Take Back Retirement
A Simple Framework for Thinking About Retirement Expenses
What do we need our money to do for us in “retirement?” Yes, pay our regular bills and hopefully some fun along the way. But there’s more to it, and important pieces that people often overlook. Stephanie and Kevin share a helpful framework for thinking about financial needs, and what type of assets are best suited to provide each out. Note The Four L’s is borrowed from renowned retirement researcher Dr. Wade Pfau.
List of resources mentioned in episode, suggested reading & social media handles, contact information for guests:
- What are the Four “L”s? 1:00
- Knowing what you got 3:33
- Longevity 7:46
- Lifestyle 9:08
- Liquidity 11:00
- Legacy 11:23
- What goes where 14:53
- The importance of being flexible 25:33
- “It’s A Family Affair” 32.42
- Gifting 41:44
Stephanie McCul…: 00:06 Welcome to Take Back Retirement, the show for women 50 and better facing a financial future on their own. I’m Stephanie McCullough. And along with my fellow financial planner, Kevin Gaines, we’re going to tackle the myths and mysteries of quote unquote retirement, so you can make wise decisions toward a sustainable financial future. Through conversations and interviews. You’ll get the information and motivation you need to move forward with confidence, and we’ll be sure to have some fun along the way. We’re so glad you’re here. Let’s dive in.
Kevin: Hi. Back in the spring, when I discovered that we were going to get a stimulus check, I was excited and said, Oh great. I can use that to pay some of my estimated taxes. Then a couple of days later, talk to my accountant, find out I owe uncle Sam. I was like, Oh great. I can use this stimulus check for that. Then the following week, my dishwasher went out. I was like, that’s okay. We’re getting a stimulus check. I can use that money. All of a sudden, I’ve now spent the same dollars three times and we’ve all done it. We all do this mental accounting thing. But how do we avoid doing that with our retirement money?
Stephanie: Coming to you semi live from the beautiful Westlakes Office Park in suburban Philadelphia, it’s Stephanie McCullough and Kevin Gaines of Sofia Financial and American Financial Group. Say hi, Kevin.
Kevin: Hi Kevin.
Stephanie: This is a very pertinent example because we see people do this all the time. Double counting the assets they’ve got towards their retirement plans. What we want to talk to you about today is a concept that was put forth by one of our favorite retirement researchers, Dr. Wade Pfau of the American college. He’s also the author of Safety-First Retirement Planning. He’s come up with a framework for getting a bit more granular on the question of what people need their money to do for them in retirement. And today we’re going to dig into his four L’s longevity, lifestyle, liquidity and legacy.
Kevin: Yeah. And the purpose of using the four L’s and the reason we like to use the four Ls is because it kind of helps to give some parameters or a border to this nebulous cloud of all the different inputs and concerns when it comes to retirement planning. Think about it as a puzzle. You build the borders first and that confines the picture and gives you some sort of parameters that you’re going to be working with.
Stephanie: As you sometimes say, Kevin, it confines the chaos.
Kevin: Yes. I like that. I like that phrase. Cause that’s really what we’re trying to do. Quite frankly, it’s like herding cats or more appropriately for me, like hurting puppies. You know, when I first got my two most recent beasts, you know, we got them as puppies and we had set up this little puppy fence. You go to Petco or wherever and you can get these things and it keeps them in this confined area instead of losing track of the little buggers and having to look underneath the sofa or the ottoman. And since they’re not housebroken yet, you really don’t want to lose track of these buggers. So, again, it’s not so much that we’re trying to shoe horn or fit everything, you know, the proverbial round peg in a square hole or something like that. But we’re just trying to build something manageable.
Stephanie: Starting to paint the picture. And then once we have the parameters, then we can do the next step, which is beginning to assign different jobs to the different tools you may have. When people come to us, they often ask, do I have enough to retire? That’s kind of one of the most frequent questions we hear from new clients. And it might be frustrating for the clients, but we always answer. It depends. And in truth, it really does. What do you need this money for? And often clients will start doing the math in their head. They’ll start adding up their monthly expenses like, Oh, well there’s the mortgage and there’s the taxes and the insurance. And then I’ve got the cell phone bill and the car payment and food and all that stuff. But there’s a problem with that system. Number one, it’s human nature to underestimate. We always forget something important that happens every month. And then we usually forget the things that happen less than monthly. Whether it’s for me, I pay my car insurance twice a year or holiday spending or birthdays or my school taxes. Whatever it might be that I don’t add up in my monthly expenses. No one ever thinks about, oh gosh, every so often I need to make a big house repair or a car repair or even buying new shoes for the kids, whatever it might be.
