Despite what many people think, income and money are not the same thing. Money is the currency, while income is the source. A nest egg is finite; once it’s gone, the money stops. Income, on the other hand, should be renewable and last a lifetime, even if the nest egg runs out.
Think about it this way. A nest egg is kind of like a leaky open bucket. No matter how much it holds, it only holds that amount. You have spent your lifetime filling the bucket up, while it has been springing leaks. Leaks like market losses, fees, poor decisions, unexpected expenses, and then inflation which is evaporating your supply from the open top.
It is very difficult to accumulate money in such an environment. Growth of an asset is entirely dependent upon the size of the asset. The larger it is, the more incremental growth will help. For example, 3 percent of $1 million is much more than even 10 percent of $100,000.
Spending on top of all the leaks just accelerates the shrinkage. For every dollar that comes out, less growth will go back in, as growth is always dependent upon the size of the base that’s growing. So, by the very act of spending it down, you are weakening its ability to replenish itself going forward.
Now, let’s consider your city water supply. It will be fed by some type of perpetual source, perhaps an artesian well or maybe a reservoir. It’s part of a running water system of snowmelt, groundwater, precipitation, etc. It’s a dynamic system, constantly replenishing itself by remaining in motion.
Money flow is very similar. Natural resources are mined, companies and their human capital (employees) make things and sell them to customers. Again, it’s a self-perpetuating system that is constantly renewing itself, creating more wealth that is distributed and redistributed through the economic cycle.
While both examples are gross simplifications, the concept is sound. So long as the resources, in these cases, water, raw materials, human capital, and money, are kept in circulation, they continue to feed the ever expanding “make more stuff” machine. The key to growing resources is to keep the cycle in motion.
Now, you take it out of the cycle and put it in your nest egg. True, your money is invested, so it’s still in motion, however it’s being speculated with rather than accumulated. The nature of a risk/return cycle where the greater potential return is driven by greater levels of risk is antithetical to ongoing income. Think about it. You have $350,000 saved for retirement, and your advisor recommends using only about $10,000 per year for retirement income. However, you need twice that.
So, to generate more income, your counseled to take more risk, the assumption being that a higher risk profile generates a higher yield, thereby generating more income. But does it really? In my opinion, it clearly does not. If it did, there would be no income issues at all. Just increase risk; get more income. But that isn’t the way it works. Increased risk doesn’t increase the level of success; it lowers it. That’s why it’s called risk. The riskier an investment, the greater chance of loss. Yes, you may increase the potential for gain, but the truth is that opportunity for larger returns is offset by the opportunity for larger losses. When engaging in retirement planning, it’s much more important to suppress losses than it is to increase returns.
In this kind of system, the investment always dictates everything else. Take more risk; lose more money. Lose more money, spend less. Take less risk, lose less money, but have less growth. There is no way around it.
The problem is that performance is tied to the wrong thing. It’s tied to your willingness to lose more money or less money. Unfortunately, this is the standard, not because it’s best for the retiree, and not because there is no alternative. It’s because Wall Street is holding around $16 trillion in retirement assets and uses the enormous leverage that provides to keep the status quo. The key to having enough money to live is tying it to the right thing. The right thing is not your risk tolerance.
Here’s an idea. Instead of tying your payout to how much money you are prepared to lose, why not tie it to your lifespan? Convert that bucket into a garden hose. Have an income stream that will last for long as you do, even if your account runs out of money. In that system, instead of a longer life putting pressure on you to reduce spending, a longer life keeps paying you money as long as you are alive.
And one last thing. Doing it this way actually increases your monthly income from the beginning because income generators don’t involve losing money. They involve eliminating losses so you have more money to spend. It’s a double win.
More income for a longer period. More now, more later.