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.

    7 Financial Tips for College Grads in 2020

    Confetti fills the air over a group of college graduates

    Fall graduation is near, and although this year it will be different in many ways, the importance of starting life with a firm set of financial principles is as critical as ever. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to work with Jared Defaria, an economics student at Johns Hopkins University. I asked him to put together a list of financial tips for college graduates, and he did a fantastic job of writing the article below. (Please ignore the “by David Tuzzolino” that appears above as I spent a half-hour trying to remove my name from the post and was unsuccessful.) Please take a few minutes to read through his work and pass on these financial tips to the new college grads in your life.


    Build a Budget

    Budgeting your expenses is the first step to ensuring that you are meeting all your needs in an affordable way and not wasting any money.  By establishing a monthly budget, you have something concrete to follow. There are dozens of helpful budgeting tools available online, so find one that best suits your needs.

    A cartoon figure analyzes a college grads budgetA college grads budget

    Or, create your own spreadsheet to establish your budget and keep track of your expenses. This will help you avoid eating out too much or forgetting about the 2 or 3 streaming services you’ve been paying for but not using.  Always keep an eye on your budget to prevent these unnecessary payments.

     

    Live Within Your Means

    In order to start building savings, it is necessary to limit unnecessary spending, especially at this stage in your life.  Eating lunches and dinners out and taking trips with your friends seems tempting with your first real paycheck, but it could wreck your budget.  There are also ways to avoid certain expenses that may seem necessary, but you can certainly live without.

    One example of this is a car.  If you can find a way to live near enough to work to avoid spending on a car, your budget will only increase for all your other expenses.  Spending a little extra on housing to achieve this could still be beneficial, but make sure you’re someone who can handle those morning strolls to the office.

     

    Create an Emergency Fund

    It may seem difficult to put money away in case of something completely unforeseen, but an emergency fund couldn’t be more important.  Whether you’re in between jobs, you incur a large medical expense, or a car repair; an emergency fund will give you that extra cushion.

    Live Within Your Means
    A good rule of thumb is to have savings equal to three to six months of expenses to keep you on your feet.  Make sure that you place the money in an account with easy access and a high-interest rate.  There are many options for savings accounts that provide a perfect spot for your emergency fund, and dropping a small piece of your paycheck into that account is all it takes.

     

    Understand Investments and Retirement Plans

    Before you can determine what retirement plan is right for you, it is first necessary to understand what they are and what they provide. Understand the differences between a 401k and Roth IRA, both of which would be sensible retirement plans for a college graduate.

    A 401k is a good option if your employer offers a company match for what you put into the account.  Make sure you know if they do and what the match is. Contribute at least up to your employer’s match to maximize the value of your 401k.

    A Roth IRA provides a great option for recent college grads.  Contributions and earnings from the account can be withdrawn tax-free and without penalty for any reason once the investor reaches age 59 ½ and the account has been open for at least five years.

     

    Quickly Pay Off High-Interest Debt

    As a college graduate, there is a good chance you are left with student loans.  However, most federal student loans for undergraduates have low, fixed interest rates that don’t need to be paid off quickly.  Once you’ve graduated college, you need to focus on paying off all high-interest debt, such as credit card debt, personal loans, and some private student loans. 

    Quickly Pay off High Interest Debt

    Much of this debt can be avoided from the start just by following most of the tips we’re discussing now.  By always paying your credit card bills on time, creating a budget, and building an emergency fund, you can avoid most high-interest debt.  Too much of this debt early on in life can weigh you down.

     

    Establish Good Credit (And Be Smart About It)

    It may seem risky to establish credit this early, but many more opportunities will be available to you in doing so.  With good credit, banks and other lenders will be much more willing to loan you money and at a much better interest rate.

    At this stage, the best way to establish good credit is to start using a credit card (and to always pay your bills on time).  By using your credit card for all regular purchases, like getting coffee or going to the movies, benefits will build up, and your credit score will improve (again, as long as you pay your bills on time).  Most importantly, make sure to still stick to your budget and avoid any impulse buys.

     

    Understand What Insurance You Need

    Insurance is necessary but, for a recent college grad, you can avoid paying hefty premiums for insurance you don’t really need.  For example, life insurance is very important once other people become financially dependent on you, but while you are still independent, you can focus on different types of insurance.

    Health insurance, car insurance, and renter’s/ homeowner’s insurance are all things to consider at this stage in your life. There is a strong chance that your employer will provide health insurance, and that is something to look into when selecting your first job. 

    More often than not, you will be renting a home once you graduate rather than owning one, so the next step to focus on is renter’s insurance.  Many people make the mistake of thinking that they will be covered under their landlord’s insurance; however, you will definitely need your own insurance.  Renter’s insurance is important for any damage you might cause, any injury on the property, and for personal items in case of theft, fire, flood, etc.  Make sure to always know exactly what is covered under your insurance plans.

    If you get kicked off of your parents’ plan, it will be necessary to purchase car insurance.  It’s important to note how to create the most affordable insurance plan, as car insurance can get expensive at this age.  You’ll need to consider what kind of car you’ll have, where you’ll be driving, how much you’ll be driving, and your previous record when considering insurance, as those will all be factors in the cost. 

     

              Written by Jared Defaria


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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.