Kevin: So where you find yourself is always trying to get some sort of idea, and this is why you’re listening to this podcast. You’re trying to get some idea of retirement, trying to learn more. How should I think about things? And you read articles either online or old school magazines. And you even hear references to 80%. There was a study done a while ago. I forget who it was. J P Morgan maybe, came out with an estimate of saying the average retiree spends on average 80% of their working income once they retire. And, when you’re 30, 40 years old using these rules of thumb, they’re fine. They kind of give you a general direction of where to go. But as you’re actually approaching retirement, these rules of thumb can actually create trouble than they actually solve. So, you need to think more specifically about what you want to do. And again, as we’ve said before, money is the tool to do this. Money isn’t the end all to be all. You don’t retire because you have a million dollars in your 401k. You retire because you’re ready to.
Stephanie: 05:57 And likewise, your goal is not to accumulate as much money as possible. Your, a goal is to accumulate this tool – money, that lets you do the things you want to do,
Kevin: Right. And if you don’t know what you want to do, then you don’t know if you have the right tool. If you have the tools ready yet or the right tool, whichever analogy you want to work with.
Stephanie: And Kevin and I both subscribe to this philosophy. Any of this planning and projecting and deciding what we’re going to need in the future, we’re making guesses. There’s no way to predict what we’re actually going to need. So, we know that the guesses will be wrong. But it’s still important to make the guesses because they’re somewhat educated guesses. As we move along, we can get clearer on them. And then we also know how to adjust, right? We need to narrow the range of potential outcomes by at least having a starting point for the guesses.
Kevin: So, how do you do this? Well, the four Ls is one of the first steps. Stephanie, when you’re talking to somebody, how do you introduce or incorporate these four Ls to this, you know what may only be the second, third conversation you’re having with clients?
Stephanie: I really like the concept because again, it goes beyond what people normally think of. People normally think of just paying their monthly bills. So, the four L’s kind of let us get more specific and start to break things down. So, the first L is longevity. And what Dr. Pfau means by this is your essential living expenses for as long as you’re going to be around. So housing, healthcare, basic living expenses, food. Not necessarily how you want to live, but enough so you won’t be out in the street or eating cat food. But the key is that for as long as you’re going to be around, because we don’t know how long that is. That’s the first L – longevity.
Kevin: Now the second L is lifestyle. This is the L everybody likes to talk about because this is spending the money over and above the necessities. Do you want to travel a lot? This is where lifestyle comes in. Do you want to buy a second home? Do you want to move locations? It’s the fun part, the whole reason we’ve worked for the last 40 years. So, think about lifestyle and understand also there’s timing with this. You’re going to use this more in the beginning, less likely to be having lifestyle money when you’re 105, for example,
Stephanie: The third L is liquidity. And this is a key one. I think people overlook. This is that extra money that you would use to cover the unexpected contingencies. And the thing about this is you really don’t know when or if these things are going to hit, but it’s still an important piece of the planning.
Kevin: Then the final L is legacy. And this is probably the most interesting of the four because people have different opinions on what they want to do with legacy. Do they want to, and for some people, regardless of retirement or how much money they’ve saved, it’s either very important or ranges from somewhere very important to, “eh,” they can fend for themselves type stuff. Everybody’s different just like retirement in general.
Stephanie: So, the value of this four L structure is that you really start to gain clarity on how the various pieces of your retirement income puzzle can work together. And you can start to have an idea. You want to make sure that you’ve got assets to cover these different things. To go back to Kevin’s story about the stimulus check, we really can’t double count. He’s only going to get in so much trouble if he double counts a onetime thing, like a stimulus check, but in retirement, for example, if you’re planning to use your IRA, your individual retirement account, to pull out money for your essential spending needs every month, you can’t also count on that same money to be there for your liquidity source, for your unexpected things. Because if you dip into it for a new roof, it’s not going to provide the same level of income after that roof is paid for, or it may provide the same level of income, but not for as long. So, what we want to do next is talk a little bit more deeply about each L, but also the characteristics of the types of retirement assets or tools that work best for each role.
