My husband watches the stock market. We’re both retired, and some of our income comes from investments. That means when the markets are down, he frets. When they’re up, he still frets (but not as much). These days, with the markets up and down like a yo-yo, he’s fretting a lot. Me, I’d rather look away and think about baseball.
But neither worrying nor avoidance will make a speck of difference to our – or your – retirement security. Fortunately, though, you can take steps to help your money last as long as you need it.
Here are three ways you can cushion the blows of market volatility, and fret less.
1. Plan your withdrawal rates carefully
First of all, it’s vital to know how much money you’ll need in retirement. Analyze your spending, make a budget, talk to your advisor.
Then figure out how long you’ll need it. That’s your longevity. You can very roughly forecast your longevity by looking at your health, lifestyle, parents’ lifespans and so on.
It’s best to be conservative, and plan for your money to last longer than you think you’ll need it. Your advisor may suggest aiming for age 90, or even 100. If you don’t make it that far, you can always leave what’s left to your children or charity.
But it’s just as important to know how much of your retirement savings you can withdraw each year. And it’s not quite as simple as dividing your savings by the number of years you estimate you’ll live. Other important factors come into play, too. Your expenses might change due to a shift in lifestyle or a downturn in your health. You might run into a financial emergency or be called on to help an adult child. And, of course, those volatile markets can affect the size of the savings you’re drawing from. This is where it becomes absolutely vital to get financial advice. With your advisor’s help, you can take all these variables into account and make informed decisions.
2. Understand the importance of diversification
You choose when and how much to take out of your savings. But you don’t have as much control over what happens to your money in the meantime. No matter how carefully you withdraw, a market downturn could put a big hole in your savings. To help prevent this from happening, you want your savings to grow while they’re invested. That way, you can replace some of what you’re taking off the top each year and stretch your money.
Investors of any age look for growth, of course. But when you’re retired and your investments become a major source of your income, investment growth is critical. And one of the best ways to make sure your money grows is to diversify. And this, regardless of what’s happening in the markets. This means mixing a wide variety of investments within your portfolio. You can diversify by asset class (for example, stocks, bonds and real estate). You can diversify by industry – pharmaceuticals, mining and transportation, for instance. You can even diversify by geography (for example, North American, European or Asian stocks). By diversifying, you can balance a drop in one investment with a rise in another one.
3. Practice the fine art of rebalancing
And speaking of balance: Smart investors don’t stick with the same combination of investments – their “asset mix” – forever. Their asset mix will shift over time. (This applies to everyone, by the way, not just retirees.)
It’s important to understand that we’re not talking about rebalancing just because the markets have fallen or risen. Rather, it’s smart to rebalance when:
- Your asset mix has gotten out of kilter. Suppose you want 60% stocks and 40% bonds in your portfolio. But rising stock and falling bond values might have turned that into 75% stocks and 25% bonds. You’ll want to move some of that stock money back into bonds, to restore the balance.
- Your plans have changed. Suppose you originally based your asset mix on your plan to retire in five years. But you’ve decided to retire now, instead. That change – fewer years of employment income, more years needing retirement income – will affect your asset mix.
- You’re no longer comfortable with your original strategy. Your risk tolerance may have changed. For example, people starting out in their career typically choose a more aggressive portfolio. But as they near retirement, they’ll want to reduce their risk if the stock market drops dramatically.
Your advisor will help you keep an eye on your portfolio and give you a heads-up when it’s time to rebalance.
Being prepared will help your money last as long as you need it. That means planning your withdrawals, diversifying your investments and rebalancing your portfolio from time to time. Being prepared will help you stay calm when markets are volatile. And that means you’ll sleep more soundly.
This article is meant to provide general information only. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada does not provide legal, accounting, taxation, or other professional advice. Please seek advice from a qualified professional, including a thorough examination of your specific legal, accounting and tax situation.