How To Survive a Retirement: The 3 Questions.


In the AMC’s hit drama “The Walking Dead,” where the world is overrun by rotting corpses with a desire to feed on the living, there’s something even greater to fear.

The survivors.

negan two

Staying alive in a post-apocalyptic society appears to bring out the worst of what’s left of humanity. People are ruthless killers. Strength in numbers is the best defense, yet poses an interesting dilemma.

One wrong move, one bad decision, and you’re history.

Just like that.

Sometimes, overcoming the most complicated of challenges comes down to the obvious. Nothing’s perfect however complexity fosters confusion which can shift focus, divert your attention. And when your enemies, especially within, outnumber you, it’s only a matter of time before.

Well. You know (it isn’t good).

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The good guys devised a simple screening method.

An initial shield to determine if strangers they encounter are worth entry into their community.

Three questions.


Let’s see how you do. Will you pass or fail?

Are you team material?

Or are you best left alone to fend for yourself?

How many walkers (corpses with an appetite for the living), have you killed?

To safeguard others, a survivor must be willing to take out the undead (a shot or blow to the head does it). Plain and simple. If your zombie kills are minimal or non-existent there will be doubts about your contribution to the survival of the group.

How many people have you killed?

Unfortunately there are instances when tough decisions must be made for the sake of self-preservation.  Best the number of walkers taken out exceed the number of people otherwise you may become a victim yourself.


Tread carefully. The reasons for taking out the living best be because of personal survival. Or request. You see -There are sad instances when victims of zombie bites would rather die honorably, in their control, rather than expire from the disease they carry.

They would rather not wake up. Walk around.

zombies walking

As I ponder the power of simple questions, whether in fact or fiction, I have come to realize how most situations, no matter how serious, can be broken down to three questions you ask yourself or others ask you.

When it comes to preparing for retirement, there are so many differing rules, theories, planning tools –  in my mind I need to consider retirement similar to a zombie apocalypse.

Sort of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

If today, you could clear all the noise, reduce retirement planning to what concerns you the most, what you need to do to protect yourself – What three questions would you ask?

As I work with individuals to formulate personalized retirement strategies, three questions emerge consistently. As a matter of fact, it’s rare when one of these queries doesn’t arise.

Once you strip out the confusion, target the basics.

Focus comes down to three main concerns.

Random Thoughts:

A confident retirement comes down to the money coming in to a household.

Cash flow is everything.

Question #1: How much spendable income may I have on a monthly basis post-tax to keep me, or me and my spouse comfortable for 20 years? Simply put, how much can I have?

Why 20 years?

Let’s face it. The odds of becoming a centenarian are as slim as the dead coming back to life. OK, not that slim but infrequent enough to understand that age 100 shouldn’t be a default setting for retirement plans.

Everyone I counsel is asked to complete the thorough, thought-provoking life-expectancy calculator exercise at  Eight out of ten outcomes come in between 80-85 years old. Women average longer life expectancies at 83-86 years old. Per calculator results, men rarely live past 84 years old.

Thought leader Dick Wagner and author of the new book “Financial Planning 3.0,” in a recent interview with the Journal of Financial Planning, stated “financial planning is very, very young as a profession. If you believe that 1969 was the first year for the profession, then we’re into our 47th year. That’s not very many years if you compare it to other authentic professions.”

So who are we as advisers to indiscriminately assume that retirees are going to live to 100? I’m not sure why I see this occur so often. Maybe it feels safe. Perhaps it’s CYA. Regardless, it’s inaccurate.

Candidly, even if the profession were a thousand years old, longevity analysis would remain a slim, educated guess at best. I am 100 percent certain however that establishing retirement income plans to conclude at age ‘unrealistic’ is an exercise in disappointment. People won’t adhere to goals, milestones they find impossible to achieve.

Please plan for reality. Not fiction. A reach to age 100 will most likely lead to unsuccessful plan outcomes. You won’t feel secure enough to retire or you’ll wait too long thus placing the quality of life in retirement, in jeopardy.

If you believe, based on family longevity and state of health, that there’s a great probability of living to 100, by all means, don’t ignore preparing for the possibility.

The topic is challenging and uncomfortable to discuss. It requires acknowledgement of our own humanity.

