Is A Million Bucks Enough To Retire?

“Wow, those guys must be millionaires!” I can recall uttering those words as a child, driving by the nicest house in our neighborhood—you know, the one with four garage bays filled with cars from Europe.

The innocent presumption, of course, was that our neighbors’ visible affluence was an expression of apparent financial independence, and that $1 million would certainly be enough to qualify as Enough.

Now, as an adult—and especially as a financial planner—I’m more aware of a few million-dollar realities:

Retirement Stress Test Graphic - v3-01

1)   Visible affluence doesn’t necessarily equate to actual wealth.  Thomas Stanley and William Danko, in their fascinating behavioral finance book, The Millionaire Next Door, surprised many of us with their research suggesting that visible affluence may actually be a sign of lesser net worth, with the average American millionaire exhibiting surprisingly few outward displays of wealth. Big hat, no cattle.

2)   A million dollars ain’t what it used to be. In 1984, a million bucks would have felt like about $2.4 million in today’s dollars. But while it’s quite possible that our neighbors were genuinely wealthy—financially independent, even—I doubt they had just barely crossed the seven-digit threshold, comfortably maintaining their apparent standard of living. To do so comfortably would likely take more than a million, even in the ’80s.

3)   Wealth is one of the most relative, misused terms in the world.  Relatively speaking, if you’re reading this article, you’re already among the world’s most wealthy, simply because you have a device capable of reading it. Most of the world’s inhabitants don’t have a car, much less two. But even among those blessed to have enough money to require help managing it, I have clients who are comfortably retired on half a million and millionaires who need to quadruple their nest egg in order to retire with their current standard of living.

The teacher couple, trained by reality to live frugally most of their lives, don’t even dip into their $400,000 retirement nest egg or their $250,000 home equity because they have two pensions and Social Security that more than covers their income needs.  Their retirement savings is just a bonus.

But the lawyer couple, trained by reality to live a more visibly wealthy existence, aren’t even close to retiring with their million-dollar retirement savings. In order to be comfortable, they’ll need to have at least $4 million.

A million bucks, then, may be more than enough for some and woefully insufficient for others.

A Simple Retirement Stress Test

A simple way to conduct a retirement stress test is to apply some elementary school math:

Expected Annual Pension Income              _______________

Expected Annual Social Security                _______________

Retirement Savings _______________        

X .04 (4% withdrawal rate)                        +_______________

TOTAL EXPECTED ANNUAL INCOME =     _______________

If your total expected annual income is more than your expected income needs, you passed the retirement stress test. If you didn’t, you’ve got more work to do. While your catch-up method will be based on your specific situation, there are really only two basic ways to improve your retirement readiness:

1)   Increase your retirement income. As little as some want to hear it, working longer has a really powerful impact because you may be able to strengthen each of the three legs of the retirement stool—or at least two of them, if you don’t have a pension.

2)   Decrease your retirement expenses. No one wants to retire and then live like a pauper, so decreasing spending is typically even more unpopular than working longer, but it need not be. If you’re willing to alter your geography and go on an adventure, moving from an area with a higher cost of living to a lower one can transform a seemingly hopeless scenario into one that is more than comfortable. This is especially true when you’re able to buy a comparable house for less and add the proceeds to your retirement nest egg.           

Conclusion

The million-dollar retirement goal gets a lot of attention. Remember, though, that personal finance is more personal than it is finance.  Seeing one’s nest egg add another decimal place on the calculator may satisfy an emotional need, but there’s really no magic to it. A million is more than enough for some while lacking for others. The better question: What number works for you?

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know on Twitter@TimMaurer.

The Scarcity Fallacy: Is Less Really More?

Having the privilege of walking through life with people vocationally, aiding in the acquisition, maintenance and dispossession of earthly resources as a financial advisor, I’m burdened with a heightened sense of the battling spirits of scarcity and abundance.

