Retirement Spending Experts debate 4% versus 8% withdrawal rates

By Michael J. Wiener

Special to Financial Independence Hub

On episode 289 of the Rational Reminder podcast, the guests were retirement spending researchers, David Blanchett, Michael Finke, and Wade Pfau.
The spark for this discussion was Dave Ramsey’s silly assertion that an 8% withdrawal rate is safe.  From there the podcast became a wide-ranging discussion of important retirement spending topics.  I highly recommend having a listen.


Here I collect some questions I would have liked to have asked these experts.

1. How should stock and bond valuations affect withdrawal rates and asset allocations?

It seems logical that retirees should spend a lower percentage of their portfolios when stocks or bonds become expensive.  However, it is not at all obvious how to account for valuations.  I made up two adjustments for my own retirement.  The first is that when Shiller’s CAPE exceeds 20, I reduce future stock return expectations by enough to bring the CAPE back to 20 by the end of my life.  These lower return expectations result in spending a lower percentage of my portfolio after doing some calculations that are similar to required minimum withdrawal calculations.  I have no justification for this adjustment other than that it feels about right.

The second adjustment is on equally shaky ground.  When the CAPE is above 25, I add the excess CAPE above 25 (as percentage points) to the bond allocation I would otherwise have chosen in the current year of my chosen glidepath.  Part of my reasoning is that when stock prices soar, I’d like to protect some of those gains at a time when I don’t need to take on as much risk.

Are there better ideas than these?  What about adjusting for high or low bond prices?

2. How confident can we be that the measured “retirement spending smile” reflects retiree desired spending levels?

I find that the retirement spending smile is poorly understood among advisors (but not the podcast guests).  In mathematical terms, if S(t) is real spending over time, then dS/dt has the smile shape.  Many advisors seem to think that the spending curve S(t) is shaped like a smile.  I’ve looked at many studies that examine actual retiree spending in different countries, and there is always evidence that a nontrivial cohort of retirees overspend early and have spending cuts forced upon them later.  Both overspending retirees and underspending retirees seem to have the dS/dt smile, but at different levels relative to the x-axis.  Overspenders have their spending decline quickly initially, then decline slower, and then decline quickly again.  Underspenders increase their real spending early on, then increase it slower, and finally increase it quickly at the end.

I don’t see why I should model my retirement on any data that includes retirees who experienced forced spending reductions.  The question is then how to exclude such data.  I saw in one of Dr. Blanchett’s papers that he attempted to exclude such data for his spending models.  Other papers don’t appear to exclude such data at all.  In the end, it becomes a matter of choosing how high the smile should be relative to the x-axis.  If it is high enough, the result becomes not much different from assuming constant inflation-adjusted spending. Continue Reading…

Vanguard S&P 500 is a third of my portfolio

Vanguard S&P 500


By Alain Guillot

Special to Financial Independence Hub

My investment strategy is to buy more every time I have more money. I don’t time the market. I know that investments (on the long run) will eventually go up.

No one knows when the market will tank or when it will rally. So why waste my brain energy trying to stay informed and anticipate, or react to the market? I just buy and buy some more.

When will I sell? Hopefully never, but the second best answer is: When I retire, when I need the money for personal living expenses. In that case, I will just take the money out when I need it, not when the market conditions are right (we never know when the market conditions are right).

Generally I divide my investment in three parts: 1/3 Canadian stocks, 1/3 U.S. stocks, and 1/3 international stocks.

I don’t know how much money I have made since I don’t know how to account for all the dividend payments I have been getting. But it’s a lot.

Investing in the stock market is safest way to invest your money. Yes, there is day to day volatility. If you learn how to ignore the new, the latest development, the latest emergency crisis, the latest election, you will be OK.

Of course, it’s not easy to avoid all the noise. Media companies spend billions of dollars every year finding new ways to capture your attention. The worst part is that “bad news” is a very potent attention-grabbing tool and many people fall victims of it. I have friends who have their money in cash, gold, or silver because the next financial catastrophe is coming. If they only knew how to calculate all the money they have left on the table, it’s worse than any catastrophe they have envisioned.

The bedrock of my U.S. investment is the Canadian dollar Vanguard S&P 500 Index; here is the symbol, VFV. It trades in the Toronto Stock Exchange. My strategy is to buy some more every December.