A seasoned adviser doesn’t overlook or dance around the topic of longevity. He or she should handle the conversation with grace and honesty. After all, we are all going to die (and hopefully not return to life like in The Walking Dead).

It’s something we all have in common. We don’t seem to like to think about it happening before age 100, especially when it comes to retirement planning.

In the same interview financial futurist Dick Wagner continues his thoughts on the financial planning profession:

“The mission and purpose of financial planning is to work with individuals and families and their personal relationships with money and the fearsome forces that it generates. There’s something about ‘fearsome forces’ – it’s terrifying. I mean, it’s a quintessential challenge of the 21st century: just try to survive with this money stuff. People do something that’s really hard, which is to anticipate their needs of the last 20-30 years of their lives. Now how do you do that? You have no idea what your health will be, you have no idea what your date of death is, you have no idea how long you can continue to earn a living.”

Financial planners deal with plenty of their own fearsome forces. One source of angst is to have straightforward, yet sensitive discussions; balance the thin line between a portfolio and human life because as Dick Warner lamented, there are plenty of unknowns.

Take it from me – we’re not fond of zombies in the planning process but they do exist.

Before you look to have a retirement plan completed, take it upon yourself to go through a life-expectancy calculator. Sit with the outcome for a while. Do the results make sense?

Once you’re at peace with the information, share it with your financial planner. Incorporate it into your analysis. You’ll both be in sync. You’ll tackle fearsome forces together. The synergy will lead to reasonable goals, follow up and fulfillment.

Question #2: Will Social Security be there for me?

The assumption that Social Security is a dying social program, regardless of the generation, runs pervasive. Don’t underestimate the importance of properly integrating Social Security into your retirement arsenal. For the majority of Americans, this is their sole income for life.

So, let’s clear up several misconceptions.

According to financial planning thought leader Michael Kitces in a recent voluminous Kitces Report on the topic, the Social Security system is often considered “going broke” by 2034. At that time it’s believed the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted.

Most planning clients have a difficulty believing the funds will last that long. Per the analysis, the majority of benefits will still be paid through tax revenues on workers paying payroll taxes at that time.

Social Security recipients usually receive Cost-Of-Living Adjustments each year. An added bonus to an income you cannot outlive is inflation protection. Unfortunately, COLA is not in the cards for 2016 (a rare occurrence), however overall, Social Security remains the best lifetime income deal available to the masses.

It’s best a retiree in good health plan to wait until at least full retirement age (66, or 67) or possibly later to apply for Social Security. By the time I’m consulted for formal retirement planning, many recipients have already applied for benefits early – at age 62, in fear of not being “grandfathered” into the system and losing future benefits.

Unfortunately, unless a household is cash-strapped or a recipient’s health is poor, there’s rarely a reason to apply for Social Security before full retirement age.

Starting early will have a lasting impact to monthly payouts. For example, a person with a full retirement age of 66 who started Social Security at age 62 would experience a permanent 25% annual reduction in benefits.

When I began my career in financial services during the great bull market of the 80s and 90s, the numbers worked out favorably for a Social Security recipient to apply for benefits early and invest the difference.

Since the year 2000, this strategy has been less effective. Over the last sixteen years I’ve witnessed improving life spans, people working longer and unattractive returns on investment assets, which has made Social Security a formidable hedge against longevity and adverse portfolio conditions.

In addition, Social Security has become a stealth, forced ‘savings’ program for a majority of households stressed to save for retirement in the face of rising college costs, financially caring for elderly parents and adult children, underwater mortgages and chronic underemployment.

For most recipients, waiting until age 70 to take advantage of an 8% delayed retirement credit is a smart strategy. In a majority of cases a retiree should seek to postpone Social Security, enjoy a permanent 8% bump in benefits, along with annual COLA (Cost-Of-Living-Adjustments).

Question #3: What should I be afraid of? I don’t really know.

This retirement game is unfamiliar territory. You’re outside the safe or familiar zone (which in The Walking Dead, is a dangerous place to be). Don’t be shy. Nothing is off limits. After all, this is a new experience. You’re not an expert (yet) at this next life phase.

