Retirement Financial Planning Does Not Have to be Daunting
For most of us, planning for retirement conjures up visions of complex concepts and choices:
- Should I make tax-deferred contributions now into 401k or after-tax contributions into Roth plans?
- What assets should I be choosing to invest in? Stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.
- What will be my expenses in retirement?
To that end, at Arnexa, we have come up with a powerful FREE tool that enables someone to more clearly understand the impact of their savings, expenses, asset allocations, etc. in a super easy way. We promise. It’s easy.
Why Another Retirement Calculator?
Most retirement calculators start out by asking you (some variant of) the following questions:
- How much do you estimate your monthly expenses will be in retirement? Or,
- How much do you estimate your income will be in retirement? Or,
- What investment returns do you expect during retirement?
The Arnexa Calculator, as you will see shortly, does something fundamentally different:
- On expenses we start bottoms-up: We list numerous categories and ask you to enter “basic” (or, must-have) expenses and also “comfortable” (or, nice-to-have) expenses. Most importantly, we display prominently nationwide averages for what people 65 and older are spending on various categories. So you can cross-check your numbers against a relevant cohort so that you understand if you are spending too much (or, too little) on a category.
- We ask you to methodically list all the sources of income — excluding investment gains from selling investments. Only fixed and knowable sources of income like social security, pensions, veterans benefits, annuities you may have purchased, etc. No guessing what the market is going to do here.
- We simulate thousands of market conditions based on actual historical market performance (dating back to 1927). We then present results based on very poor, poor or average market performance. In particular, we do not assume that the market will generate x% returns during the retirement. We think this approach is seriously flawed because while on average the market may deliver x% over a (say) 35-year retirement period, retirement solvency is based on actual return sequences. In the image shown on the left, we see two columns of 35-years periods and we show two different market return sequences across those 35-years (these are REAL return sequences taken from history). The sequence on the right is deadly to retirement because the “down” years come at the beginning of retirement, while in the first, the same “down” market performance comes in the middle of retirement. Both return sequences have the same averages. But it’s easier to survive the return sequence on the left than the one on the right.
- We also take into account taxes (including IRS mandated distributions), investment fees, differential inflation (for health care and normal inflation). The last is very important as health care costs rise at a faster rate than other costs and this cost is particular relevant to seniors!
Finally, our A.I powered tool gets smarter over time — as more people use it. Here’s how: As people enter their fees, incomes, expenses, etc. our system learns from the data they entered, and helps you make more informed choices over time!
OK. Let’s get started.
Step 1: Install the tool
Download and install our tool from the Google Chrome Web Store. It’s super simple to do this: Just click on the link provided and once at the Chrome Web Store (not be confused with Google Play Store for Android apps), click on the ‘+Free’ blue button towards the top right of your screen. Then just follow the on-screen instructions. Give a few seconds after the installation completes for Google to do its magic and then, voila, you should see the ‘Arnexa Retirement Calculator’ show up in the ‘Add-ons’ menu.
Click ‘Arnexa Retirement Calculator->Setup’. The tool will start crunching and shortly you should see a bunch of worksheets automatically get added to your spreadsheet — Start, People, Assets, Inflows, Outflows, and ExpenditureSurvey. It takes a while for this setup to occur so please be patient!
You will frequently see the ‘Working…’ sign appear. Rest assured: our tool (and, Google) are working to respond to your request. Sometimes, requests complete in a jiffy. Sometimes they take a little longer. When they do, it is likely that our servers are jammed with requests and are taking a little longer to respond. (See we don’t have the gazillion servers that Google has :-))
The Arnexa Retirement Calculator Menu
Now that the Retire Fit tool has been installed, we will will walk you through how you use it. First, get familiar with the Retirement Calculator menu.
To find it, navigate to the ‘Add-ons’ menu in your Google Sheets spreadsheet and click on the ‘Arnexa Retirement Calculator’ entry. You should then see the following sub-menu items:
- Setup — this gets you set up with all the worksheets needed to run the retirement calculator. Give it a minute or so to run — be patient as it pulls in the latest worksheets prefilled with default data.
