5 Things We Learned About Retirement Planning and Travel in 2020

A Shopping Cart filled with toilet paper

2020 is almost over. It seems like a bigger than normal celebration is in order, but ironically, the usual New Year’s festivities will be muted. Lockdown orders and an unwillingness to gather in crowds will do that.

You can’t live through such a unique year without learning something. Maybe it was how to make a mask with an old t-shirt and duct tape, or perhaps it was how to time deliveries at your local supermarket so you could hoard Clorox Wipes.

What have I learned? I’m glad you asked.

Do it now

“The future is promised to no one.”

A great quote that either came from the Bible, Clint Eastwood, or Walter Payton – Google seems confused. Regardless, 2020 reinforced this concept with the subtlety of a tire iron to the knee.

Globally there have been 1.6 million poor souls that have died from COVID-19 – a tragic number that continues to climb and a stark reminder that tomorrow is not guaranteed.

So, do it now. Whatever you’ve been putting off, do it now. Of course, now doesn’t necessarily mean this instant. Do it as soon as it’s reasonably safe. Time with loved ones, long-delayed retirement planning, bucket-list travel – whatever you’ve been putting off. If it’s important to you, 2020 should be that gentle forceful push to get you moving.

A large elephant nudges a baby elephant from behind

Don’t try to time the market

Sure, it’s easy. Sell high and buy low.

When you’re unemotionally scanning a long-term chart of the S&P 500 in your pajamas, with hot cocoa by your side, the 2020 market drop seems like a tiny blip. Living through it was quite different. With a pandemic raging in the world and global stock markets plunging, opening a newspaper (or news website of your choice) delivered headlines like this:

Coronavirus Rescue Package Fails to Clear Hurdle in Senate

IOC Considers Postponing Tokyo Olympic Games

Coronavirus Hits U.S. Senate as Rand Paul Tests Positive

Marriott, Hotel Owners Furlough Thousands of Workers, Cut Staff

And my favorite :

The Great Toilet Paper Scare

These articles appeared in the March 22nd edition of The Wall Street Journal – the day before the S&P 500 bottomed.

Successfully timing the 2020 market involved two trades – selling before the most rapid bear market in history and buying before the fastest recovery. I’m sure everyone has an uncle who brags about how they nailed it to the day, but for most, coming out ahead navigating this market was extremely difficult.

How hard is market timing? The September 2007 article “Mutual Fund Flows and Investor Returns: An Empirical Examination of Fund Investor Timing Ability” measured mutual fund investors’ performance from 1991-2004. Investor timing decisions caused them to average returns that were 1.56% lower each year than they could have been. Compounded over a lifetime, this is a crippling blow to an investor’s net worth.

There is undoubtedly an investment guru who sidestepped the crash nimbly and then bought aggressively at the bottom. You’ll hear all about their genius. Don’t be impressed until they do it a second time.

The best course of action? Keep diligently adding to your retirement accounts. You’ll buy more at lower prices, and your nest egg will thank you. Buy and hold investing works.

The emergency fund became sexy

For most people, the emergency fund is boring. It’s a pile of cash in a high-yielding account (try to control your laughter, these used to exist) that sits there unloved. That’s until a once-in-a-generation pandemic sweeps the globe and leaves financial destruction in its wake.

Financial planning 101 – save 3-6 months of expenses for a rainy day. And every so often, a torrential downpour like 2020 comes along to make you happy you did. 

Woman stands in pouring rain with umbrella

If you made it through the year with your job, you were one of the lucky ones. Nearly 16 million Americans were not so fortunate.

I’ve written many times that the emergency fund is not sexy, but it’s critical when you need it. It can reduce stress and give you extra time to weigh your options when an emergency strikes.

Retirement may come earlier than you think

“First time in nearly 50 years people 55 and over have lost jobs at a higher rate than younger peers” – AARP

Unemployment has hit older workers hard during a time in their lives traditionally used to shore up retirement savings. These high-income years, paired with the ability to make catch-up contributions, are often instrumental to the financial success of a retirement plan.

Whether it’s companies trying to cull well-compensated employees, or other forms of ageism, this development is unsettling. It may become the normal course of action when future economic shocks hit the economy.

Even in good times, older workers often leave the workplace earlier than planned. Issues such as health or caring for loved ones can cut short a career.

