September 5, 2023 – Welcome back to a new blog post in the Safe Withdrawal Rate Series! It’s been a while! So long that some folks were wondering already if I’m all right. Nothing to worry about; we just had a busy travel schedule, spending most of our summer in Europe. First Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. Then, a cruise through the Baltic Sea from Sweden to Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Germany again, and Denmark. But I’m back in business now with a fascinating retirement topic dealing with Social Security timing: What are the pros and cons of deferring Social Security? If we set aside the ignorant drivel like “you get an 8% return by delaying benefits for a year” and look for more serious research, we can find a lot of exciting work studying this tradeoff. Earlier this year, in Part 56, I proposed my actuarial tool for measuring the pros and cons of different Social Security strategies, factoring in the NPV/time-value of money consideration and survival probabilities. A fellow blogger, Engineering Your FI, has done exciting work studying this tradeoff using net present value (NPV) calculations. And Open Social Security is a neat toolkit for optimizing joint benefits-claiming strategies.
But those calculations are all outside of a comprehensive Safe Withdrawal Rate analysis. How does Social Security timing interact with Sequence Risk? For example, can it be optimal to claim as early as possible to prevent withdrawing too much from your equity portfolio during a downturn early in retirement? In other words, if you’re interested in maximizing your failsafe withdrawal rate, you may feel tempted to pick a potentially suboptimal strategy from an NPV point of view. Sure, you underperform in an NPV sense on average if you claim early. But hedging against the worst-case scenarios may be worth that sacrifice.
Let’s take a look…
Continue reading “Social Security Timing – SWR Series Part 59”
June 16, 2023 – I wonder if I’ll ever run out of material for the Safe Withdrawal Series. Fifty-eight parts now, and the new ideas come faster than I can write posts these days. This month, I initially planned to write about the effects of timing Social Security in the context of safe withdrawal simulations. But one issue keeps coming up. It’s almost like a personal finance “zombie” topic that, after I thought I put it to rest once and for all, always comes back when you least expect it. It’s flexibility. If we are flexible – so we are told – we don’t have to worry much about sequence risk. We can throw out the 4% Rule and make it the 5.5% Rule. Or the 7% Rule or whatever you like.
Only it’s not that easy. In today’s post, I like to accomplish three things:
- Provide a simple chart and a few back-of-the-envelope calculations to demonstrate the flexibility folly.
- Comment on a recent post by two fellow personal finance bloggers and showcase some of the weaknesses of their approach.
- Propose a better method for modeling flexibility and gauging its impact on safe withdrawal amounts. Hint: it uses my SWR Simulation tool!
Let’s take a look…
Continue reading “Flexibility is Overrated – SWR Series Part 58”
April 14, 2023 – Welcome to a new installment of the Safe Withdrawal Rate Series. Please check out the SWR landing page for a summary of and a link to the other posts.
Today’s topic is homeownership. I’ve already made the case that not just rental properties but even homeownership can be a great tool in building assets (“See that house over there? It’s an investment!“). But what if you are already retired? What are some of the benefits of homeownership in the context of (early) retirement? Performes homeownership reduce Sequence Risk? Perform homeowners enjoy a lower inflation rate in retirement? If so, by how much can homeowners raise their safe withdrawal rate? How do we properly account for homeownership (with and without a mortgage) in the SWR simulation toolkit?
Lots of questions! Let’s take a look…
Continue reading “Accounting for Homeownership in (Early) Retirement – SWR Series Part 57”
March 10, 2023 – After seven years of blogging in the personal finance and FIRE community, I realize that there’s one type of post I’ve always avoided: How to explain FIRE to a complete newbie. Until now, I’ve outsourced that task and simply referred to the Links Page. But where’s a good overview, all in a simple and comprehensive post to give a one-stop overview of what FIRE is and how one can pull it off? I’ve come across a lot of good information, but it’s all in bits and pieces and here and there. I’m not going to dump a reading/listening list of 20 different posts/shows on 18 different blogs/podcasts on someone new to the community. And my Safe Withdrawal Rate Series? Great stuff. But it’s also the deep end of the pool, and I would likely scare away any new recruits. That series is targeted at folks already retired or nearing early retirement.
