Jane M. Young
As we approach retirement, there is a common misconception that we need to abruptly transition our portfolios completely out of the stock market to be fully invested in fixed income investments. One reason to avoid a sudden shift to fixed income is that retirement is fluid; it is not a permanent decision. Most people will and should gradually transition into retirement. Traditional retirement is becoming less common because life expectancies are increasing and fewer people are receiving pensions. Most people will go in and out of retirement several times. After many years we may leave a traditional career field for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. However, after a few years of leisure we may miss the sense of purpose, accomplishment, and identity gained from working. As a result, we may return to work in a new career field, do some consulting in an area where we had past experience or work part-time in a coffee shop.
Another problem with a drastic shift to fixed income is that we don’t need our entire retirement nest egg on the day we reach retirement. The typical retirement age is around 65, based on current Social Security data, the average retiree will live for another twenty years. A small portion of our portfolio may be needed upon reaching retirement but a large percentage won’t be needed for many years. It is important to keep long term money in a diversified portfolio, including stock mutual funds, to provide growth and inflation protection. A reasonable rate of growth in our portfolio is usually needed to meet our goals. Inflation can take a huge bite out of the purchasing power of our portfolios over twenty years or more. Historically, fixed income investments have just barely kept up with inflation while stock market investments have provided a nice hedge against inflation.
We need to think in terms of segregating our portfolios into imaginary buckets based on the timeframes in which money will be needed. Money that is needed in the next few years should be safe and readily available. Money that isn’t needed for many years can stay in a diversified portfolio based on personal risk tolerance. Portfolios should be rebalanced on an annual basis to be sure there is easy access to money needed in the short term.
A final myth with regard to investing in retirement is that money needed to cover your retirement expenses must come from interest earning investments. Sure, money needed in the short term needs to be kept in safe, fixed income investments to avoid selling stock when the market is down. However, this doesn’t mean that we have to cover all of our retirement income needs with interest earning investments. There may be several good reasons to cover retirement expenses by selling stock. When the stock market is up it may be wise to harvest some gains or do some rebalancing. At other times there may be tax benefits to selling stock.