The pandemic is a harsh reminder that plans don’t always go as expected.

The best way to prepare for the unexpected is to develop a retirement plan early and fund it aggressively. If you’d like to retire the day you reach 65, put together a plan that shaves a few years off that number. It’s better to save as if you’re going to retire a few years sooner than desired because early retirement may come whether you want it to or not.

Another benefit of conservatively preparing for a premature exit is your employer may offer an early retirement package. You will be in a better position to accept an attractive offer. Also, early retirement packages can precede layoffs, so it’s nice to have options.

Prepare for the future

A good plan is most valuable when the world around you is falling apart. How did 2020 treat your plan?

If it’s important to you, plan for it. Put together a budget for expenses, review your insurance policies, make sure your beneficiaries are up to date, and your will remains true to your wishes. It’s too late to come up with a well-conceived plan when you’re in the middle of a crisis.

If you love to travel, now’s the time to plan your future adventures. Figure out where you want to go, what you want to do, and when you want to do it. Sure, you’ve always had the dream of an African safari sometime later in life, but now’s the time to put a date on it.

Safari at Sunset

If you’re not doing it already, include travel in your retirement budget. Most people want to travel when they are done working, but most don’t budget for it. (Financial advisor hint: It can be expensive.)

Not to make this into a commercial, but now’s the time to put together a comprehensive financial plan. If you have the time, knowledge, and desire to do it yourself, I highly encourage you to go for it. If you need help, find a fee-only financial advisor who will help you with it.

Conclusion

The pandemic we are living through is miserable in so many ways. However, the worst thing to do is not learn from it. The last nine months have been a painful time for many, but the experience may ultimately help us all make better decisions and lead a more rewarding life.


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    Financial Advisor David Tuzzolino

     

    David Tuzzolino, CFA, CFP®, is the Founder and CEO of PathBridge Financial, a firm that specializes in providing comprehensive financial planning and investment management services for clients that are nearing retirement and love to travel.

    Retirement Planning for People Who Love to Travel – Beware the Bucket List

    Beware the Bucket List - People run with the bulls, photo from above

    Failing to Plan for Travel Spending Later in Life Can Sink Your Retirement Plans

    The rule-of-thumb for spending in retirement is your expenses will drop to 80% of what they were pre-retirement. This number may be adequate for some retirees, but for travelers – it’s unacceptable.

    The Botswanan safari you’ve always dreamed of is expensive. The RV you’re going to use to explore the country will set you back a fair amount too. Plane tickets to visit the Cup of Noodles Museum in Japan – not cheap, and a little odd, but no one is judging you here. That bucket-list of travel experiences and destinations you want to conquer can significantly affect your budget. And according to Merrill Lynch, 67% of retirees age 50 and older have not budgeted for travel in retirement.  

    bucket list travel - safari where a giraffe stretches upward to eat leaves from a lone tree in the savanna

    As a traveler, you should expect an increase in travel-related expenses for at least the first several years of retirement as you work through your bucket list. You’ve been dreaming about the moment for many years, you’re feeling healthy, and the jump in leisure-time all will contribute to a jump in travel spending.

    How do you prepare for this new chapter in life? Create a retirement budget that includes all of these new, travel-related expenses. The earlier, the better, so you can make the necessary adjustments in your spending and saving habits along the way.

    Expenses That Will Decline

    Let’s start with the good news first. You have expenses during your working life that will likely go away or drop substantially when you retire.

    Your daily commute can include gasoline, parking, wear and tear on your car, and the cost of public transportation. These will disappear except as they relate to leisure.

    Your wardrobe will likely change, as well. Goodbye work clothes, hello loungewear! Yes, this may be an oversimplification, but you should be able to retire enough clothing to the point of actually being able to find something in your walk-in closet.

    College tuition for children and mortgage payments are additional expenses that can go away. Taxes should decrease given the drop in work-related income. In addition, there’s no need to save for retirement anymore, because you’re living it!

    Expenses That Will Increase

    Yes, spending will increase in certain areas of your life during retirement. Some of these expenditures you will welcome with open arms, and some you will grudgingly pay wearing a look of disgust.