So how would I explain or even pitch FIRE to someone new to the community? Let’s take a look…
Continue reading “The Basics of FIRE”
February 6, 2023 – Welcome to another installment of my Safe Withdrawal Rate Series. See the landing page of this series here for an intro and a summary of all the posts I’ve written so far. On the menu today is an issue that will impact most retirees: we all likely receive supplemental cash flows in retirement, such as corporate or government pensions, Social Security, etc. Some retirees opt for an annuity, i.e., transform part of their assets into a guaranteed, lifelong cash flow.
Of course, if you are a long-time reader of my blog and my SWR series you may wonder why I would write a new post about this. In my SWR simulation toolkit (see Part 28), there is a feature that allows you to model those supplemental cash flows and study how they would impact your safe withdrawal rate calculations. True, but there are still plenty of unanswered questions. For example, how do I evaluate and weigh the pros and cons of different options, like starting Social Security at age 62 vs. 67 vs. 70 or receiving a pension vs. a lump sum?
Also, you might want to perform those calculations separately from the safe withdrawal rate analysis, from a purely actuarial point of view. For example, we may want to calculate net present values (NPVs) and/or internal rates of returns (IRRs) of the different options before us. Transparently, NPV and IRR calculations are relatively simple, especially with the help of Excel and its built-in functions (NPV, PV, RATE, IRR, XIRR etc.). However, the uncertain lifespan over which you will receive benefits complicates the NPV and IRR calculations. How do we factor an uncertain lifespan into the NPV calculations? Should I just calculate the NPV of the cash flows up to an estimate of my life expectancy? Unfortunately, the actuarially correct way is more complicated. But Large ERN to the rescue, I have another Google Sheet to help with that, and I share that free tool with you.
Let’s take a look…
Continue reading “Evaluating Annuities, Pensions, and Social Security – SWR Series Part 56”
January 25, 2023 – Welcome to another part of my Safe Withdrawal Rate Series. Today’s topic: Bucket Strategies in retirement. As you know, my blogging buddy Fritz Gilbert has written extensively on this topic at his Retirement Manifesto blog, for example:
And likewise, I have written about my skepticism of bucket strategies in Part 48 of the series: “Retirement Bucket Strategies: Cheap Gimmick or the Solution to Sequence Risk?”
Fritz’s most recent post on the Bucket Strategy started a lively back-and-forth on Twitter, and it seemed appropriate to pursue a more detailed discussion with more than 280 characters per answer in a “fight of the titans” blog post. So if you haven’t done so already, please check out our awesome discussion over on Fritz’s blog:
Is The Bucket Strategy A Cheap Gimmick?
The response was overwhelmingly positive, and we decided to craft a follow-up post here on my blog. We came up with two new questions, and we also need to address two major themes from the comments section in Part 1, specifically, the role of simplicity and behavioral biases in retirement planning.
So, let’s take a look…
Continue reading “Debateing Retirement Bucket Strategies with Fritz Gilbert – SWR Series Part 55”
October 12, 2022 – As promised in the “Building a Better CAPE Ratio” post last week, here’s an update on how I like to use the CAPE ratio calculations in the context of my Safe Withdrawal Rate Research. I have studied CAPE-based withdrawal rates in the past (see Part 11, Part 18, Part 24, Part 25) and what I like about this approach is that we get guidance in setting the initial and then also subsequent withdrawal rates based on economic fundamentals. That’s a lot more scientific than the unconditional, naive 4% Rule. In today’s post, I want to specifically address a few recurring questions I’ve been getting about the CAPE and safe withdrawal rates:
- Can a retiree factor in supplemental cash flows like Social Security, pensions, etc. when calculating a dynamic CAPE-based withdrawal rate, just like you’d do in the SWR simulation tool Google Sheet (see Part 28 for more details)? Likewise, is it possible to raise the CAPE-based withdrawal rate if the retiree is happy with (partially) depleting the portfolio? You bet! I will show you how to implement those adjustments in the CAPE calculations. Most importantly, I updated my SWR Simulation Google Sheet to do all the messy calculations for you!
- With the recent market downturn, how much can we raise our CAPE-based dynamic withdrawal rate when we take into account the slightly better-looking equity valuations? Absolutely! It looks like, the 4% Rule might work again! Relying on your personal circumstances you might even be able to push the withdrawal rate to way above 4%, closer to 5%!
- What are the pros and cons of using a 100% equity portfolio and setting the withdrawal rate equal to the CAPE yield?
