What topics are covered in a financial plan?
Before we get started, we want to cover the most important topic. Financial plans (at least good ones) should NOT be geared towards selling you a commissioned product. Your plan should focus on education with an emphasis on reviewing, measuring and adjusting (if needed) the decisions with the greatest impact on your plan's projected success. A financial plan addresses more than simply what stock, bond, mutual fund or insurance product to buy. It addresses the most important question... "Will I reach my financial goals if I keep doing what I am doing today?"
When financial advisors are paid based on what they sell you, the objectivity of the plan might be compromised. We provide a sample plan to show you what a financial plan should cover. Whether you choose to work with a financial planner or manage your own plan, we hope this sample plan provides guidance as you continue your financial journey.
Do you have the right financial plan?
We often hear “I don’t have a financial plan.” This is not true. Everyone has a default financial and retirement plan. In its simplest form, your plan is the combination of what you earn, spend, invest, and protect. The question is not whether you have a plan, the question is whether you have a plan that projects success…based on your definition of success.
The current review is the first step in an ongoing process towards the goal of enjoying retirement. Your needs, wants and wishes will likely change as you progress through life. Life will offer up surprises from time to time...both opportunities and challenges. As your goals change, you'll update your plan. When you recognize life will change, you'll likely realize financial planning is a process rather than an event.
We created this sample plan as a way to share what we believe a financial or retirement plan should include. We include the most common components as a point of reference. We call it personal financial planning for a reason. Your plan is specific to you. As you review this sample plan, consider how you would address each section.
Reviewing where you are today
We begin with what is known today. For some, this is a valuable exercise on its own. Putting all your information in one place provides clarity. Then, we ask you to consider future expectations. As you consider the future, what excites you? Then we ask you to consider the opposite question. What concerns you as you look towards your future? A review of today and a list of expectations and concerns is a good starting point and now it is time to consider the overall intention of your plan.
Your retirement expectations:
- Active Lifestyle
- Quiet Lifestyle
- Opportunity to Help Others
- Moving to a New Home
- Work by Choice
- Start a Business
- Time to Travel
- Time with Friends & Family
- Less Stress – Peace of Mind
Your retirement concerns:
- Not Having a Paycheck Anymore
- Running Out of Money
- Suffering Investment Losses
- Leaving Money to Others
- Cost of Health Care or Long-Term Care
- Current or Future Health Care Issues
- Husband Dying Early
- Wife Dying Early
- Living Too Long
- Getting Alzheimer’s (or other illness)
- Being Bored
- Too Much Time Together
- Parents Needing Care
Once you've clarified your expectations and concerns, we address the concerns and consider your expectations as we measure and discuss your plan.
Considering what you look to achieve…Your Intention
Your intention is your "big picture." Your plan will likely include a desire to retire. It will consider what you hope to do in retirement while considering your needs and wants along the way. Now that you know your intention, you can break down your vision into smaller pieces…often referred to as goals. Goals tend to be shorter term and more easily measured.
Most plans share common goals. The ultimate measure of success is its ability to successfully complete its intention. We include some of the most common goals in this sample plan. As you review the plan, consider your opinion of the various goals. Would you add anything to the list? Would you delete any of the goals? You will quickly see why each plan is different. The answer to each of the questions below will be specific to you and your situation.
When would you like to retire?
The most common question is ‘When can I retire?”. We start with your desired retirement date (age) and test your plan's probability of success based on your desired retirement date. If your plan projects success, we might test retiring sooner or moving to a part-time role. If your plan doesn't project success, we test adding time in the workforce or adding part-time income after "retirement."
How long will you live?
The answer of when you can retire is dependent on how long you live. We can't predict the future, but we can make informed calculations based on your age and health. The difference between when you retire and when your "plan ends" addresses the question of "how long does your money need to last?". Our sample plan assumes the couples' money needs to last 34 years after retirement. This may be close to the number of years they were in the workforce. This is a decision you hopefully have some control over. The decision of when to retire will likely have a much greater impact on your success than any product that is sold to you.
How long does your money need to last?
If you retire at age 65 and live to age 85, your money has to last 20 years AFTER retirement. Consider the scenario in which your spouse is two years younger and lives to age 87. Your money needs to last an additional 4 years.
What is your Basic Retirement Living Expense?
Now that we have an idea of how long your money needs to last, we consider how much you'll spend during retirement. Our initial estimate of your retirement living expense is your current living expense adjusted for inflation. Although you'll spend your money on different things, you'll likely not want to decrease your lifestyle.