The Vanguard S&P is a fund that invests in the stocks of some of the largest companies in the United States.

This is a great investment because it’s well diversified and is made up of the stocks of the largest U.S. corporations. These large corporations tend to be stable with a solid record of profitability.

How much money can you earn?

We are not in the business of predicting the future, but here are some of the past results:

Rate of return investing on the S&P 500

As you can see the rate of return for 3 years is 42%, for 5 years is 66%, and for 10 is 304%. This is the best return you can get for your money. This is a great investment opportunity if you have the patience to wait for it.

How to invest in the Vanguard S&P 500

You can buy shared of the S&P 500 as you buy shares of any stock. Continue Reading…

Real Life Investment Strategies #2: Debunking Retirement Financial “Rules”

Should you Plan your Retirement Savings according to the 4% Withdrawal Rate Rule or 70% of Pre-Retirement Income Rule?

Lowrie Financial: Canva Custom Creation

By Steve Lowrie, CFA

Special to Financial Independence Hub

Last month, we kicked off our “Real Life Investment Strategies” series by taking on the geopolitical world. Today, we’re going to tackle an FAQ that hits closer to home.

Whether you’re an accumulator or preparing for retirement, how do you plan for saving AND spending your hard-earned cash in retirement?

My Answer: It depends.

All those popular retirement spending rules you hear about in the popular press or through your favourite financial guru really should be called guidelines. Augmenting blunt estimates with finer-pointed planning may not be as quickly accomplished. But it’s a far more effective way to plan for how much to save as you accumulate wealth, and how much to spend as you withdraw it. In fact, it’s best to consider retirement spending as being a variable process, versus a one-and-done equation.

Which is why it depends.

Let’s bend some Rules: the 4% Withdrawal Rate Rule & the 70% Pre-Retirement Income Rule

I do feel most popular retirement spending rules were made to be broken: or at least bent to fit your specific assumptions, and adjusted over time as you encounter various phases in your retirement lifestyle.

Take the 4% Retirement Rule, for example. The catchphrase has been around since 1994, when William Bengen published his Journal of Financial Planning paper, “Determining Withdrawal Rates Using Historical Data.” In it, Bengen suggested that under certain assumptions, retirees could avoid outliving their money by withdrawing no more than 4% of their wealth in the year they retire, and then adjusting this figure annually for inflation.

The 70% Retirement Rule is another popular retirement spending hack. Here you plan to spend no more than 70% of your pre-retirement income in retirement and save accordingly toward that figure. This is supposed to work because, in theory, retirees spend less in retirement to fulfill their lifestyle wants and needs.

There are many similar shortcuts for guesstimating your retirement numbers. It’s tempting to accept these simplified rules as close enough and assume they’re all you’ll need to proceed. But the thing is, while Bengen’s analysis was rightfully lauded as an innovative new way to think about withdrawal rates in retirement, I don’t think even he meant for the 4% figure to serve as a hard and fast rule for every retiree, under every assumption, throughout their entire retirement (during which your lifestyle is likely to evolve).

The same goes for the 70% rule, and similar retirement rules.

Financial Talking Heads’ Rants on Retirement withdrawal Rate and other Shenanigans

In lieu of rules of thumb, people are also known to follow the shotgun advice of popular financial gurus who spout sweeping generalities as perfect solutions for one and all.

A prime example is Dave Ramsey of The Ramsey Show, who recently assured listeners that an 8% retirement withdrawal rate should “last forever,” as long as you invest as he suggests. He said a 4% spending rate was “asinine,” based on calculations generated by “super nerds,”“goobers,” and “morons who live in their mother’s basement with a calculator.” He then goes on a Wizard of Oz tirade about flying monkeys stealing your ruby slippers. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. (Check out 01:19:20 in The Ramsey Show’s “You Can’t Win with Money if You Don’t Know Where Your Money Is”  podcast episode.)

Ramsey’s math is simple, which makes it appealing and easy to understand: “If you’re making 12 [percent] in good mutual funds and the S&P is averaging 11.8, and if inflation for the last 80 years is 4%, if you make 12 and you need to leave 4% in there for average inflation raises, that leaves you eight. So, I’m perfectly comfortable drawing eight. But if you want to be a little bit conservative, seven. But, sure, not five or three.”