Kevin: 10:48 Yes, you don’t want to use the money twice, but this isn’t to say you couldn’t use the same account for multiple purposes. You just need to understand that you’re asking it to do a couple of roles and understand where it starts crossing, where you start borrowing… The proverbial, robbing Peter to pay. Paul. Are you dipping from your income, your monthly longevity money to pay for your lifestyle money?
Stephanie: To Kevin’s point about perhaps one account having multiple purposes. This is where you need to have a conversation with your financial advisor. Whoever’s overseeing the money for you, or if you’re doing it on your own, you need to keep this awareness as well. Because how you invest is very dependent on the job that that money has. So, if a particular account is supposed to carry two roles that could affect how it’s invested. So, now what we want to do is take a little bit of a deeper dive into each of the four Ls and explain a bit about the characteristics of the types of assets or tools that work best to cover each type of obligation.
Kevin: For example, so longevity, you’re looking for money that you don’t want to exhaust. Social security, by definition, this is, and what’s beautiful about it is coming from the outside. It’s not relying on your own money or anything you have to do with. It’s money coming from the outside every month that will last as long as you live. So, you don’t have to worry about outliving it.
Stephanie: So, a monthly check that you can’t outlive is perfect for the longevity piece of your retirement needs. Social security is the obvious one that the majority of Americans have access to. The other one, if you’re lucky enough to have one would be a traditional pension plan, which is a program put in place by your employer. My grandfather had one. I know neither of my parents had one. It’s getting more and more rare, but it was what’s called in the business – the lingo is called a defined benefit plan because the company would tell you exactly how much money they were going to pay you every month for the rest of your life. And if you’re married, you could choose an option where it would also pay your spouse for the rest of your life.
Kevin: So, pensions and social security are actually forms of annuities, which we hear about in conversations and not commenting, whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea for your situation, everybody’s different. But an annuity is an insurance product that is guaranteeing that they will pay you a stream of income for as long as you live. Pretty much, you know, what social security and pensions are. In most cases it’s not as good of a deal as say a social security or pension, but it is useful. And for some people it gives you that security of knowing that you have yet another source of income that you can count on month in and month out.
Stephanie: The last one that really fits into this longevity piece gets to the healthcare question, because this is another thing people often underestimate when they’re looking at their retirement needs is the cost of healthcare. Most of us are eligible for Medicare. Once we hit the age of 65 in this country. Now Medicare has a cost. It doesn’t cover everything, but it lasts as long as you do. And it’s certainly less expensive than going out and buying your own complete health insurance. So that’s another piece that fits in the longevity bucket.
Kevin: Next L lifestyle. Think back when you hear conversations about needs and wants. Longevity, there’s your need, lifestyle is your want. And with that gives you a little flexibility that, as your life evolves, you can make adjustments.
Stephanie: I like to think of lifestyle both as kind of the entertainment, the golf club membership, the orchestra season subscription, but also, living near the beach, as opposed to maybe where you had been living or living in a nicer home versus a smaller condo. These are the things you could adjust if you need to. Now, sometimes that requires a little bit of self-reflection. The things that you thought were non-negotiable and you absolutely had to have. It really is smart before it’s a crisis to that conversation with yourself, with your partner, if you have a life partner, to get clear on, okay, if we needed to make adjustments, what would we do first? What would we do second? What is the bare bones? As one of my clients likes to say, what’s my ramen noodle budget? What’s the bare bones I need to get by? That’s the longevity pile. And then the lifestyle is everything above that, the stuff you’d like to do. Buying Christmas presents for the grandkids, traveling to see friends, all of that stuff.
Kevin: 15:49 Right. So, what type of assets are you looking to use here? As we said, it’s stuff that’s not committed. Think back to the pension being the defined benefit plan. IRA’s well, 401k’s, 403b’s are, what’s referred to as defined contribution. Meaning when you were putting money in, you knew how much you were putting in, but you have no idea what you’re going to get out. This is now this pot of money. And most likely this will be, once you establish longevity uses, this is still that pot of money you’re probably be drawing from, or just, the money you have saved, if you had an investment account that you were gradually growing over time or something like that. And whenever you need it, if it’s an investment, you’ll sell it and then pull the money, CD, however, but you have it. It’s liquid. It’s going back to the image of nebulous, it’s just out there.