Next, we consider expenses beyond your current living expense. You might want to travel more during retirement. You will likely need to add a separate expense for health insurance now that your employer isn't covering a portion of it. You will likely need to replace one or more cars during retirement. As you review your plan, it is important to consider all the expenses that had been paid from employment income. You don't want a surprise later.
What else would you like to (or have to) do in retirement?
- New Home
- Other big purchases
- Home Improvement Needs
How will you pay retirement expenses and fund goals?
Now that we know what you want to achieve in retirement, we take a look at what you have. Your resources such as investments and Social Security will determine if you can achieve all of your retirement goals. We begin with your current choice or a default assumption and compare how different choices impact your plan's projected success.
Guaranteed Income: This is income that we know we can count on in retirement. It creates a floor from which expenses will be paid. You won't outlive this income as it is guaranteed for life. Some sources are adjusted for inflation while others are not. The decisions surrounding guaranteed income affects your ability to spend later in retirement as well as how much (and from where) you spend in the early years of retirement. Sources of guaranteed income include:
- Social Security
Investments: You will withdraw the difference between your expenses and guaranteed income sources. Your investment accounts vary when considering taxation (now and in the future). Your portfolio should consider your goals (time and amount) and your risk tolerance (financial and emotional). You should consider which accounts you are actively making additions. Finally, you should consider limitations on investments accounts (withdrawal penalty or investment restriction).
- Roth IRA
- Life Insurance Policies
Liabilities: Liabilities could and sometimes are included with goals. Typically, your largest liability is your mortgage. When listing your projection of living expenses in retirement, will your mortgage be paid in full? When considering car payments, have you included an ongoing car payment in your living expense or will you pay cash when in retirement?
- Car loans
Let's measure your Results...We'll determine where to focus our Attention
Based on what we know about your goals and your resources, we now test your plan's probability for success. If your plan projects a level of success you find comfortable, maintain your current plan and review again in a year or whenever you feel the need. If your plan does not project a comfortable level of success we'll consider adjustments.
What we test:
- How much you spend/save: This decision tends to have the greatest impact when considering how to adjust your financial plan to better meet your goals. This is also a factor you have a lot of control over.
- How long you stay in the workforce: This is a factor you may have less control over, but deciding to remain in the workforce longer provides additional income, allows your portfolio more time to grow and saves money by allowing you to take advantage of employer sponsored benefits such as health insurance.
- Portfolio allocation: Market conditions are something you have absolutely no control over, so we address this last. Shifting your investments can impact your success, but often changes in other areas have a greater impact.
The other way to ‘fail’ retirement is to reach the ‘End of your Plan’ with more in the bank than you desire. If your goals include maximizing your lifestyle (spend more while living, leave less to heirs); laying on your death bed with a substantial amount of assets might create the “could of, would of, should of response.” We refer to this as an “upside fail.”
In this situation, we will test your plan for the same three factors, but find a balance between maximizing what you spend today and saving for the unexpected.
Other areas we discuss during the review of your plan:
- When to take Social Security (hedge longevity)
- How to take Pension & Survivor Benefits (if applicable)
- We review your cash flow needs and projections from your plan
- Consider market risk by testing your plan for bad timing and poor market performance
- Consider tax implications and work to minimize your tax liability
The success of your retirement depends on you taking the actions needed and committing to following a plan. We can help you create a road map to get there, but ultimately your success lies in your hands. When you have a plan that projects success and understand the steps needed to get there, you gain ‘permission’ to move forward and enjoy life. If your plan projects success with the agreed (and hopefully automated) savings, you gain permission to spend the rest of your income without the guilt and second guessing.
Financial planning is a process rather than an event. To remain successful, you should review your current scenario, your desired goals and the probability of success based on the adjustments. If life always played out as expected, reviews wouldn't be necessary. But...
During plan reviews, we often create three or four simple action steps that are the most important to the success of the plan. We focus on tasks that provide the biggest impact and in many cases, can be automated. They typically include a savings goal (automated), an investment goal (automated), and a spending goal (reviewed).
By working with a financial planner you are able to take emotions out of your decision making process and focus on the numbers...they don’t lie. And remember...financial planning is a process, not an event. It is important to periodically review your plan and address any changes to maintain your level of success.
We find too many people believe a financial plan is really just a set up for a commissioned sale. Hopefully, reviewing the outline of this sample plan provides a clearer picture of what a financial plan should include.