Is running out of retirement money a fate worse than death?

  by Jesse Anderson

Imagine this – the year is 2040. You are 80 years old, in reasonably good health, and you have just spent your last penny of retirement savings. You have no other sources of income. For the rest of your life, you will rely on government handouts and the charity of others.

Sit with that image for a moment and then answer the following … which is worse? Running out of retirement savings or death?

I know what I would answer. I would rather be dead than run out of money deep into retirement. It is not even a question for me. Destitute or dead? I’ll take dead every time. I honestly can’t think of many things that would be worse than the indignity and lack of control over my circumstances at that age.

I am not alone. A survey by Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America states that two-thirds of Baby Boomers said they are more afraid of running out of money than of death.1

So, if for you, running out of money is a fate worse than death, here are some simple steps you can follow to get on track.

Plan Prudently

The Allianz survey says 31% aren’t sure what their expenses will be in retirement and 36% have “no idea” if their income will last. Prudent planning includes having a clear understanding of two crucial numbers: what will your expense be in retirement and how much money will it take to support that standard of living indefinitely into the future.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is to assume these numbers are “unknowable”. That isn’t true. It isn’t mysticism; It’s math. Granted, you will have to revisit them periodically. Things change. Assumptions prove to be more or less correct over time. But the closer you are to retirement, the more accurate these numbers will be. If working this out on your own really and truly makes you pull your hair out, take a retirement planning course or consult with a qualified retirement planner to help you.

Use this Retirement Income Gap worksheet to calculate your livable income

Save Prodigiously

The key is not to retire until you have accumulated as much money as you will need to support the lifestyle in your plan. Retirement savings are a function of four variables: income, expenses, time and after-tax return. If you see, in advance, you can’t get there, you will either have to increase income, reduce expenses, make your money work harder and smarter or work and save for a longer period of time.

Action Steps to Take Now

Here are five easy action items you can take now to reduce the chances of running out of money in retirement:

1. Carefully track your expenses. I recommend a program like Quicken or Mint, so that you start with reality when projecting expenses forward into retirement. If you are not doing this already, download or register for one of these super-easy programs today. The more powerful Quicken will set you back a few bucks but Mint is free.

2. Avoid bad debt. If you have it, pay it off as soon as you possibly can. Those interest payments would go a long, long way in retirement.

3. Don’t make the mistake of being under-insured. Too many people think they can rely on their savings, their spouse’s income or their kids if they become disabled or need long-term care. If you think you may need disability or long-term care insurance, set up an appointment with an insurance expert today. Hot Tip: You may have a life insurance policy that is no longer needed that can fund the new policies.

4. Invest your money for cash flow instead of capital appreciation. We think it is blindingly obvious cash flow investing is much better suited to a retirement portfolio than a traditional portfolio of stocks, bonds, mutual funds and annuities.

5. Become your own portfolio manager. You are the only person who has no conflict of interest when it comes to your money. Moreover, the reduction in fees represents the easiest risk-free return you will ever earn.

Is it too late?

Maybe you are reading this and thinking to yourself, “It’s too late for me!” There is an old proverb: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today.”

Make it a goal to do one little thing each and every day that will have a positive impact on your retirement savings and how long it will last. If you aren’t sure where to start, start with a financial education.

Following these steps cannot guarantee you will avoid running out of money, but they certainly will go a long way. And if, for you, running out of money is scarier than even dying, then doesn’t it make sense to do something about it today while you still can?


1 Andrus, Danielle. 17 June 2010. “Outliving Savings Is Fate Worse Than Death.” BoomerMarketAdvisor.Com. Boomer Market Advisor Magazine., n.d., Web. Accessed 5 August 2010.

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