Stephanie: It makes sense to use your investments for the lifestyle bucket, because investments can have a bad year, a bad month, a bad quarter. They can have two or three bad years. So, if your investments are dedicated to the stuff that’s flexible and you have a couple bad years, you can adjust because if you continue to put the same burden, for lack of a better word, on those investments, when they’re down, it really affects the longevity, how long that pot of investments can continue to finance your lifestyle.
Kevin: Right. One of the things that we talk about when you’re working and when you’re in retirement is, if you’re working, something goes wrong. Well, you can be more flexible because it’s like, well, maybe I’ll work longer to make up for whatever happened or get a second job or something along those lines. The lifestyle you have that similar flexibility. It’s like, well, we’ll delay the cruise. Or instead of driving across country, maybe we only hit a city or two or something, but you have the flexibility. Match the flexible investments with flexible goals or goals, you can be flexible with.
Stephanie: Third L, liquidity. This is stuff happens. This is when the tree falls down in your backyard during the big storm and you have to spend a couple thousand dollars on tree work you weren’t planning on. This is the dental work. You go to the dentist for a routine checkup and all of a sudden you need a root canal and some crowns that cost a heck of a lot of money. That’s usually not covered by insurance. This is your adult. Kids need some support. It’s any number of things that you didn’t plan on in your budget, but some flavor of them is going to happen to all of us. We just don’t know what, when or how much. So, Kevin, how the heck do we plan for that?
Kevin: The quote unquote beauty of it is it’s. Yeah. How do you plan for bad news? It’s not easy, but think of this as you know, you routinely talk about having three to six months living expenses set aside when you’re working. The first thing you have is that emergency savings. Think of this as another term for emergency savings. So, you want to have the money set aside. You most likely want to have it similar to the emergency savings. You don’t want to have it in risky investments or anything along those lines. You want to be fairly secure with this money that’s going to be there, rain or shine whenever you need it. Bank accounts, savings, accounts, CDs, things along those lines that you can count on. There’s some more advanced, for lack of a better term, advanced planning strategies and tactics that we can talk about specifically on your situation that you could use as well. Life insurance or reverse mortgages things along those lines, which, the usual caveats may or may not work for you specifically, but they do exist. And this is where you could use those assets to get you through the rough period without blowing up your entire plan, trying to figure out how am I going to pay for X?
Stephanie: 20:27 Yeah. When I think about liquidity, I think it’s two pieces. It’s that emergency savings fund. The pot in the bank, that’s not funding regular monthly expenses be they needs or wants. But it’s also the stuff that’s designed to cover things that maybe have a low probability, but a very large financial impact. And what I’m thinking of, because I’ve been talking to a lot of people about it lately is the possibility of needing long-term care. So long-term care is not covered by health insurance. It’s not a doctor’s visit. It’s not surgery, it’s not medication. It’s someone coming in and helping you take a shower and get dressed, eat your breakfast, move around the house, go to the toilet. It is non-skilled custodial care. And some of you may know from personal experience with family members, it’s pretty darn expensive. It happens to more of us statistically than we’d like to admit. At some point in our life, a lot of us are going to need this type of care. It could be provided by a family member who does it for free. That’s lovely, but that’s not always possible or realistic. So, this is a case where there is insurance for it. I am not telling you you should go buy it. But think through what you would do, if all of a sudden you had long-term care bills. At least look at what your options are.
Stephanie: Kevin, my plan is to be super healthy until age 99 and die peacefully in my sleep. So, I don’t need to worry about that stuff.
Kevin: Good for you.
Kevin: I’m actually going to go the opposite route. I do successfully avoid most exercise and consume large quantities of red meat. So, I figure I’ll just, let’s just say go the opposite route.
Stephanie: You’ll just croak early and not have to worry about it?
