5 Reasons Managing Your Portfolio During Retirement is Challenging

We struggle to save for retirement. A recent study found over 20% of Americans have not even started saving for retirement, while nearly one third hadn’t been able to save more than $5000. Many people are struggling at step one: setting aside actual money or having money to set aside. But even the most diligent investor can find themselves, doubting and worrying about whether they have saved enough money to sustain a comfortable lifestyle for years to come.

If it is difficult saving money and managing your portfolio before you retire, then investment management after you retire will be more difficult. Before retirement, you add money to your investments. The biggest concern you have is figuring out where to invest the money you add. No one would claim that task is easy, but it is nothing compared to the moment when you stop adding money regularly and begin to withdraw it instead.

The difficulty lies in the unknown future and how your strategy will uphold the test of time.


1. Life Expectancy

No one wants to spend a lot of time thinking about their impending death. Saving money for an unknowable date, because no one really knows how long they will live. Retirement planning always involves an estimate somewhere, whether it is how long you will live, how long your spouse will live, or how long any dependents may be relying on your income. It might be a pleasant surprise to live longer than you plan, but it will not be as enjoyable if you potentially outlive your retirement investments. One way to minimize this risk is to always stay conservative in your estimates of how long you and your spouse may live.


2. Withdrawal/Spending Rates

How much money will you need to spend each month to maintain your lifestyle in retirement? What withdrawal rate will allow you to continue to maximize your investments after they become your main source of income? Conservative estimates vary between simple rules such as spending 4% of assets in a year, or more complicated rules such as pinning spending to the yields of Treasury Notes. It can be complicated enough to exercise the discipline needed to stay under your spending limits. Withdrawing from your investments makes it more difficult to maximize the returns on your investments. This balance between earning and spending money makes managing your portfolio during retirement difficult.

 

3. Risk and Market Cycles

We know the market moves in cycles and we know keeping a cool head is key to retirement investing success. But that does not change the fact that it is psychologically more difficult to stay conservative when the market is booming and to properly cut our expenses to reflect losses when times are hard. It is natural for people to plan to make adjustments later, at some other ill-defined point in time. After all, that is the reason so many Americans are dragging their feet about saving money in the first place. But during retirement, it is important to have the discipline needed to stay the course, when money is thick and when money is thin.


4. Liquidation Strategies

Planning which assets to liquidate can have a ripple effect on the rest of your retirement, for better or worse. The main goal is to liquidate the assets that have the lowest potential return in the future. This leaves the assets with higher potential returns to continue making the most money possible, while you make withdrawals from the asset you choose to liquidate. However, this strategy may be risky because it means taking a gamble on which of your investments potentially make you the most money. If you are wrong, you  may lose a ripple of money that may be a bigger and bigger lost opportunity over time. One way to minimize this risk is to liquidate your assets as evenly as possible, withdrawing money from each asset in proportion to the others. Spreading the money out among assets classes may lower the risk in the long run.

 

5. Pending SS Meltdown

Most people agree that Social Security is heading towards some major problems, and our political system seems perpetually gridlocked to do anything about it one way or the other. If and when, the Social Security fund dips below one year’s worth of payments, one possible solution will be for outgoing payments to dip down to a level that matches the amount of payments expected to come into the fund. It is hard to imagine legislation passing that increases Social Security taxes, so the most likely result is a potential decrease in Social Security payments. That could happen through political action, or it could happen by necessity when the fund hits a full stop.

 

This may sound like an overly negative topic, but the only thing scarier about retirement planning is not planning for retirement at all. It is vital that you understand the challenges facing you as you plan your retirement and the potential obstacles lying ahead for those in retirement now.