In a Rational Reminder rebuttal episode, “Retiring Retirement Income Myths with the Retirement Income Dream Team,” my super-nerd friends (David Blanchett, the Managing Director and Head of Retirement Research for PGIM DC Solutions; Michael Finke, a distinguished professor of wealth management at the American College of Financial Services; and Wade Pfau, Director of Retirement Research at McLean Asset Management) offer what I believe is a considerably more realistic assessment of the market’s risks and expected rewards over time, with no monkey business involved:

Without going too heavily into the math, the two main counter arguments against an 8% withdrawal rate from the Retirement Income Dream Team are:

  • There can be large differences between geometric returns (what you earn in an investment) and arithmetic returns (the simple average). For example, an average 12% return doesn’t mean that a retiree’s portfolio grows by 12% per year. If $1 million invested in stocks falls by 20%, you now have $800,000. If it rises by 25% the next year, you’re back up to $1 million. The average return of -20% and positive 25% is 2.5%. But you still only have a million bucks. Your actual return was zero.
  • A 100% stock portfolio significantly increases the sequence of returns risk. For example, a U.S.-based investor, owning U.S. stocks in the 2000s and following an 8% withdrawal rule would have run out of money in as little as 13 years.

I would add from a behaviour side of things, that a 100% stock portfolio, especially during retirement would be virtually impossible to stick with.

When it comes to Retirement Savings, One Size rarely fits all

Besides, don’t you want your retirement numbers to be based on personalized levels of evidence and reason, instead of hope and hype? I know I do, which is why I treat sweeping assumptions and general rules of thumb as starting rather than ending points.

By necessity, generic advice involves making assumptions, often huge ones, that may or may not reflect your own realities. The original 4% Rule, for example, assumed the investor is investing their retirement nest egg in 50% stocks/50% bonds, held entirely in tax-sheltered accounts. It also assumed a 30-year retirement.

Not everyone wants or needs to invest this conservatively. At the other end of the spectrum, Ramsey appears to assume you’re going to put your entire nest egg in the U.S. stock market, mostly large-company growth. He also seems to assume (quite erroneously) that we can rely on this market to deliver an average 12% pre-inflation return forever.

My take: There’s nothing nerdy about wanting to avoid hoarding or squandering your wealth. If your retirement years are short enough, your income remains ample enough, and your market timing is lucky enough, spending 8% annually in retirement might be right for you. For others, even 4% is overly optimistic. Either way, I wouldn’t bank on any given number without first engaging in some serious reality checks, and revisiting your plans as you proceed.

Let’s return to our fictional investors to illustrate how real-life retirement planning, withdrawal rate, and spending works. Continue Reading…

92% of investors have a better mindset if they do this one thing, research finds

By Carol Lynde, Bridgehouse Asset Managers

Special to Financial Independence Hub

If you Google “what contributes to positive mental health?,” you’ll find helpful tips on exercise, diet, getting enough sleep and mindfulness. You’ll find advice on connecting with people, building resilience, gaining control over your life and getting help from a mental health professional. You might find mention that reducing your debt and controlling spending can reduce stress. But you’ll find very little about financial planning or that making a financial plan can contribute to positive mental well-being.

It can.

Bridgehouse Asset Managers recently released research confirming a direct link between planning your finances and positive mental well-being. The more financial planning activities you do, the better your sense of security, control, ability to bounce back from life’s challenges and positive mindset. Further, having a financial plan makes you less anxious about today’s financial issues, such as cost of living, debt levels and saving enough to retire.

The Bridgehouse national research project included focus groups and an online survey developed in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (Toronto) and an advisory panel including mental health, legal and financial advisor experts from across the country. The research found that it’s not the amount of money you have, it’s doing something that counts. Planning your finances and creating a plan for the future leads to a sense of hope, security, resilience and control:  all attributes associated with positive mental health.

There’s a compounding effect: the more financial planning you do, the better your mental health. The survey asked participants how many of 10 financial planning activities they had completed and compared the results to their self-assessed mental state.

