How do some seem so prepared and financially comfortable in retirement, while others seem so ill-prepared? Many hoping to retire comfortably have good careers with high levels of compensation, but lack the financial plan and discipline to become financially independent later in life. Conversely, others with relatively modest means retire well. What’s their secret?
It may seem impossible, but YPO member Jason Jackman believes a comfortable retirement is achievable for more people than you may think. Jackman is President of Johnson Investment Counsel, one of the largest independent wealth management firms in the country. His clients aren’t heirs or celebrities, but normal, hardworking people who want to be smart with their money.
Throughout his career, Jackman has heard persistent myths explaining how someone became wealthy enough to retire in comfort. Here, Jackman shatters the myths about the secret neighborhood millionaire:
1. They have huge incomes.
This myth is easy to believe, but nonetheless false. “I have found spending to be more important than income when it comes to predicting the size of someone’s nest egg,” Jackman shares. “Unfortunately, I’ve seen couples with huge incomes that spend lavishly, leaving very little for retirement. Conversely, I’ve seen clients with relatively modest incomes live within their means, allowing the accumulation of millions of dollars in retirement savings,” Jackman explains. Discipline is key.
2. They come from money.
This one is also easy to believe, but Jackman has found the opposite to be true. “More often than not,” he says, “our clients who retire with millions are self-made.” These retirees come from a wide variety of careers, Jackman says, “like small business owners and corporate rank-and-file. They stayed with their career, and stuck to their financial plan along the way.” Much like the myth of high incomes, what matters more is discipline.
3. They come into money later in life.
Jackman delivers a strong warning against this myth. “Relying on inheritance or saving aggressively later in life is not the key to retiring comfortably,” he asserts. Instead, “the key is beginning the discipline of saving early in your career,” he says. The earlier you start, the better, but it doesn’t have to be painful. “If you saved that $5 Starbucks every day and brewed your beans at home, you would bank over $500,000 for retirement. That’s starting at age 22, earning 7% per year on average, and retiring at 65,” Jackman explains. Early saving is extremely valuable, and it doesn’t take much to grow a large nest egg.
4. They invested in a hot stock.
There’s no need to take big swings and misses on finding the next skyrocketing tech stock. Jackman says it’s advice that many people don’t follow. “In my experience, the average investor earns far less return than the markets provide because of a lack of discipline,” he laments. The solution is simpler: “Stick to a plan of prudent investments. Don’t chase the latest fad or hot stock tip. Steadily adding savings to a prudent investment plan is the recipe for long-term success,” Jackman says. The combination of strong, steady saving and solid investments is how modest incomes grow into sizeable retirement funds.
5. They have access to exotic investments only available to the wealthy.
There are investment opportunities that are only open to qualified investors, who must meet certain requirements. But Jackman emphasizes that investments don’t have to be fancy. “Most secret millionaires I see employ a basic and straightforward investment and savings plan,” he says. They also find money where they can. Jackman says, “Make sure you take advantage of basic advantages available to almost everyone. For instance, put enough in your 401k to get the employer’s maximum match. Often employers add 3-5% or more to employees’ 401k plan if they do the same.” It’s basically free money - and free money is a great way to get a head start on savings.
6. They spend a lot of money.
It’s easy to get caught in a spending trap. “The materialist seduction in our culture is a powerful force, but you must fight against it,” Jackman advises. “You don’t need the biggest house, fastest car, or nicest suit to be successful. My most successful and fulfilled clients orient spending toward experiences and away from ‘things.’” Jackman offers another rule of thumb: “Avoid consumer debt, such as credit card debt,” he says. Living within your means early in life affords more flexibility later in life. Plus, lavish spending may prompt others to ask what you’re compensating for.
7. They saved an unrealistic proportion of their salary.
Jackman’s clients are not “savings superheroes”: they don’t do anything that others couldn’t do just as well. Jackman advises, “The key is saving throughout your career, not just trying to make up for a lack of savings once you get closer to retirement.” The savings goals are high, but not unmanageable: “Just carving out 10-20% of your income for savings is all that is required to retire comfortably,” he says. Make it a habit now, so you don’t have to get used to it later.
8. No one can save 10% of their salary early in their career.
Jackman encourages all of his clients to have a “saving plan,” so that when income arrives, there’s less opportunity to deviate from how you should use it. “I assure my younger clients that having a saving plan is easier than they fear. For example, take advantage of automatic deposits such as pre-tax contributions to a retirement plan.” He warns, “It would be easy to spend 100% of your income every month. Make savings a priority in your budget, and learn to live on the rest.” You may be surprised by how far that money can go.
9. A large nest egg will make you happy.
Jackman has worked with clients from many walks of life. “I’ve found the age-old expression ‘Money doesn’t buy you happiness’ is true in every sense,” he shares. It helps explain why some of his most successful clients live modestly, and why they tend to spend money on experiences, rather than things. “Money is simply a tool to help you live a fulfilled and purposeful life. In fact, the moment that folks start to place a greater value on money, there is actually a negative correlation with happiness,” Jackman says. The size of your bank account can never compensate for whatever is really missing.
10. A millionaire is set for life.
This may have been true years ago, but it isn’t today. Jackman says, “Studies have shown that a million dollar investment portfolio will provide about $35,000 - $40,000 of annual income over a 30 year retirement period.” In addition, “A million dollars today is worth about half as much as it was 25 years ago,” Jackman explains. It’s a painful reality, but better to be aware than surprised. “Your nest egg should be about 25x your income to maintain your standard of living in retirement,” he advises. Again, the emphasis is on fiscal restraint early and often.
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