.

Consider distributing some of your wealth to your kids and grandkids now. Best part: You’ll get to enjoy watching it transform their lives. They’ll buy bicycles, cars, houses, college degrees, pay off debt, save for retirement and start businesses — all thanks to you!

This sure beats miserly stashing the cash in a bank CD for 30 years because you don’t want to invest in stocks.

Just a thought.


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