- Analyze — this is the main command that you will run each time after modifying the data to see how your retirement scenario stacks up. If you try to run ‘Analyze,’ without doing the setup, you will get an error message.
- Clear Results — this command will clear out data from a previous run of the tool.
- Show Tips — this command will give you quick tips on running the tool.
- Display Id — this command will display an Arnexa id that you can use to send us problem reports, etc.
- Reset Everything — this command will wipe out all your data, delete all the worksheets and recreate them from scratch.
There are six worksheets that you will be working with. They are super simple. Promise.
- Start Worksheet: This worksheet is the “main” or “home” screen where results are displayed and you can change up parameters for a scenario you want to model.
- People Worksheet: You enter information about yourself (and, a spouse/partner, if appropriate). Super simple stuff: ages, desired retirement age, etc.
- Assets Worksheet: You will enter information about the assets you have and how you have allocated them.
- Inflows Worksheet: In this worksheet, you will list the various income streams you will have during retirement. Social security for you (and/or your partner)? Enter it. Pensions? Enter it.
- Outflows Worksheet: In this worksheet, we provide an organized and systematic way for you to list out your expenses during retirement.
- ExpenditureSurvey Worksheet: You do not enter data in this worksheet. You merely consult it as needed. This worksheet provides data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) from 2016 for people who are 65 years or older. You will consult this worksheet as you do your “Outflows” and possibly other worksheets. Confused about what number you should use for (say) tax rate? Then, see what others who are 65 years or older are paying. Use their average as a reasonable first approximation until you are able to develop a more accurate estimation for your household.
Running a Scenario
Once you have filled out all the data in the various worksheets and now you’d like to run the “scenario” and see how your retirement stacks up, click on the ‘Analyze’ menu item as we have shown earlier.
Interpreting the Results
The main elements of the Results Screen are as follows:
The summary information is perhaps the most useful. It shows you the years in which retirement commences and ends (for either you or your spouse/partner) — based on information you gave us in the “People” worksheet. It shows you the total duration of retirement. Skipping the adjacent cells, let’s go to the cell titled “Years Handled.” This cell displays a number. If the cell is colored green, it means that you can last through retirement with the assets/expenses profile you have provided. If it is red, the cell shows you the number of years of retirement handled after which you will run out of money.
Year by Year Details
Below the summary section, you will find year-by-year finances for each year in retirement together with your age, your partner age (if any), your asset starting balances, income, tax-deferred distributions (these are withdrawals from your tax-deferred accounts), expenses (living expenses and taxes paid), gains and ending balances. Go through a few of these rows in detail just to make sure you understand it thoroughly.
In cell Notes
Throughout the worksheets, you will see cells that contain a little black triangle at the top right of the cell (for example, at the top right of the cell labeled ‘Years Handled’). Mouse over the cell and you will see detailed notes for that cell — what it means, ways to interpret data, links to reference information, defaults we have chosen, constraints on values you can enter.
We make extensive use of in cell notes to provide you details. Please refer to those notes (in addition to this post) for information on better using this tool.
OK. With those preliminaries out of the way, let’s step through each of the worksheets.
This worksheet is super simple. Simply enter your age, your desired retirement age and your desired end-retirement age. By default, we assume 100 for “end retirement age” though you can change these numbers. Longevity is rising as men and women both live longer — so be cautious about making this too low.
If you have a spouse/partner, you can enter information for them as well. If you do not ave a spouse/partner, simply uncheck the box in the column for the Spouse/Partner, and no spouse/partner information will be used in the modeling.
There is additional information that you can enter — optionally. The additional data allows our system to get smarter over time and learn about expenses, incomes, etc. from other tool users. Think of this data as being akin to the reason why you try to provide accurate restaurant reviews, for example. You want to eat at good restaurants so you read the reviews, trust them and make your decision based on them. In turn, you provide accurate reviews when you visit a restaurant as well. This way others can benefit from your experience. Ditto here — except that we are talking about expenses, tax rates, etc.