Kevin: Go early, just right there in the steak house almost like a bad mob movie analogy or something. But everybody has their plan. And quite frankly, we’re talking about assets and dollars in everything, but this also can lead to bigger questions and especially with long-term care, and as you get older, is some of this, some of these solutions and some of your assets are not monetary. For example, Stephanie and I both know someone who she doesn’t have a whole lot of money, but she has 10, 11 children living right around her that are able. Basically, each day another child comes in, or grandchild, comes in, keeps an eye on her checks with her, helps her with all of this stuff. She doesn’t have the financial resources to pay for essentially long-term care, but she does have a family structure that does allow for that. Going back to what Stephanie said, long-term care insurance isn’t something that everybody has to have, but a plan for long-term care is something everybody has to have. Whether that involves an insurance product or something else is very specific.
Stephanie: And something you should talk about with your people ahead of time. What your desires are, what your hopes are, right? Whether it’s spouse, kids, family, extended community. I have several single women clients, no kids, who have insisted to me that they need to buy long-term care insurance because they don’t have anyone to turn to. And I don’t argue with them. I think all insurance products have their place. Like any tool they’re not good or bad on their own. You have to know the tradeoffs with them and understand where they fit.
Kevin: This is going to be a whole ‘nother episode, talking about planning for your long-term care needs.
Stephanie: At least one.
Kevin: So, we don’t want to spend too much time, because next thing you know, we go down this rabbit hole, but this does bring up a real quick point I want to make, which is your retirement planning isn’t necessarily just between you or you and your spouse and your advisor. Your family’s very possibly going to be involved in a lot of these conversations. Don’t be scared or intimidated to have these conversations with the rest of your family, whether it’s your children or siblings or something along those lines. If they’re going to be part of the plan or not part of the plan, let them know. Because quite frankly, if you’re planning on your kids, keeping care of you, but your kids are planning to move to an Island and they’re not going to be around. Hey, guess what? Plan B is really important.
Stephanie: 25:20 And I’ll tell you, most adult children will be thankful that you brought up the conversation. Because they’re sitting there trying to figure out how to ask you the question. Just saying from personal experience with myself and my friends.
Kevin: I can tell you, the old phrase of do as I say, not as I do. I very rarely ever bring these topics up with my mother. I always wait for her to bring them up because I am just, I don’t want her to ever think I’m plotting her demise or, I want to hurry up and, you know, get my mitts on the money. And no, it’s not like that. So, going down a different rabbit hole potentially, it’s what is your relationship with money and more importantly, your family and money? But again, there’s a whole ‘nother podcast. Let’s move on to the fourth L, Stephanie.
Stephanie: The fourth L is legacy. This is whether or not you really want to leave. And in this case, we are talking about assets, financial assets of some sort to family, to community, to something beyond yourself. Of course, you will have a legacy in the hearts and minds of the people that you know and love. And it’s important to think about that, that non-tangible legacy. There are lots of innovative ways to leave behind documents about your life and your philosophy and all that. I love all of that, but in this case, we are talking the dollars and cents. And we’ve seen the whole gamut (right, Kevin?) over the years of people who really want to die with $1 to their name and their kids are on their own. Thank you very much. And we have other clients who it is crucially important to them to create some generational wealth, to leave something to their kids, maybe so that their kids don’t have it as hard as they did, or maybe so that they’ve got a little something to help them move along their way. We’ve seen it all.
Kevin: Right. One client literally lives social security check to social security check, but she has a small part set aside to pay for a life insurance policy so that her daughters will get an inheritance from her. That’s really important to her that she makes other sacrifices. Her kids had told her straight out, we don’t care about the money. We know you love us. We don’t care about this. We’d rather you enjoy it. But it’s something that’s important to her.
Kevin: This kind of leads us into understanding what type of legacy you want to leave. Do you want to do it while you’re alive? Or do you want to do it when you’re done using the money? To use the particular euphemism. That could very easily be just making sure you have your beneficiary forms on your retirement accounts. Which will just set stuff up and you don’t have to worry about it. If the money’s left over, you know how it’s going to play out. Real quick aside. Beneficiary forms on retirement accounts are important. They supersede your will. I know this isn’t what we’re necessarily talking about, but I never miss an opportunity to point this out to people. You can say whatever you want in your will. If your beneficiary forms say something different that beneficiary form wins every time.
Stephanie: Retirement plans in life insurance do not pass by the will. They pass by the beneficiary forms on file with the company. This happened to a client of mine. Her husband, it was his second marriage… We all assumed she was the beneficiary on his life insurance. Guess what? She wasn’t. It was his estate. So certain things had to be taken care of before she got the remainder. Which, we don’t even think was his intention, but he never updated the form. So that is a very important point.