    Travel expenses can jump dramatically in the first few years of retirement. However, there can be a considerable difference depending on your travel style. Flying in first-class while hop-scotching around the Pacific, staying in 5-star

    5 Star Resort in the South Pacific on many people's bucket list

    resorts, and dining at 3-star Michelin restaurants is one end of the spectrum. Driving a few states away to attend a barbecue with your family who put you up for the weekend will be less expensive.

    The cost of health care in retirement is what every red-blooded American fears. But preparing for these expenses ahead of time can ease the sting.

    Budgeting

    If you don’t currently have a budget, I highly recommend you put one together. It’s retirement planning 101 and is key to projecting when you’ll be able to retire.

    Your budget is likely to change dramatically, however, at retirement, especially if you’re a traveler. I recommend you put together a second budget, which will begin once you retire.

    Many expenses in your life will not change at all. However, for those that will, do your best to estimate the change, especially for items that will significantly affect your budget.  

    One expense that can drastically move up or down is housing. Paying off a mortgage or downsizing can bring down the cost substantially.

    Is relocation a consideration? What does the cost of living look like in the new location? Do you want to buy a vacation home, but keep your original home? Adjust your budget for the potentially significant changes. 

    Budgeting for Travel

    If you love to travel, this part should be fun. Let your mind run wild and think of all the adventures you’d like to have in retirement. Create a travel bucket-list that contains all of the events you’d like to attend, destinations you’d like to visit, and experiences you’d like to…well, experience.

    Do your best to estimate your travel costs accurately.  How many trips will you take per year? How long will they be? Will spending be extravagant or constrained?

    Also, ask yourself how your travel might change. As people age, they tend to value service, comfort, and safety more, and they are willing to pay extra for it. Staying in nicer hotels and traveling with higher-end tour groups can be the result. For all but the most intrepid retirees, gone are the days of solo backpacking through Europe and sleeping 10 to a room in hostel bunk beds.

    Travel in Style - a hostel room filled with bunk beds

    However, there are also changes in retirement that can reduce the cost of travel. The time-freedom that comes with retirement allows travelers to vacation during the off-season, book last-minute deals, and travel in a more deliberate way, such as taking a bus or train instead of an expensive flight.

    If you’re like me, you weren’t in a very good mood the day your first invitation to join AARP arrived in the mail. However, a benefit of being over 50 is discount offers start piling up. By the time you turn 65, discounts on airlines, hotels, restaurants, etc. are prevalent.

    Now that you’ve put some thought into retirement travel, include it in your budget. Be as accurate as you can, but don’t be afraid to err on the high side. It’s better to budget for a bucket-list trip and decide not to take it than the other way around.

    Here are some websites that will help you put together a budget and assist you with finding discounts:

    TripAdvisor – an excellent resource for trip planning and pricing flights, hotels, tours, and more.

    Kayak – another fantastic resource for pricing the major components of travel, includes one of the most flexible, user-friendly airfare search engines available.

    The Senior List – an extensive list of discounts on transportation, lodging, and dining for people 50+.

    Numbeo – if you’re trying to determine how expensive/inexpensive a city or country is, this website is includes the local cost of living index and the prices of everyday items.

    Winding Down

    A difficult part of budgeting far into the future is the many unknowns. One of the most important factors is health. I want to think I’ll still be the healthy, adventurous soul I am now when I’m 90. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the case.

    Travel spending tends to decline with health. Ask yourself – how healthy and active are/were your parents later in life? How about your grandparents?

    Studies show, on average, travel spending starts to decline as travelers enter their 80’s, so this is a good time to start lowering the travel component of your budget. Just don’t do it too rapidly, as many older retirees are still actively traveling. If you want to be conservative, don’t drop it at all.

    Summary

    Don’t be part of the two-thirds of Americans who fail to budget for travel in retirement. Instead, take a pro-active approach to plan your future and start saving early. The 80% rule-of-thumb may leave you ill-prepared for the active retirement many travelers desire, so try and budget for the large expenses later in life as accurately as possible and be conservative when making estimates. A little planning should ensure you’ll end up crossing off your bucket list in style.  


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    Financial Advisor David Tuzzolino

     

    David Tuzzolino, CFA, CFP®, is the Founder and CEO of PathBridge Financial, a firm that specializes in providing comprehensive financial planning and investment management services for clients that are nearing retirement and love to travel.