Welcome back to the Safe Withdrawal Rate Series. Last week we wrote about how Social Security can impact the SWR estimates. Even under the most optimistic assumption (no changes to the Social Security benefits formula), we didn’t think that the 4% withdrawal rate is safe.
But how about tinkering with the inflation adjustments, also called Cost-of-Living adjustments (COLA)? I often hear that one way to save the 4% rule in periods when the stock market doesn’t cooperate is to not do inflation adjustments for a few years. Or simply utilize the fact that we all potentially spend less (in real terms) as we age! How much can we push the initial withdrawal rate in that case?
J. Money, the personal finance blogger who runs Budgets are Sexy and RockstarFinance asked yours truly to write a guest post! Wow, what an honor! And, it turns out, this is actually my first guest post ever (not counting the “Christopher Guest Post” on the Physician on FIRE blog two months ago because that’s actually an interview). What did I write about? Initially, I proposed to go on an all-expenses-paid trip to Tahiti to review some luxury resorts and report back, uhm, some time later this year. But J$ had another brilliant idea: write about my favorite finance pet peeves. And it got published today:
After a one-week hiatus over the holidays when we wrote about a lighter topic (dealing with debt, booze, and cigarettes, go figure), let’s return to the safe withdrawal rate topic. We’ve already looked at:
the sustainable withdrawal rates over 30 vs. 60-year windows (part 1),
and the current expensive equity valuations (part 3).
The bad news was that after all that number-crunching, the sensible safe withdrawal rate with an acceptable success rate melted down all the way to 3.25%. So much for the 4% safe withdrawal rate! That 25x annual spending target for retirement savings just went up to 1/0.0325=30.77 times. Ouch! Sorry for being a Grinch right around Christmas time!
But not all is lost! Social Security to the rescue! We could afford lower withdrawals later in retirement and, in turn, scale up the initial withdrawals a bit, see chart below. How much? We have to get the simulation engine out again!
We hope you had a great holiday weekend and a very Merry Christmas! If you are looking for the fourth installment of the Safe Withdrawal Rate series (see part 1, part 2, part 3), please come back next week. Who is in the mood for heavy-duty number-crunching when we’re still digesting the heavy meals and scores of eggnog from last weekend? Yup, every year around this time we reconfirm the concept known as “too much of a good thing.” Only those of you free of the sin of overconsumption can throw the first meatball, uhm, stone. I’m waiting… Still waiting… Nobody? See, we’ve all experienced overconsumption between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But is the opposite true as well?
Can there betoo littleof abad thing?
The bad thing I’m talking about is debt. To many of us in the FIRE community, debt is a four-letter word – figuratively! An entire niche of the Personal Finance blogging world is dedicated to getting out of debt and that’s a really good cause especially for those with a low or negative net worth. Paying off credit card debt at 18-20% or student loan debt with high single-digit percent interest rates should be priority number one. But that doesn’t mean that all debt is bad. For us in the ERN household, we’re blessed to never have had any sizable debt, except for a 30-year mortgage that we plan to pay off not a day earlier than we have to. We enjoy the ultra-low interest rate (3.25%), the tax-deductibility and putting our money to work with higher expected returns elsewhere. We love leverage! Our blogging friend FinanciaLibre has written excellent pieces on the topic of leveraging your equity portfolio with the cheap borrowing costs of a mortgage, see here. Read More »
So, the point we like to make today is that looking at long-term average equity returns to compute safe withdrawal rates might overstate the success probabilities considering that today’s equity valuations are much less attractive than the average during the 1926-current period (Trinity Study) and/or the period going back to 1871 that we use in our SWR study.
Thus, following the Trinity Study too religiously and ignoring equity valuations is a little bit like traveling to Minneapolis, MN and dressing for the average annual temperature (55F high and 37F low, see source, which is 13 and 3 degrees Celius, respectively). That may work out just fine in April and October when the average temperature is indeed pretty close to that annual average. But if we already know that we’ll visit in January and wear only long sleeves and a light jacket we should be prepared to freeze our butt off because the average low is 8F =-13C! Likewise, be prepared to work with lower withdrawal rates considering that we’re now 7+ years into the post GFC-recovery with pretty lofty equity valuations.Read More »
Welcome back! This is our 50th post, as I just learned from WordPress. Cheers to that and thanks to our readers for coming back every week! As promised in last week’s introductory post, we present some additional results about safe withdrawal rates for early retirees. Today’s post deals with an important issue that all retirees (whether retiring early or in their mid-60s) should ask themselves:
Do we want to deplete our savings or maintain a certain minimum real value of the principal to bequeath to our heirs?
We are amazed by how little discussion there is in the personal finance community about this. Hence, today’s topic:
Capital Preservation vs. Capital Depletion
capital preservation: target a certain minimum asset level (as % of the initial value) at the end of the retirement horizon. Under full capital preservation we’d aim to keep the real, inflation-adjusted value constant, by consuming “only” the capital gains, dividends, and interest over time, while keeping the principal (plus inflation-adjustment!) in place.
capital depletion: target a zero (or at least positive) final portfolio value, by consuming gains as well as principal over time
We just calculated over 6.5 million safe withdrawal rates. Well, not by hand, of course, but by writing a computer program that loops over all possible combinations of retirement dates, and other model parameters. Not a big surprise here, but it took a lot of work to put this together. We can’t possibly fit all results into one single post, so we publish our results in multiple parts. Today, we briefly introduce our research and some baseline results. Stay tuned for more to come in the next few weeks/months:
The plan to work on this research came after one of those moments when we realized that if you want something done right and exactly applicable to our own situation, we just have to do it ourselves. We wanted to do a lot more robustness analysis than we had seen anywhere in the blogging world.
The trip was also a great opportunity to check off one item on my personal bucket list: Hike through the Grand Canyon from the North to South Rim. In one single day. Since I didn’t bring anybody else along for the hike (Mrs. ERN and little Ms. ERN took the rental car to the South Rim) I thought I will bring all of you ERN blog readers along for a digital ride. Not that any camera can really do the Grand Canyon justice, but I’ll try my best.Read More »
No designated post about personal finance today! But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we thank all of you for coming over to check out our little blog. Thanks for all your comments and feedback. Especially our most prolific commenters:
Scott Alan Turner did a podcast on our emergency fund article. Totally criticizing us! What? But there’s no such thing as bad publicity in the blogging world, so our gratitude extends to our friend Scott as well!
My interactions with medical doctors normally involve the question “on a scale from 0 to 10, how much pain do you feel?” So, I was relieved when my blogging friend Physician of FIRE invited me over to answer questions about blogging, personal finance, and life in general as part of his “Christopher Guest Post” series. But given Dr. PoF’s strange fascination with “spinal taps” and the number 11, I was a bit nervous at first: