You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think (Maybe)
Tips from Wes Moss, author and host of radio's 'Money Matters'
In fact, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think: The 5 Money Secrets of the Happiest Retirees is the fetching title of his new book. I admit, I was intrigued (personally and professionally). So after reading it, I rang up Moss, 38, at his Atlanta, Ga., office to find out more.
Spoiler alert: During our conversation, Moss conceded that not everyone can retire sooner than they think.
As you’ll see by the book’s subtitle, Moss decided to find out what made America’s happiest retirees so chipper; he also wanted to know what pre-retirees were doing to prepare for the day they stop working full-time. So he surveyed 1,350 people online who were either retired or within 10 years of retirement.
Highlights of our conversation:
Next Avenue: You say that people can retire sooner than they think if they follow what you call your TSL approach. What’s TSL?
Moss: TSL stands for Taxes/Savings/Life and it represents a percentage breakdown of your gross income. I recommend a 30/20/50 ratio: 30 percent goes to Taxes (federal and state); 20 percent goes into Savings through a 401(k)-type plan or by paying down debt and 50 percent is for Life (housing, food, fun and everything else).
So you’re saying the only way to retire sooner than you think is to save 20 percent of your gross income? That’s pretty difficult.
These are not easy numbers. But neither is the goal of financial freedom. The reality is a lot of people won’t be able to do it; the rare person has the discipline to do it. But I have a conviction that this can be done because I’ve seen it.
Do you believe people need to spend very little in order to retire early?
No. The happiest retirees, according to my survey, are the ones who live in the middle. I call them ‘Masters of the Middle.’
In the survey, Macys and Kohl’s were the two top retail spots for the happiest retirees. They’re good places to shop, but they’re not Neiman Marcus or Saks.
I’m not one of these financial pundits that feels you need to drive a 20-year-old car and live in a shack and get your clothes at Goodwill. I don’t believe in the deprivation mentality.
I believe if you cut out the high-end spending and the really low-end — like fast food restaurants — and live in the middle, there are plenty of great places to buy autos and clothes and groceries.
If can stay within TSL, you can buy all the lattés you want and you’ll be fine.
What are some of the mistakes you see people make that keep them from retiring when they’d like?
The people I see who run into trouble aren’t saving at all for 10 years or they’re putting all their 401(k) into a money market account without any growth or they’re buying a house that costs too much.
You know what they say about being penny wise and pound foolish? The mistakes I see are pounds, not pennies. It’s not buying too many lattés. It’s buying the $500,000 house.
You say that one of the ways to retire sooner than you think is to have at least two or three sources of income in retirement. Why?
People always talk about diversification for investing, but they don’t talk about the importance of diverse income streams in retirement. You have one big river of income throughout your working life; retirement is more about getting different tributaries to run into and create a decent stream of income. That way, if something goes wrong with one, you have others left.
You’re a big fan of owning income-producing properties in retirement. Why?
I like it because it’s an asset diversifier beyond the stock market and you’re using other people’s money. If you can, try to buy one property per decade during your working years. That way, you’ll buy into different types of markets; it’s like dollar-cost averaging in the stock market.
You say that Obamacare has made it easier to retire early. Why?
Yes, there’s a huge difference between now and five years ago. Then, if you had a pre-existing condition and had insurance through your employer but you wanted to retire at 64, you couldn’t do it. You had to wait until 65, for Medicare, because no one would give you insurance in the interim. That happened to my mother-in-law who had breast cancer.
The Affordable Care Act helps those who are in a position to retire financially but who couldn’t get health care in the past due to a pre-existing condition.
Your survey also turned up the traits of the happiest retirees. Tell me about them.
It was interesting to see that the happy group take a whole extra vacation each year compared to unhappy retirees. Specifically, the happy retirees take 2.4 vacations a year. They want to explore.
I believe happiness in retirement is a balance of staying busy and staying curious.
You also say the happiest retirees are living with purpose. What does that mean?
They have core pursuits or what I call ‘hobbies on steroids.’ These people are more eager to schedule as full a day after they stop working as when they were working — sometimes even a day that’s more full.
Actually, volunteering was the most popular core pursuit in our survey.
Did your survey find that people who work part-time in retirement are happier than people who don’t?
Yes. If you work part-time, it’s a really huge component of making things work. For the happy retirees, part-time work was a common source of income.
You write that the happiest retirees spent at least five hours a year planning for retirement. How did they do that?
Think of it as a total of two hours a year meeting with a financial adviser every six months for an hour each time. The adviser will keep you on track and keep you from making big financial mistakes. Spend another hour on the weekend every couple of months throughout the year maintaining your retirement plans. That’s when you ask yourself questions like: ‘Are we saving 20 percent a year?’ And ‘Are we on track?’
Five hours a year can go a long way to keep you from making big financial mistakes.
Your survey found that one thing that makes retirees unhappy is buying a house when they retire because they then need to spend time and money renovating it.
That’s a clear mistake I’ve seen. It can lead to doing a bunch of expensive work at the time you stopped earning money. You think you’re going to spend $20,000 on renovations and it becomes $40,000.
And your survey found that the happiest retirees live in cities and suburbs, not in the country. Why is that?
There’s something about cities and suburbs and being around people instead of being isolated. There’s a lot of healthiness to that dynamic.
When do you think you will retire?
I think about it all the time. For me, it’s 50. Give me another 12 years, when my oldest will be mid-college.