This is the worksheet that you will keep coming back to to tweak and improve as you accumulate more assets and you become smarter about investments. First, read the comments at the beginning of this worksheet. It contains useful notes.
There are three sections in this worksheet:
1. Assets at Retirement
What assets will you have at retirement? Because of tax rules, we ask that you break your numbers into four buckets:
- tax-deferred assets (these are your 401K, IRA accounts, etc.) — where your contributions were made with pretax money. These accounts are subject to “required minimum distributions” (RMD) by the US Internal Revenue Service.
- a second for tax-exempt assets such as Roth 401K accounts (these are subject to IRS “required minimum distribution” (RMD) rules but you do not have to pay taxes on withdrawal);
- a third bucket where you specify tax-exempt assets that are not subject to RMD and, finally,
- other taxable assets (your Roth IRA, brokerage accounts, savings/checking accounts, etc.).
Our tool is smart enough to model the required minimum distributions by liquidating IRS mandated amounts from appropriate accounts — and, factoring in appropriate taxes to more accurately model your retirement expenses.
Fees are an important determiner of how well your investments do over the long term. Fees, inflation and taxes are the invisible “bad cholesterol” for your financial well-being.
Fees look small. Here’s one: 0.42%. When you invest $100, the fund charges you an annual fee $0.42 (or, 42 cents). Looks small relative to the larger $100, right? But what if the gains for the year were 4% or $4 (400 cents). Now the fees have reduced the gain from 400 cents to 358 cents. The fees have now cost you approx. 10% — not so small anymore! But it gets worse: Suppose instead of gaining 4% you lost 4%. You still pay the fees. Yep — that’s right. You still have to pay the fees even though the fund investment manager loses you money.
So go through your assets in your 401K accounts, your other investments and estimate the fees you pay annually. One simple number that is aggregated across your entire account suffices.
This site may help provide you the fees associated with your employer provided 401K. As with all Internet resources, use the data provided as a first approximation and then dig into it. (When I used the link to estimate the fees at my wife’s company I saw that the annual fees were 0.65%. When I double checked at our brokerage that holds my wife’s 401K, I discovered that the fees were really 0.18% for the particular choice of funds that we had made.)
3. Asset Allocation
In this section, specify how your assets break down between stocks, bonds and cash and equivalents (CDs you hold, cash in savings/checking accounts, US Treasuries 1- or 3-month).
We have provided 4 sample allocations. You can edit them to see the impact of different asset allocations on your retirement. Feel free to add other allocations as you learn more and experiment.
This is super simple: Simply enter all the different sources of income you will have at retirement. We have already listed numerous income sources: Look through them, and if that particular source applies to you, enter the monthly amount that will flow in during retirement. You do not add income from investment gains (“capital gains”). Only income sources that are fixed and known. The only “investment” related income you can enter, if you choose, is “dividend/interest” income — this is based on investments/account balances which pay out fixed amounts regularly. Enter those here as well.
For each income source, you specify:
- who the source applies to? You? Or, your spouse/partner, if being considered. If its “joint” income, use “Me.”
- The duration for when payments from that source will come in. “From” and “Till” allows you to specify the ages when those monthly amounts will be coming in. For sources like social security, payments can occur no earlier than 62 and continue through your life (so we leave the ‘Till’ column empty). You may have purchased deferred annuities that pay out monthly fixed amounts from when you are 75 through 85, for example.
- The monthly amount.
One important point — we do not model survivor benefits!
The Outflows Worksheet
You enter your expenses that you expect to have in retirement. We have already listed numerous categories and sub-categories to make sure that you don’t miss the important ones. There are two columns: “Basic” and “Comfortable.” We got the idea from Tony Robbins “Money: Master The Game” .
- “Basic” expenses are “must” — you cannot do without these. Food, taxes, rents, for example, fall into this category.
- “Comfortable” expenses are “nice to have.” Vacations, gifts, for example, fall into this category.
Fill out these expenses carefully. Don’t underestimate your expenses. That’d be like under-estimating the distance you need to travel in a road-trip and not filling enough gas in your car.
