Establishing Your Retirement Number: It’s Just NOT That Simple

By November 1, 2016Retirement


10-27-16-retireOur introductory meeting had gone on for about twenty minutes when Gary interjected.

“Look, I don’t want to get all complicated. I just want to know how much we need in order to retire. Bottom line! I don’t want a list of things to do that will complicate my life. If we’re going to work together, we need to get down to the number.”

I looked over at his wife, Sue. She had been playing the role of observer throughout the entire meeting.

“In order for us to answer your question, we need to know the answer to several questions.”

“Such as?” Gary asked somewhat impatiently.

“Well, for starters, what do you expect to do in retirement? What will fill your day, week, month and year? There is a financial tether to most activities.  Will you travel? How often? What types of travel? As in, will you take day trips by bus or luxury liners around the world? Will you be providing support for any children or grandchildren? Will you relocate or downsize? How about whether leaving a legacy is important to either of you? Do you expect to earn money after you retire? When do you expect to start taking Social Security? What tax bracket are you in, and will that change after you retire? How is your portfolio invested, and what is your risk tolerance? Do you need long-term care planning? What will you do if you no longer wish or are able to handle your financial matters independently? Who are the people you wish to consider in your planning? What are the family dynamics like, and are there any issues that concern you now and when you retire?

I stopped to take a breath. Looking up, I saw that Gary’s face was frozen, while Sue’s eyes had filled with tears.

“Sue? You’ve been pretty quiet thus far. Tell me what you’re experiencing.”

Sue paused for a moment, gathering her thoughts and courage.

“Gary has been telling me for years that I don’t have to worry about money, that I don’t need to get involved and that he’s handling everything.  I didn’t want to fight, so I let him do his thing.  I’ve been pushing him to find a planner for years, and he’s been holding me off.  I don’t know much about money, but I do know that we haven’t talked about ANY of the questions you just threw out, and frankly, I am terrified and mad as hell. We’re looking to retire soon, and we haven’t considered any of these issues. What if Gary dies suddenly…”

“I’ve got insurance, Sue, don’t worry,” Gary interjected trying to pacify his wife.

“Really? How much? Where’s the policy? How do you know it’s enough? Is the company any good? You see, I don’t know anything, and I guess I am to blame for not insisting earlier. I’ve just remained passive.”

Sue’s voice trailed off, caught in a vortex of blame, shame and despair.

The room got quiet in a hurry.

Gary’s demeanor also changed—from bullying to acquiescent.

“I’m sorry, Sue. You’re right. It’s my fault. I have to be honest, I really don’t know that much, and I wanted to protect you, and I guess my damned ego got in the way and, well, well, here we are. I’m sorry.”

I waited for Gary’s words to sink in and settle.

“I think this is the appropriate place to end our meeting today.  What I’d like you to do is to go home and create some quiet time where you guys can just talk.  The big rule is, one talks while the other listens until the first speaker is finished—no interruptions. Then the other person gets their chance to speak. If you respect that guideline, you’ll find that you can each learn from the other’s point of view. I understand this is new territory, talking about money, but I will share one more thought: Money is emotional, and, unfortunately, the components can be complicated. If you start with a discussion of your values and what MUST happen for you, then we can meet again and continue the exploration. How does that sound?”

Sue and Gary nodded.

It was going to be an interesting journey.