Why not ask a tenured planner what you should fear? Better yet – ask friends and associates who have been retired – what did they find scary about this new world? What had they overlooked? What are the mistakes they’ve learned from? What were their greatest oversights?

There could be enemies hiding in plain sight (it’s tough to trust anyone in a world overrun by zombies), that may be overlooked because you’re too close to the situation.

Frequently I receive questions about fear in retirement. They usually have little to do with money. Ostensibly, information regarding Social Security, healthcare costs in retirement and other crucial topics, is widely available. A comprehensive retirement plan will cover all important financial concerns as well.

What’s difficult to find because a person needs to live it to learn it, is information on how emotionally challenging it is to navigate from the accumulation side of the household balance sheet to the distribution mindset – The new reality where a retiree must depend upon his or her assets to survive. Being outside the protective walls of a job or career is rarely discussed in financial planning circles.

From my experience, it takes at least a year for a retiree to gain comfort with a change in lifestyle, a satisfactory portfolio withdrawal rate, a new purpose for a life away from the office.

Never lose sight of the power of simple questions.

If they can keep the survivors of a zombie apocalypse alive.

Think about what they can do for you.










The Pop-Culture Frustration of Demographics.

All this stuff on Japan and aging and productivity from the Socrates of money, John Mauldin (the king) got me thinking. Naturally, I’m not an intellectual so right away I revert back to the comfy tub I feel best soaking in: POP CULTURE.

I’ll add my poppy, fluffy spin to his intellectual arguments (because then they’ll be interesting).

Let’s face it: Demographics are an economy slayer: The kids of the 1960’s & ‘70’s are experiencing enlarged prostates and menopause. Marsha Brady is menopausal?


OOPS I’m sorry. This is my “new” Marsha – Marissa Mayer President & CEO of Yahoo! If I had a cool name like Yaloo or Rumbler she’d buy me and I’d let her. 

This ain’t good, folks.

“Sanford & Son,” starring the late, irreverent Redd Foxx as an elderly junk dealer living with his ambitious (when it comes to peddling junk and get-rich-quick schemes), adult son Lamont, was one of the funniest television shows of the 1970’s. It had a successful run from 1972-1977.


In 2007, Time Magazine placed the show on their list of the “100 Best Shows of All Time.” As Fred Sanford, Redd Foxx delivered some of the most memorable, wittiest lines on television. I thought Fred was old then. Now I look around and everyone appears to shuffle along lead footed, like him. Our population is indeed aging. Usually, that’s not good because demographics are everything to an economy.

When Fred was stressed out or in a predicament he would fake a heart attack for sympa­thy. He’d look up to the heavens, raise one arm, place a hand over his heart, go unsteady on his feet and moan to his dearly departed wife, Elizabeth: “This is the big one, I’m comin’ to join ya honey!” Now, heart attacks and other afflictions plague even the late baby boomers. I can get real gassy.

The 70’s celebrities are dropping like flies. We’ve lost Don Cornelius of “Soul Train,” Robert Hegyes who played Juan Epstein in the program “Wel­come Back, Kotter,” and Bob Weston, musician and songwriter for the iconic 1970’s band “Fleetwood Mac.” Come to think of it  TV’s beloved Horshack has bitten the dust too. I refuse to tell you who Horshack was. Look him up.


Here’ssss Horshack. NO, it’s not Anthony Weiner in high school. Don’t be silly. 

As a kid, I was a ghoul-incessantly curious over celebrity deaths. In the early to mid-70’s, I couldn’t wait for the latest edition of the “The World Almanac® & Book of Facts,” to hit the racks at the local convenience stores. I was anxious to investigate celebrities who died that year.

The chunki­est book around contained everything you wanted to know about everything, published annually. The almanac was the printed version of the internet-an extensive source of data. Actually, the book is still produced and remains one of the best desktop reference books available. You can purchase at The latest edition is over a thousand pages. It’s not boring and presented well.

In the 70’s, I had a habit of sneaking into the creepy, overgrown old (I mean old, dating back to the 1600’s), cemetery in my Brooklyn neighborhood and do my best to read faded tombstone epitaphs.