To make it easy for you (and to also cross-check your data), we have added another worksheet (ExpenditureSurvey) where we have listed average incomes and expenditures for people who are 65 years of age or older in the United States. This data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can see the average expenditures in various categories to validate your own expenses. If you live in a very expensive metropolitan area (like New York city, or Los Angeles, for example), you can ignore the nationwide averages for rent and mortgages. Though as you work through retirement plans, consider moving to a lower-cost area to live (it’s free money) as a strategy to stretch your retirement dollars!
The Start Worksheet
Once you have filled out the key worksheets, you can run the Analyzer (Pop quiz: How?) and view the results in this worksheet. We have previously explained how to interpret the displayed results.
Here are a few crucial things you can do in this worksheet:
- Specify your effective tax rate that you expect at retirement. Have no clue as to how to estimate it? No problem. Look at the ExpenditureSurvey worksheet that shows the data for the 65- and older population. You can see that their effective tax rate is just approx. 8.3% (federal, state and local). So, for starters, you could enter this.
- Choose the “Expense Scenario” you want to evaluate. Say you come out with flying colors on your “Basic” expenses. You may want to see whether your assets/incomes can indeed satisfy your “Comfortable” expenses.
- What market condition do you want to evaluate? This is perhaps the most crucial of the parameters. Your retirement years will deliver some market returns. Those returns may be great, average or terrible. It is unknowable now what the markets will do during your retirement. So we allow you to evaluate three different conditions: What if the markets perform very poorly? Poorly? Or, just average? (Our system runs through several thousand simulations of various market conditions that we have seen historically. The “Very Poor” threshold is set at the result that performs at the 10th percentile — meaning that 90% of the time the market delivers better performance. The “Poor” threshold is set at the result that performs at the 25th percentile — meaning that 75% of the time the market delivers better performance. And, lastly, the “Average” threshold is set at the result that performs at the 50th percentile — meaning that 50% of the time the market performs better.) You should always evaluate your overall retirement security by being pessimistic and assuming that the markets will perform very poorly or poorly.
- You can change the Asset Allocation used. For example: you can see whether you would do better if you had more stocks? More bonds? etc.
- You can quickly see what having more/less assets does for your retirement outlook. Likewise, if you are doing great at your forecast level of assets, what would having 25% less do? etc. You can quickly run these other scenarios with a click of a button.
- (Currently unused) In the future you will also be able to set your “panic threshold” — the threshold of market decline at which you decide that you’d rather move money into cash & equivalents from equities. We don’t do anything with this currently except we are using your panic threshold setting (if you specify it) to build up our analytic models so that in the future we may be better able to model such “irrational” behavior.
- If you have added information about your spouse/partner, then you can easily see how well you are able to run through retirement with/without their incomes & assets.
Green with Envy? Red with Rage? What to do about it?
So you run the tool and get a result (“green” or “red”). What do you do? Let’s start first with getting a “Red” result implying that with your chosen assumptions you are not able to last through retirement.
- Can you increase the assets available at retirement? You may have been too conservative in how you estimated the assets available at that time. You may want to start SAVING more now to increase the assets later. (If you have not already done so, use our iPhone savings app to help you.)
- Have you carefully looked at the income available to you during retirement? Social security income forms the lion’s share of retirement income for most people so make sure that you have estimated yours correctly. Look at your statement (and, if appropriate) that of your spouse/partner to enter the correct numbers (based upon the age when you intend to collect). In-retirement jobs may be a source of additional income, for example, by monetizing your hobbies, etc.
- Can you prune your retirement expenses? You may think that you have pruned them to the bone — but go back and try once again. Think creatively and out-of-the-box: Can you move to lower-cost locales so that your retirement dollars stretch farther?
I got a green — Am I done?
You are in good shape — with a super-important caveat: How realistic are the numbers you have entered? Go through each assumption of assets, incomes and expenses and convince yourself that you have erred on the side of caution.
The value of any tool is actually proportional to the quality of data you input. As the saying goes “Garbage in. Garbage out.” So, bring your A-game. Carefully enter the data in each worksheet, then sit back as we evaluate the scenario and give you a result.
If you find the tool useful, please share it with others.