The dehumanizing poverty that torments the Majority World screams that resources—here and now—are scarce. Remembering when I handed a bowl of vitamin-charged oatmeal to a boy who lives and breathes in La Chureca, the Nicaraguan squatter town subsisting off of Managua’s trash, I occasionally twinge at my willingness to pay $5 for a cup of premium Central American coffee. That expenditure could buy a week’s worth of mush, keeping children of the dump alive.

This is one of the children at the feeding center in "La Chureca," the city dump in Managua, Nicaragua.

This is one of the children at the feeding center in "La Chureca," the city dump in Managua, Nicaragua.

How could I not consume less?

And share more?

20 Lessons We Can Learn From 20-Year-Olds

20 YO Graphic-01It’s become enormously popular to publicly lecture 20-somethings.  I’m not a 20-something, but my regular interaction with the Millennial generation as a college instructor leads me to conclude that we may have more to learn from 20-somethings than we have to teach them.

Here are 20 lessons in LIFE, WORK and MONEY inspired by the Millennial generation:

In LIFE…

Nobody responds well to being lectured.   Despite the ineffectiveness of self-righteous bombast, it seems never to be in short supply.  Insisting that someone else sees how wrong they are may guarantee that we will feel more right—but it doesn’t necessarily make it so.  Even if you have good intentions, the best time to teach someone something is after they’ve asked for input.

Life needn’t be so strictly compartmentalized.  Work, family, leisure, service, worship and artistic expression are elements of life that remain segregated for most.  But this schizophrenia of roles leads to inauthentic living in one or more of these venues (and drives us crazy).

We should give ourselves permission to be more of who we are and less of who people want us to be.  There’s an externally successful business owner who shows up at my gym for his morning workout dressed to the nines in a suit and tie.  He didn’t come from a meeting—he just thinks it’s important to send a message everywhere he goes that he is successful (and he’s happy to announce it).  The Millennials’ refusal to engage in such posturing is often mistaken for aloofness or apathy, but it’s really more about a healthy yearning for authenticity.

Being miserably busy is not a good measure of self-worth.  Busyness is no virtue.  It leads to forgetfulness, distraction and tardiness.  And it’s exhausting.

We are human beings, not human doings.  We tend to explain who we are by listing what we do for work and what we have accomplished professionally.  Millennials are more comfortable in their own skin and more capable of enjoying time that can’t be measured in terms of productive output.

 “American” is not actually a language.  Millennials are the first generation in decades who don’t take American pre-eminence for granted.  They’re expanding their personal and professional horizons with international travel and picking up a second or third language.

Traditional education is overvalued.  While Millennials are known for having overpaid for higher education, their dissatisfaction with what they got in return—fueled by their angst over the loans that now burden them—are serving to ensure that they and their children will spearhead the biggest education overhaul in a couple centuries.

In WORK…

Being a slave to work is no badge of honor.  Being the first in and last to leave may send a message to the types of people who value an ascetic work regimen, but it will also send a message to your family and close friends that your work is more important than they are.  Which message do you want to send?

We’re not all productive in the same ways and at the same times.  Sure, there are advantages to being an early bird, but the best employees will figure out where, when and how they work most effectively, and the best bosses will encourage them to do so (to a mutually beneficial end).

Work and life aren’t something to be balanced, but instead something to be integrated.  That we must balance work and life implies that they are seemingly opposed forces incapable of being effectively blended, but the most effective leaders and satisfied employees find ways to bring work to life by inviting more life to work.

Success is overrated.  Boomers have made an art form of becoming successful, or at least appearing so.  Success certainly isn’t a bad thing, but when the visible representation of success (more impressive titles, bigger houses, nicer cars, granite everything) takes precedence over those for whom we supposedly became successful to serve, we have a problem.  This isn’t even a generational thing.  It’s never really been true that reaching the pinnacle of success is what ultimately makes our lives fulfilling—it’s really significance and meaning for which we hunger.  Millennials seem to have a better handle on that.

In MONEY…

You don’t have to “get settled down” right away.  Financial planner, Roger Whitney, told me “[Millennials] are getting married later in life [than Baby Boomers] which gives them time to mature and be more financially secure when entering marriage.”