The research concluded the more activities respondents completed, the better their sense of security, control, ability to bounce-back and positive mindset. Financial planning activities included: calculating retirement requirements, calculating net worth, determining short-term goals, determining long-term goals, determining insurance requirements, establishing an emergency fund, creating a debt management plan, creating a budget, actively finding day-to-day savings and scheduling regular meetings with a financial advisor.

Of respondents who did seven or more financial planning activities:

  • 73 per cent expressed a sense of security about their financial situation.
  • 73 per cent felt in control of their financial situation.
  • 79 per cent felt an ability to bounce back if life throws tough challenges.
  • 79 per cent reported a positive mindset.

Respondents who took even small steps claimed positive mental well-being benefits. Of those who did only one-to-three financial planning activities:

  • 52 per cent reported a sense of security.
  • 54 per cent reported a sense of control.
  • 73 per cent felt an ability to bounce back.
  • 71 per cent reported a positive mindset.

According to regression analysis (a research method to rank contribution weighting), establishing/maintaining an emergency fund and scheduling regular meetings with a financial advisor were the two most important drivers of positive mental well-being and the ability to sleep at night. Continue Reading…

Best First Quarter since 2019!


By Dale Roberts

Special to Financial Independence Hub

It was a wonderful quarter for U.S. stocks. In fact, the S&P 500 index rose 10.2% during the first three months of the year, its best first-quarter performance since 2019. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite gained 5.6% and 9.1%, respectively. Canadian and International stocks also pitched in with a strong quarter. Given that, balanced portfolios of all stripes are rewarding patient investors. A global equity portfolio (XEQT) delivered 9.6%. It’s the best first quarter since 2019 on the Sunday Reads.

U.S. stocks had their best first quarter since 2019.

Looking for that soft economic landing

While the stock market saw intermittent sell-offs, it continued marching higher as robust corporate earnings and a strong labor market renewed hopes that the economy will avoid a recession.

The S&P 500 on Thursday logged its 22nd record-high close of the year. The first 17 were recorded during the first 50 tading days of 2024, the largest tally during that period since 1998, according to Bespoke Investment Research.

Companies in the S&P 500 saw earnings grow 4.3% during the fourth quarter of 2023 from the prior year, according to FactSet data. Analysts polled by FactSet expect S&P 500 earnings to grow by more than 10% for all of 2024.

Let the good times roll?

In another positive sign for markets, history suggests that new highs at the beginning of the year often portend positive annual returns. The S&P 500 has seen an average 15.8% return in years that it notched new highs in January and February, in contrast to an average 9.2% gain for all years, according to CFRA Research data going back to 1954.

I like this quote that I read on Seeking Alpha …

All manner of genius is presently simply embarrassed by the market’s failure to stop going up.

Alex King – Cestrian Capital

Every sector (except real estate) offered gains in the first quarter.

And momentum is a powerful force. Of course past performance and trends are not guaranteed to repeat. But just for fun, have a look at this table.

While markets mostly go up, the chances of them going up are at a higher level in 2024. Of course that’s no reason to adjust your strategy. We adopt a simple investment plan and stick to it like glue. As I wrote a few months ago …

The watiting is the hardest part. We set the table for the next robust upturn, or three.

A nice mix of top performers

Our top performers for the quarter are a mix of Canadian energy stocks, tech and some defensives. Bitcoin leads the way.

Canadian stocks are helping out

Canadian stocks also had a solid first quarter with iShares TSX 60 (XIU) up 6.0%. That was the headline in last week’s Sunday Reads – Canadian stocks are better than you think.

And a report on Thursday offers hope that the Canadian economy still might have a pulse after many quarters of population-adjusted negative growth (aka recession).

This week I updated the post that looks at the BMO Low Volatility ETF – ZLB. That may be the best core Canadian ETF. I also compared that wonderful market-beating ETF to the Canadian Wide Moat portfolio.

And here’s a post on the move out of high fee Canadian mutual funds. More Canadians are making the sensible shift to ETF portfolios and building stock portfolios. But it’s not fast enough. There’s still $2 trillion in mutual funds, most of those funds being high-fee and very poor performing. The opportunity costs is just tremendous. Please share this blog with friends and family stuck in ‘the old way’ to invest. Continue Reading…