Stephanie: So, legacy. I’ve talked to people who get caught up in the taxation of the gifting. In the United States, the gift tax and the estate tax are connected. And there is a rule that you’re allowed to give a certain amount each year to any individual person without worrying about gift tax. I have heard many people believe that’s all they’re allowed to give to any individual person. Say maybe it’s $15,000 this year. They think they can’t give more than $15,000 in any given year. That’s not true. You might have to file an extra form with your tax return, but you can give more.
Stephanie: I just read a fascinating article in Forbes magazine, which we’ll link to in the show notes about this gentleman who made a gazillion dollars founding the duty-free shops. And he came up with a foundation. It had an end point. He was destined to give away the majority of his wealth by 2020. And he calls it giving while living. And I think it’s okay to think about the selfish aspects of giving, the joy in seeing someone else prosper or have a slightly easier life because of your gift. That can be a family member that can be an organization that you love. Another way it’s okay to be selfish and giving is, what do you get out of it? If you are a slightly larger donor to your Alma mater or to your church or a museum that’s your favorite. Do you get access to other events? Do you get special priority on things? Oh, that’s great. I think that’s a worthwhile thing to think about. Do you really want to wait until you’re gone before you give some of your assets away?
Kevin: 31:04 And along that line, another frequent justification that clients talk about is, I don’t want to give my kids this money when they’re in their fifties and sixties, and they’ve already built up a lifetime of savings and don’t necessarily really need this money. I want to help them out when they’re in their twenties, trying to buy a house or get started in their life, be able to experience a little bit better vacation when they’re younger and can enjoy or whatever their thing. Legacy is not something that happens at a certain time point. This is about money you want to share with family institutions, others, whatever.
Stephanie: One asset that is specifically designed for legacy, we just have to say it is life insurance. This is designed to pay out when you pass away. Life insurance is super important when you’re young and if you have a family or other people relying on you, if you’ve got a mortgage and you want to cover that debt, if you pass away. But even if you’re older or retired, if you want to make sure that you leave a certain amount to your family, as long as you pay the premiums on life insurance, it’s going to pay out to your family. So, it’s definitely something to consider as a piece of your puzzle. Sometimes people say I’ve accumulated these assets. I don’t need life insurance anymore. But then we’ve also seen people terrified to use their assets when they get older, because they really want to make sure they leave money behind. If they had a paid-up life insurance policy, that wouldn’t be a worry.
Kevin: Getting back to understanding that some of these tools that can have multiple uses, trying to bring things in here. Going back with the life insurance example. Yes, it has this death benefit that you will use to satisfy, or at least partially satisfy your legacy need of the L. But, going back to the liquidity conversation, some life insurance policies allow you to pull some of the money out while you’re alive to use it for whatever you want, but you can assign two different purposes for some of this money. Just understand the interplay between how it can impact each of those separate goals with using the one product.
Stephanie: And I think that’s a good point to wrap up on, understanding both your needs, which are outlined in the four L’s longevity, lifestyle, liquidity legacy, and then the various tools that you can put towards them. And, the characteristics of each tool, what role it might best fit for and tradeoffs, whether it might work for more than one purpose.
Kevin: And, notice at no point did we say numbers. The beauty of the four L’s is to help you organize and inventory and appreciate what you have as you go into this planning process. It’s not this concrete step that you’re locked in on. This is an organizational tool. It’s not necessarily a budgeting,
Stephanie: It’s a conceptual framework that we hope you’ll find helpful. So, we’re going to wrap up for today. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next time. It’s goodbye from me
Kevin: And it’s goodbye from her.
Stephanie: Be sure to subscribe to the show and please share it with your friends. Show notes and more information available at TakeBackRetirement.com. Huge thanks for the original music by the one and only Raymond Loewy through New Math in New York. See you next time.
Disclaimer: 34:42 Investment advice offered through Private Advisor Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor. Private Advisor Group, American Financial Management Group, and Sofia Financial are separate entities. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual security. To determine which investments may be appropriate for you consult your financial advisor prior to investing. This information is not intended to be substitute for individualized tax advice. Please consult your tax advisor regarding your specific situation.