Money shouldn’t be a taboo topic of discussion.  30-something personal finance writer, Arielle O’Shea, finds Millennials to be more open about money.  Even if it’s because they’re more cynical about financial security, having seen a couple bubbles burst and many of their parents split over financial issues, Millennials seem to be more open to discussing their personal finances (to good effect) with each other and in public.

We don’t have to own everything—sharing is ok too.  Having to own everything we touch in this lifetime may be good for auto and home improvement companies, but it’s certainly not the most efficient or inexpensive way to do things.  Airbnb allows users to swap living spaces, Lyft offers a network of drivers when you need a ride, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in the growing sharing economy.  Millennials are making and saving money with services like these, according to Forbes writer, Maggie McGrath.

The acquisition of real estate is overrated.  Creating stability, building equity and getting tax deductions are all good things—but losing money and depriving yourself of the freedom and flexibility to be mobile are not.  Millennials haven’t abandoned home ownership, but we all need reminding that it does have its drawbacks and shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion for everyone all the time.

We can and should embrace the role of technology in our financial lives.  The financial services industry is known more for hindering progress and clinging to antiquated, high-margin practices and procedures.  Millennials, however, are creating and “using websites such as Mint, You Need a Budget or Manilla, which not only help to track spending, but serve as accountability partners with e-mail alerts when spending limits are exceeded,” according to Mary Beth Storjohann, founder of Workable Wealth.

Youth isn’t a license to embrace reckless investing.  Carmen Wong Ulrich, host of Marketplace Money on APM says “[Millennials are] less likely to want to risk investing their money in the markets, but that also means they’re more likely to stay away from the financial products (and marketing) that burned their parents.”  Indeed, losing money isn’t a good strategy, regardless of your age.

Experiences are more valuable than things.  David Burstein, Millennial author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World, acknowledges that 20-somethings are spending more than any past generation on travel and eating out, but it’s because they place a higher value in deepening interpersonal relationships and creating lasting memories.

The “traditional” notion of retirement isn’t necessarily an ideal.  Millennials tell me that they expect to be working a long, long time.  They don’t expect pensions and don’t trust Social Security, leaving them with little choice, but they also don’t idolize the notion of full-time feet-in-the-sand retirement.  They plan to work longer and enjoy themselves more along the way, many of them hunting more for a calling than a job.

You can do well and do good at the same time.  Profit or charity—take your pick?  The Millennials have invited us to consider that we don’t have to choose between Robber Barron or do-gooder.  In addition to Google’s unofficial motto—“Don’t do evil”—companies like Toms and Warby Parker give one pair of shoes and eyeglasses (respectively) for every pair sold.

Every generation finds comfort in the norms it helped establish and relishes in the norms it helped deconstruct—but the outgoing generation tends to not-so-quietly mourn when the incoming generation does the same.  Pew Research calls the Millennials confident, connected and open to change.  Yes, it’s a little scary that 20-somethings are changing the way we live, work, play, invest and worship—all without even asking our permission!  But it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know on Twitter @TimMaurer, and if you’d like to receive my weekly Forbes installment via email, click HERE.

7 Steps To Creating The Best Personal Task Management System With Trello

7 Steps-01I have tried more productivity systems and tools than could possibly be productive.  Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits are deservedly legendary, and I’m better for every habit I’m able to employ.  David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology was even more helpful for me, especially because it seems to hone the best of Covey’s principles to a more elegant simplicity.  But both of their complete proprietary systems proved too much for me to maintain long-term.

After keeping up for a few weeks—even past the 21 days that supposedly cement a new habit—I always failed to maintain the system after a reliably random task turned into a seemingly wasted day followed by a week of piled emails and unfulfilled pledges (and all of the guilt and shame to boot).

Another reason I’ve failed to maintain well-meaning systems is that after the initial novelty wore off, the checklists and to-dos all seemed to become rote and, well, boring.  I needed something more visual and engaging to hold my attention.

