Achieving Retirement Goals in a Stagnant Economy has Aging and Retired Americans Short on Optimism

By Chris Massenburg, Lake Point Advisory Group

Boxing great Joe Louis, who won—and lost—a few fortunes in his lifetime once said “I don’t like money, but it quiets my nerves.”

Many aging and retired Americans are feeling that same tug of war with finances. They’re unnerved, despite positive economic news and a high rate of optimism among younger investors.  In fact, retired investors’ optimism plummeted sharply in the second quarter due to concerns about the economy.

Think Advisor reported that the most recent Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index fell by eight points to +29 in June from +37 in February, largely because of a 17-point drop in optimism among retired investors. Optimism among non-retirees fell only four points since February, according to the quarterly poll of 1,036 investors 18 and older, conducted between June 27 and July 9.

What has aging Americans feeling so spooked? Portfolio performance, especially among conservative investors, for one thing.  With the cash in their bank accounts earning virtually nothing, and the stock market essentially flat for the year, retirees have not been seeing any portfolio improvements. Inflation—that notorious portfolio bully—looms whenever the economy starts heating up.

Meanwhile, living expenses are towering. Healthcare costs in retirement for a 65-year-old couple now stands at an estimated $245,000, according to Fidelity Benefits Consulting.

Adding to the pressure retirees are feeling is the fact that they have a shorter investment horizon than folks still in the prime of their careers. An investor at age 70 or 75 who has little to show for their post-retirement conservative investment strategies is feeling very attracted to shorter-term portfolio gains.

As a result, financial planners report that they’re doing a lot of calming and reassuring with their older clients, who do a lot of worrying—about ISIS, rising interest rates, income disparity, European recession, a dysfunctional Congress, slowdown in China, and falling commodity prices. And it’s not like their fears are entirely groundless.

The crash of 2008 may have been eight years ago, but it’s still fresh in a lot of people’s minds, and other people who are going the dividend income strategy route who put all their money back into stocks may have forgotten that lesson. In a market like this, where there’s not a whole lot of true growth, as fiduciaries we encourage our clients who are nearing retirement or retired to be patient and make sure they’re properly diversified.

We advise them not to put all their eggs in one basket, not to let their portfolios become over weighted in risk. Everybody’s risk is a little bit different depending on their situation, so it’s important to sit down with a fiduciary financial planner, advisor, coach—whatever you want to call it—somebody who can tell you the true ramifications of any investment decision you’re antsy to make.

As fiduciaries, our job is not to sell products or sell investments, our job is to figure out what your goals are, plan around those goals, give you the best advice, and execute what you want. We have a legal obligation to act in your best interest.

It’s not easy for retirement advisors to tell their clients to take a deep breath and relax, but that is precisely the strategy to take. Don’t make any rash portfolio decisions without speaking to your advisor first.

Excess worriers are usually not as risk-tolerant as they think. It’s perfectly reasonable to revisit one’s asset allocation, particularly if it’s been a few years since you’ve done so. We help dial down our clients’ worries by sitting with them and reviewing their assets, and recommending strategies that can put their minds at ease.

Even those individuals who are not fretting excessively would be well advised to re-examine their assets with a retirement planner to make sure nothing has spiraled out of whack in favor of higher risk equities after such a long bull market.

Shifting a percentage into fixed income can not only stabilize your portfolio’s volatility, and it will help you sleep at night. There are plenty of strategies available for padding a low- or non-performing portfolio, and we’re here to help you do that.

Still, many retirees can’t shake the sense of dread they feel about the economic challenges facing them on the horizon, and it’s interfering with their ability to enjoy retirement. A number of retirement-age Americans are working well into their 70s because they believe they have to. Retirees also have to consider they’re likely to live significantly longer than their parents, which means retirement income streams must last.

The stress is understandable, but almost every situation can be resolved with the right strategies. You worked 40 – 50 years to get to retirement, and you deserve to enjoy it!

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