Today, there’s I’ve been a big fan since 2006. An extensive web zone of 76 million dead, including the famous (and infamous) along with photos, biographies, and the ability for visitors to leave sympathy messages for the dearly departed. Not only the well-heeled are electronically interred here. I found my precious nana Rose’s grave record by searching her name.

Being on the wrong side of the demographic slide compels my mind to dance with the macabre. I begin to wonder what it’s like not to breathe anymore or release my bowels for no reason or without realizing it. You don’t need to be an academic to comprehend how as you age, your ability or willingness to contribute to economic growth decreases. Speaking for me personally I plan to be an overall drag to U.S. economic activity if by chance I get old. I’m not optimistic as some of you know.

What’s all the fuss? What is this thing called demographics? Well, demographics are the makeup of the people. Demographics are a deep analysis of the herd. Everything about how the masses live, move, age, die.

It’s the population and its pulse.

So, what’s your position in the herd behind the fence in a place called the United States?

For example, I’m a late baby boomer among the herd. Studies remind me how I’m ill-prepared for retirement, my hair line is receding, I’m afflicted with “low T,” whatever that is, I watch a disproportionate amount of television and control half of all U.S. consumer spending. For extensive analysis of social and demographic trends, check out

Television blares at me, advises I’m ready at a moment’s notice to take off on a motorcycle before or after I swallow the pill that magically drops the “dys” from the function of my erectile. Note to self: No motorcycle just yet (next year, maybe)

It’s tough when your function doesn’t function. That’s going to be the bumper sticker of my generation. 

John Mauldin (Yoda) says:

“There are two, and only two, ways that you can grow your economy. You can either in­crease your (working-age) population or increase your productivity. That‘s it. There is no magic fairy dust you can sprinkle on an economy to make it grow.”

It’s not that difficult. You need more bodies to work, pay taxes, buy more stuff. Remem­ber, our economy is dependent upon society’s ability to purchase and use services.

Robert D. Arnott a money manager, cutting-edge thinker and academic along with co-author Denis B. Chavis in a study titled “Demographic Changes, Financial Markets, and the Economy,”  in the “Financial Analysts Journal,” using a large sample of countries and 60 years of data, outlines why a majority of us should be concerned.

The ominous conclusions of aging demographics have been in circulation awhile. This study identifies several key points that intuitively, without all the rigorous analysis behind it, make sense. Not only do the outcomes make sense, they will (do) have a material effect on how the herd lives, works and invests.

From the study:

Large populations of retirees (65+) seem to erode financial markets performance as well as economic growth. Retirees are liquidating investments to buy goods and services they no longer produce, and they’re no longer contributing goods and services into the macro economy.

Stocks perform best when the roster of people age 35-59 is particularly large, and when the roster of people age 45-64 is fast growing. Bonds prosper when the roster of people age 50-69 is growing quickly.

Per capita (each individual) GDP growth is strongest in populations dominated by young adults and in populations in which the young adult population is growing quickly.

If the working-age population (people between 20-60) is growing faster than the broader population, that should provide a tail-wind to per capita real (inflation-adjusted) GDP.

It’s finally time for me to reveal my lifelong frustration with David Cassidy.

All the adolescent girls in the neighborhood adored the genderless David Cassidy. He was a mega teen sensation rising to stardom in ABC Television’s “The Partridge Family.” I mock his existence, call him genderless, clearly out of sheer jealousy. He made me look and feel like “Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp,” from said named Saturday morning television program which ran in the early 1970’s.


Lancelot was the coolest chimp EVER. James Bond with back hair. 

Candidly, David Cassidy was beautiful and I was disturbed over the pretty. I wanted to be pretty. What a flowing mane, what a nose, what a voice. He was everything I’m not (still is). Damn.

Do you realize David Cassidy aka Keith Partridge, as of this writing is 63 years old? The lionized former teen idol is now eligible for social security (although I wouldn’t advise him to take it until he’s much older).

By the way, if you go to, it appears his hair hasn’t aged at all. Hate him.

David cassidy

I’m secure enough in my manhood to say: DAVID CASSIDY WAS PRETTY. 

When Keith Partridge celebrates his 72nd birthday, he’ll be one of ten senior citizens for each new working-age person. So things are going in the wrong direction as the working-age population shrinks. Again, what’s the significance to you? (Some info is repetitive but worth it).