Then Ryan Carson, the founder of Treehouse, introduced me to Trello (via blogger Leo Babauta).  Trello is a highly visual (free) online collaborative project management tool (with access online and on iOS and Android devices), but Carson re-engineered it to become his go-to personal task management system.

I’ve been using it for five months now without fail, synthesizing everything from Covey and Allen that stuck, along with Carson and Babauta’s wisdom, to create the only task management system that’s ever really worked for me.  Here’s how it works for me and could work for you:

skitch

1)     After creating a Trello account, create a new “board” and call it Tasks.  Each board is comprised of vertical “lists”—these will function as your task prioritization system.  Then, each new “card” you add to a List represents an individual task.

2)     Create your lists.  My lists are a conglomeration of what I’ve learned from Covey’s 7 Habits and Allen’s GTD.  My first list on the left is called “Big Rocks”—the priorities in life that I want to consume the majority of my time.  Next is “Today,” the list of items that I hope to accomplish today, followed by “Incoming,” new tasks that have yet to be prioritized.  As you might guess, “This Week” houses the tasks I hope to accomplish this week; “Later,” those tasks I’d like to get to eventually but are not yet urgent; “Waiting On,” that which I’ve accomplished but requires action on another’s part; and “Done,” a list of the tasks I’ve accomplished that day.

3)     Whether you call it Big Rocks or Big Picture (Carson) or Most Important (Babauta), create a list under that heading with your biggest priorities in life.  Mine are Spiritual, Family, Health, Writing/Speaking, Business and Personal.  Now, click on your first prioritization category listed; you’ll see an option to “Edit Labels.”  I recommend making each of your Big Rocks a specific color, and clicking “Change Label Titles” will allow you to give each color a name corresponding with your Big Rocks.  Now, each time you add a new task, you can color code it with an appropriate label.

4)     Add tasks.  If you’re importing tasks from another system or just want to do a brain dump, add all of your tasks to Incoming and then decide where to put them later.  Click “Add a card…” at the bottom of the appropriate list and type a brief description describing the task to be performed.  Before you even hit the green “Add” button, hit the drop down in the bottom right corner and that will give you the option to add a label.  Once the task is added, a host of new options can be seen by clicking on the card itself.  Here you can give the task a longer description, create a checklist within the task, attach a file or give it a due date.  Preferring the GTD approach, I keep it simple and trust my daily prioritization ritual.

5)     After adding a bunch of new tasks, it’s time to prioritize each one by placing it in the appropriate list.  Simply click and drag the card with the task you’d like to prioritize and move it to the appropriate list.  If your lists span beyond the edge of your screen, you can simply hover on the screen’s edge and watch the board traverse in that direction, allowing you to place the card in the list of your choosing.  You can also grab and drag the screen in any direction you choose.

6)     The one essential habit you must form for this—or any other task management system— to work is to perform a review of your tasks board each morning.  Ryan Carson recommends taking 19 minutes to start every day organizing your to-dos.  “Limiting this to 19 minutes,” he says, “keeps you focused and ensures you don’t spend all your time prioritizing instead of doing.”  First, add any meetings or calls on your calendar that day to Today with a precursor (M) for meetings and (C) for calls, along with the time. Then, relocate new Incoming tasks to the appropriate list.  Review This Week to determine which tasks should be completed Today.  Then, review Later to see which tasks should be bumped up to This Week and scan Waiting On to determine if you need to nudge someone else.  Only keep tasks that were completed for a single day in the Done list, purging this list each morning by either moving the task to Waiting On or archiving the task.  You can archive individual tasks by clicking on the card’s drop down, or you can “Archive All Cards in This List” by hitting the list’s dropdown in the upper right-hand corner.

7)     Now, the fun part—getting things Done.  If you spent 19 minutes reviewing your board in the morning, you shouldn’t need to look at any lists except for Today and Done for the remainder of the day.  Throughout the course of your day, move completed cards to Done and reprioritize Today, leaving the next action to be performed at the top.