Let’s take a look…
Continue reading “The 4% Rule Works Again! An Update on Energetic Withdrawal Rates based on the Shiller CAPE – SWR Series Part 54”
June 6, 2022 – In this year’s April Fool’s post, I marketed a made-up crypto coin that would completely?hedge against Sequence Risk, the dreaded destroyer of retirement dreams. Once and for all! Most readers would have figured out this was a hoax because that complete hedge against Sequence Risk is still elusive after so many posts in my series. Sure, there are a few minor adjustments we can make, like an equity glidepath, either directly, see Part 19 and Part 20, or disguised as a “bucket strategy” (Part 48). We could very cautiously(!) use leverage – see Part 49 (static version) and Part 52 (dynamic/timing leverage), and maybe find a few additional small dials here and there to take the edge off the scary Sequence Risk. But a complete hedge is not so easy.
Well, maybe there is an easy solution. It’s the one I vaguely hinted at when I first wrote about the ins and outs of Sequence Risk back in 2017. You see, there is one type of investor who’s insulated from Sequence Risk: a buy-and-hold investor. If you invest $1 today and make neither contributions nor withdrawal withdrawals, then the final net worth after, say, 30 years is entirely determined by the compounded average growth rate. Not the sequence, because when multiplying the (1+r1) through (1+r30), the order of multiplication is irrelevant. If a retiree could be matched with a saver who contributes the exact same amount as the retiree’s cash flow needs, then the two combined, as a team, are a buy and hold investor – shielded from Sequence Risk. It’s because savers and retirees will always be on “opposite sides” of sequence risk. For example, low returns early on and high returns later will hurt the retiree and benefit the saver. And vice versa. If a retiree and a retirement saver could team up and find a way to compensate each other for their potential good or bad luck we could eliminate Sequence Risk.
I will go through a few scenarios and simulations to showcase the power of this team effort. But there are also a few headaches arising when trying to implement such a scheme. Let’s take a closer look…
Continue reading “Hedging against Sequence Risk through a “Retiree-Saver Investment Pact” – SWR Series Part 53″
March 21, 2022 – Last year in Part 49 of the Safe Withdrawal Series, I wrote a post about using leverage in retirement, and in today’s post, I like to explore some additional issues.?
A quick recap, the appeal of using leverage in retirement is that we would borrow against the portfolio instead of liquidating assets. Nice! That might help with Sequence Risk if we avoid liquidating assets at temporarily depressed prices. There could also be a tax advantage in that we keep deferring the realization of taxable capital gains, potentially until we bequeath our assets to our daughter who can then use the “step-up basis” for complete forgiveness of all of our accumulated capital gains. That’s the famous “buy, borrow, die” approach popular with high-net-worth folks.
The gist of the post last year: Not so fast! Leverage could potentially even exacerbate Sequence Risk if you are unlucky and retire right before a bad market event that’s deep enough (like the Great Saddenion) or long enough (like the 1965-1982 stagflation episode) to compromise the portfolio so badly that the margin loan becomes unsustainable relative to the underwater portfolio.
One solution proposed by several readers: instead of always borrowing against the portfolio, maybe we should carefully time when we use leverage. For example, borrow only when the stock market is down “far enough” and use withdrawals from the portfolio otherwise. And if the market is doing well again, potentially pay back the loan again! Sounds like a reasonable and intuitive plan. But I want to put that to the test with some real simulations. Let’s take a look at the details…
Continue reading “Timing Leverage in Retirement – SWR Series Part 52”
February 28, 2022 – What a difference a year makes! In late 2020, only about 16 months ago, I felt the urge to comment on the then-fashionable discussion of how low inflation would impact retirees. See Part 41 – Can we raise our Safe Withdrawal Rate when inflation is low? of my SWR Series. Feels like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?
The takeaway back then: don’t get distracted by high-frequency economic fluctuations. Low inflation doesn’t necessarily mean we can all raise our safe withdrawal rates. Certainly not one-for-one. There is neither empirical nor theoretical economic backing for materially changing your retirement strategy.
Only a little more than a year later the tide has turned. We’re now facing the highest inflation readings in about 40 years. 7.5% CPI and potentially 8% year-over-year once the BLS releases the February figure in mid-March. So, people asked me if my inflation views are symmetric, i.e., high inflation is also a non-event? As I signaled in my inflation post last month, I’m not too worried. Here’s why…
Continue reading “Retirement in a High-Inflation Environment – SWR Series Part 51”