Smart Plans vs. Plans That “Smart”

In the 1960s, going to the dentist meant a little white spittoon by the dental chair and a whole lot of pain. 

Our dentist at the time—I’ll call him Dr. Hurt—thought only sissies needed anesthesia for a “little thing” like drilling and filling a cavity. Translation? Going to see Dr. Hurt was stressful!

One day Dad came home and announced a new dental plan: We would be seeing a different dentist. Dr Jeter (his real name) proved to be warm, gentle and liberal in his use of Novocain. 

“I’m going to wiggle your cheek a little and put some sleepy juice in your mouth,” he would say. Voila! Magic! Every dental visit from then on was painless and stress-free. 

“We should have made this switch a long time ago,” we all thought. 

So, why didn’t we? Because we assumed that one dentist was the same as all the rest. It took some painful experiences for us to realize that dentists are different. 

The same is true for CPAs, surgeons, attorneys—even financial planners.

Financial planners aren’t “all alike.” Neither are financial plans.

The typical plan I see attempts to calculate how much income one will need (or desire) in retirement. “So, you need/want enough assets to be able to withdraw X number of dollars annually for X number of years.” From there the focus becomes investing to accumulate a big-enough retirement nest egg. 

During these accumulation years, not too much can go wrong if you stay disciplined long-term. What do I mean by disciplined? I mean you save consistently, and you invest broadly in quality companies. 

Markets ebb and flow, but historically, the market trends upward, and the account of the typical pre-retiree accumulator tends to grow over time.

Everything changes, however, when you shift from accumulation (prior to retirement) to distribution (during retirement). In retirement, you’re no longer putting money into your account. You’re taking it out.

And that’s when so much can go so wrong. 

Withdraw too much and you set yourself on a path to run out of money sooner than you planned. 

Let’s say you face the double whammy of being caught in a down (or “bear”) market…and needing to withdraw additional money from your account. Maybe you need more to live on, or funds to make a major repair or purchase, address a family emergency, or pay for long-term care? Any of these unplanned expenses can deflate your retirement balloon quickly. The results can be disastrous. 

My experience is that most clients are happiest when a substantial portion of their regular income need is fixed and funded from sources that aren’t tied to the performance of the markets. I’m talking about things like Social Security, pensions or guaranteed income annuities. Of course, since we’re all different, a smart, personalized plan is necessary for each of us.

The stubborn use of nothing but investments to produce retirement income reminds me of our old dentist, Dr. Hurt. He thought everyone should just endure the pain. As a result, we lived with avoidable stress—until we learned there were other options. Then we chose a better plan.

If a retirement full of excessive investment risk and uncertainty sounds painful to you, I have good news. 

As my family realized we could get healthy teeth without the pain, so you can enjoy steady retirement income minus the stress.

To help you think through such issues, I’ve created a comprehensive checklist of pre-retirement questions for people who are 60-something. It’s free if you’d like a copy. Email me at, and I’ll send it to you right away.

Argent Advisors, Inc. is an SEC-registered investment adviser. A copy of our current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees is available upon request. Please See Important Disclosure Information here.

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