Random Thoughts:

1). Overall long-term returns for popular asset classes like stocks and bonds will be muted. Saving more, working longer and smarter debt management are tactics that are going to result in greater financial reward. David Cassidy is still performing so he’s wealthy. He doesn’t need to worry. (Damn again).

2). Don’t be a big dummy like Fred Sanford’s, you know – Lamont.  If you’re in good health, long life expectancies exist in your immediate family and you can postpone it without obliterating your lifestyle, wait to take social security for as long as financially possible. For the majority of us it’s the only “pension,” we’ll ever have so I understand if waiting isn’t advisable for you. Want an estimate of how long you’ll maintain the mortal coil? Check out

My thought is if you’re 55 and older social security is going to be there, relatively intact. David Cassidy would benefit financially by waiting until he’s 70 years old to begin collecting social security benefits. For every month you delay social security benefits after “full retirement age,” whether it’s 65, 66 or 67, you receive a credit or an increase in benefits which is equal to two-thirds of 1 percent per month or 8 percent a year.

Anson Williams from the smash hit 70’s television show “Happy Days,” played a sort-of-goofy character named Potsie Weber. Potsie is 64. I’d advise him NOT to take social security yet.

I mean goofy is one thing, dumb is another.

3). The superstars of the 1970’s now require walkers. And when they fall they can’t get up without assistance. However, most are probably set for life and can make the social security payout decision easy enough because they don’t need to depend on the benefits to survive. You can’t be so dismissive.

I just read that the Scooter Store got raided by the Feds. Can this be possible? It’s a nightmare. I was truly upset. The Scooter Store, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of power wheelchairs and scooters, had about 1,800 workers. You ever see that Hoveround Power Chair? Jesus, it’s like a Harley to me.


I mean this Hoveround is a work of art. 

Social Security is probably the only pension you’re ever going to receive. Be smart and labored with the decision. Work with a financial pro­fessional who can help you clarify your thinking and run the numbers for your unique situation.

4). Create your own pension. I vacuum when I’m stressed. I got that from my mother. No matter what shape mom was in, she always appeared ordinary, felt better when employing the vacuum cleaner. Perhaps she believed, in some way, it cleansed the personal psycho dirt she shed. Not sure. She had the most expensive vacuum on the block, I’m certain. And it was always a canister type. Never an upright model. Mom had her standards.

I’ll never forget. It was a 1974 turquoise “Model L, Electrolux” metal elongated baby with white trim. I must admit it was a pretty sight to behold (remember I grew up when the Ford Pinto was popular). I never thought a household appliance could be pretty, but it was. It was a loud sucking, rolling apex of normal in an abnormal household. Vacuuming gives me piece of mind and has absolutely nothing to do with annuities,


There are a series of annuities called deferred-income annuities which are funded now for a lifetime income later on, preferably ten years or later. Best to purchase around age 50 or older. Generally, they’re less expensive than variable annuity options and you pretty much know how much income you or you and a spouse are going to receive for life. Bad part is you generally need to “annuitize” or have the insurance company have complete control of the money. In return, you’ll receive a check in the mailbox for as long as you or you and spouse will live.

A  financial planner, adviser, consultant or qualified whatever can run the numbers and show you how or if an annuity structure is necessary.

All the strange talk I remember overhearing back in the 70’s: Pension, pension, pension. The word made me envious and I had no idea why. The “regular” older kids would talk about how their dads or granddads at a ripe old age like 55, would collect a check forever and never need to work again. They were excited about vacations. Imagine. What the hell is a vacation?

Even several episodes of “The Little Rascals,” referenced old people and their precious
pensions. The word got stuck in my head. I was sensitive to the sound of it. Those reruns
ran constantly in the 1970’s, too. They were considered antique even then.


Side note: Mrs. Crabtree from “The Little Rascals” was so hot. Sorta reminds me of Mayer.

As John Mauldin (God) wrote in the following, and he’s been writing about Japan for years:

Japan is on the Brink of Disaster.

Demographics are not on their side.

Let’s face it.

We’re all getting older.

Did you hear that?

It was my knee.

Great. Just great.

Nap time.