One of the perpetual faux-tasks that leads many of us astray from the completion of actual tasks is our email.  As Claire Diaz-Ortiz reminded me this week, “Email isn’t work.”  It certainly feels like it, but email is more a conduit leading us to tasks than a task in itself.  Your email inbox is also a horrendous task management venue because it distracts us from the next task on our priority list, but we do often send and receive tasks through email, so Trello provides us with an answer:

Hit “Show sidebar” in the top right of your Trello screen; under the Menu header, click on Settings, then click on Email settings.  This will allow you to copy and paste a specific email address that will send emailed tasks from your inbox to the board and list of your choosing.  (Be sure to create a contact for that email address—something like Trello Tasks—and you won’t have to remember the email address.)

Trello is intended to be an interactive project management solution for groups, but it has become my highly-individualized, personal task management system of choice.  The interactive, visual nature of Trello is what attracted me to it and has kept me using it, but the best part about it is that you can create your OWN system within Trello.  Once you do, or if you already have, I’d love to hear about it.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know on Twitter @TimMaurer, and if you’d like to receive my weekly Forbes installment via email, click HERE.

Subtract Tasks From Your World; Don’t Let Them Multiply

by Jim Stovall

We succeed by doing a lot of things very well.  There are people who do a lot of things but don’t do them well, and people who do things well but don’t do many things.  We don’t succeed based on what we meant to do, intended to do, expected to do, or made a note to do.  We succeed or fail based on what we actually do.

I find a lot of people in the business world today who confuse activity with productivity.  They take on a lot of tasks but get very little done.  These people often allow their work to create more work.

For example, something will come in the mail that requires them to respond.  Their response might take 10 minutes to accomplish.  Instead of just taking care of the task and moving on, they will set it aside, create a file, diary it on their calendar, move it to a later date, find the file weeks later, address the task at hand, mark it off their list, and close the file.  These people can generate several hours’ worth of work and mounds of clutter over one, tiny, little task.  They allow their work to multiply.

As a general rule, whenever possible, handle all communications via writing, phone, or email once.  Certainly there are exceptions when the task will require more time or thought, but for most mundane tasks, it’s much better to do it now.

Efficient and successful people accomplish many tasks in this manner.  There are several occasions every day when someone has asked me to respond, and if I take a few moments and do it now, I am able to accommodate the request.  If I let the task multiply, I am likely to never do it as it is prudent to give this individual a few moments, but I can’t afford to give them a few hours.

If you work alone, this is important, but if you interact with an organization each day, it is critical.  If you allow your own tasks to multiply, they will explode geometrically throughout the organization.  If someone else takes care of your calendar, coordinates your schedule, or handles your filing, your 10-minute task today can be a two-hour task for you later that creates many more hours of effort and energy for your entire team.

Being effective and efficient is often a matter of deciding what to do and what not to do, then budgeting how much time you can expend on each task.

As you go through your day today, subtract tasks from your world.  Don’t let them multiply.

Today’s the day!

Welth: Is It Wurth It?

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of conducting a 40-minute radio interview with one of the great business leaders of our time.  (I’ve split the interview into four ten-minute podcasts, the links for which follow this post.)  Truett Cathy is the founder of Chick-fil-A and the author of several books, most recently, Wealth: Is It Worth It?  He’s well suited to ask and answer that question, because after beginning his restaurant career over 60 years ago with a single eatery, he’s built one of the nation’s most successful and well-loved restaurant chains. But interestingly, an adjective he’s not entirely comfortable putting before his name is “rich.”  He says, “One of the worst things I can imagine someone saying about me is, ‘He’s a rich old man.’”

But it would be hard to argue either of those.  After all, Mr. Cathy is 90 years old and falls at number 375 on the Forbes 400 list, with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion.  However, he defies his age by going to work nearly every day and carries himself with the humility and grace of a line cook, not the founder and chairman.

Wordplay

Wealth is a hot word these days; especially in the financial services business, everyone wants to be about wealth.  So now, instead of being financial advisors or financial planners, stock brokers, insurance salespeople or bankers, everyone is a wealth manager or wealth consultant.  If you work with them, their commercials suggest you’ll be one of the people golfing all day or travelling around the world on a $1 million sailboat or sitting on the beach (with your wealth manager, of course) toasting the purchase of your new 5000 square foot beach home.  Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with golf (except that it’s a miserable sport, chasing that little white ball around); and sailing, for those who know how to do it, is sublime; and if you have the money, right now is a great time to be buying a beautiful beach property—but dangling this utopian envy in front of everyone is what I don’t like about the financial industry’s co-opting of the word wealth.

We tend to believe today that the three words “money,” “riches” and “wealth” are generally synonymous, and I do believe that in the contemporary vernacular, they are.  But that wasn’t the initial intent.  Money and riches, if you follow them back to their original root words in ancient languages, always meant something similar to what they mean today.  Wealth, on the other hand, had a much deeper meaning.  It meant enough.  Contentment.

In Wealth: Is It Worth It? Cathy cautions us of the trappings of financial accumulation, giving us insight into how living through the Great Depression and seeing his own father left emotionally destitute by his inability to provide for his family in that incredibly difficult time informed his own belief system around money.  Far from demonizing dollars, he gives us a framework for virtuous money dealings grounded in Solomonic wisdom.  (Cathy is unabashed in sharing that his money philosophy is grounded in his Christian faith, but he also draws on wisdom from sources neither canonized nor ordained and never seems to get preachy.)

Is it worth it?

But Mr. Cathy isn’t convinced wealth is worth it even after you “earn wealth honestly,” “spend wealth wisely and save it reasonably.”  Even then, we still have the capacity to let wealth accumulation overtake us.  He concludes that the only way wealth is really worth it is “…if you give it generously.”

While this resonates as truth, I admit my skeptical self wants to conclude it’s easy for those blessed with abundance, like Cathy, to admonish the rest of us on the value of charity.  Even he acknowledges it’s unlikely that his children or grandchildren will ever suffer from want.  But having now read his personal and financial story and talked with him, I find not an ounce of inconsistency or inauthenticity.  He applied the same approach to money when living through the Great Depression and standing over the grill in his first restaurant as he does today encouraging us to deconstruct and rebuild our view of affluence.  I also cannot think of a time personally, or with hundreds of clients over the years, in which this particular proverb did not hold true: “If I give water to others, I will never be thirsty.”

One of the highlights of Wealth: Is It Worth It? is an interview Cathy conducted with a friend he has forged in pursuit of his campaign for generosity, the venerable Warren Buffett.  He asks, “Warren, how do you define wealth?”  Buffett answers, “Wealth is having enough.”  Interesting, isn’t it, how wisdom changes so little even over thousands of years.  There is plenty of money out there and a lot of riches, but whether among the rich or the poor, we could all use more enough.

There are many more life-giving tidbits you’ll find throughout my radio interview with Truett Cathy.  The show is organized into some bite-size portions below:

1)     Introduction: A blessing to some and a curse to others 
2)     Friendship w/ Warren Buffett; money and children
3)     Truett’s father; living through Depression; discomfort w/ being rich
4)     “Retirement is misery!”; Chick-fil-A’s secret; when to start giving

Check out comedian, Tim Hawkins, hysterical ode to his favorite restaurant, Chick-fil-A!

Tim’s Tools

Tim is pleased to provide readers with access to a selection of tools that can be used to apply the lessons learned on TimMaurer.com.

 

Personal Money Story

 

Personal Money Story.  This simple exercise will help you understand what what drives your personal money values. To download, click below:

Download Personal Money Story

 

 

 

 

Life Taking, Life Giving - BLANK

 

Life Taking, Life Giving.  This simple exercise will help you understand what you do in life that provides fulfillment and those activities that don't. To download, click below:

Download Life Taking, Life Giving - BLANK