The Grand (Money) Illusion

 OK, admit it. You’ve done it too. With the recent rise in the stock market, you’ve seen your 401(k) balance rise also. You’ve started to think “Its going up, so everything is fine. It was down for a while, but now its coming back.”

Does that sound like you? When you open your 401(k) or IRA statement, do you just look at the total balance and try to figure out if it’s up or down? 

Money Magazine has their 2011 Retirement Guide out now. Senior Editor, and Retirement Expert Penelope Wang urges you to think of your retirement differently. Don’t just look at the total lump sum. Look at what the future income will be, which the lump sum will generate. This is the Grand Illusion (not the Styx song) when it comes to your 401(k), she says. Remember that your future purchasing power also will be eroded by inflation.

Recently, I had a client ask me if $1,000,000 was enough to retire on. My answer was that we don’t know until we look at your income needs, and cash flow. What are your monthly and yearly expenses? 

Let’s assume that you have $1,000,000 (I know, I know…..just play along, OK). Let’s assume also that you will be drawing 4% per year from the $1,000,000 nest egg. In order to do that, your money needs to be invested so that you are getting at least a 4% real return (after taxes and inflation). That way you can take money out without shrinking your nest egg.

So, using the $1,000,000 figure we can multiply that by .04 and get $40,000. We will take $40,000 per year for income. Will $40,000 meet your expenses? Do you have other debt? How about other sources of income?  

You MUST look at your 401(k) or IRA this way! It is a source of future income for you. The bigger the nest egg, the more income it will generate. But now you know WHY you need a bigger nest egg! “People understand how much money they need each month, so it makes the saving process more relevant,” says UCLA behaviorial finance professor Shlomo Benartzi.

By the way, Ms. Wang also shows an illustration in her article on how long we think our money will last. Although most experts asvise retirees to limit their withdrawals to a maximum of 4%/year, there is a myth that you can take out more. According to the Met Life Retirement Income IQ Test (2008), about 26% of those surveyed thought that withdrawing 7%/year from a nest egg was safe. A whopping 43% (nearly HALF) of the respondants believed that it would be OK to withdraw 10% or more per year!!

Picture a small boat with a leak.

At first, you may not notice the leak. As water rushes into the boat, you start to panic. The water pours in faster and faster, until the boat begins to sink. That’s what happens to IRAs when you take out too much money. Eventually you reach a point where you can’t keep up.
Let’s keep your boat floating!
Help! My 401(k) Has Fallen – And Must Get Up! is my new book. It has several ideas and strategies which will help you in your retirement savings journey. Get your ‘Fallen’ 401(k) back on its feet. Contact me to reserve your copy today. You can also get a FREE report at my website –  The 5 Biggest Problems With 401(k) Plans & How To Fix Them.

You may also listen to my weekly radio program – Improving Your Financial Health on WHME-FM in South Bend. Archives can be heard on my website as well. If you live in the South Bend, IN area, I specialize in 401(k) rollovers or IRA reviews. You can also follow me on Twitter, Linked In, or Facebook .

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