One of the most common questions I get is, “When can I retire?”

When the retirement onion is peeled back, there are many, many variations that should be customized for each client.

There are common themes that help enhance any pre-retiree’s situation, as well as those in the midst of retirement in terms of not running out of money during the golden years.

First, don’t retire. Seriously, keep working! If you feel you might be a little behind in savings, the longer you work, the bigger your Social Security benefit typically becomes. Also, if you can pay off debt and/or save more for a few years while delaying Social Security, you may see a monumental difference in your retirement cash flows.

Next, expose true costs hidden within your nest egg. You lose money on any hidden costs that impact performance and then lose the compounding of returns on those hidden costs.

For example, many retirees may end up being sold some sort of variable annuity. If that annuity has embedded costs of 4 percent (I see this a lot), on a $ 500,000 balance that is $ 20,000 a year of costs. If you can even cut your costs in half, that is another $ 10,000 in cash flows per year in retirement. We can help with a cost analysis for anyone who isn’t sure about this.

Another strategy is to be prepared for big money drains that could impact retirement. Try to budget and plan for large costs so your retirement isn’t derailed by the new roof, furnace replacement, need for a new vehicle, etc.

One approach is to anticipate big costs before retirement. The point is, just like while working, there needs to be an emergency fund/savings fund/investment account that can handle big and unexpected expenses.

The fourth theme is to have an investment strategy in your portfolio that is customized to your needs, not those of the investment firm. Just like one size doesn’t fit all in shoes, jeans, and haircuts, neither does it regarding your investments and financial planning needs.

To achieve goals, portfolios need to be adjusted over time in an attempt to avoid major mistakes for being too aggressive or too conservative. Changes should be made periodically for areas like rising interest rates. But please do not make massive changes because the loudest person on TV says you should.

For example, on Christmas Eve 2018, just a very short time ago, investors were selling out of their stocks and bonds in droves. A month later as January 2019 wrapped up a belated Christmas gift — a market rally of nearly 7 percent from that Christmas Eve bottom. Markets move in “chunks” both higher and lower with long periods in between.

Lastly, do your research before hiring a financial advisory firm. Ask good questions and get everything in writing. How are they compensated and how much will you pay? Are they fee-only and a full-time fiduciary? The part-time fiduciary option just doesn’t make sense – do you want someone who only is required to represent your best interest part of their time with you? Will you always work with the advisor directly or get passed off to someone else?

These are good starting points. Remember that you should never feel pressured by anyone selling investments to make a “buy now” decision. You want a firm that feels like a true partner in all regards.

Planning to retire takes time, patience, and the recognition that retirement isn’t a static place in time. Retirement evolves and so should your planning for it.

Ryan Fox, Huston-Fox Financial Advisory in Gettysburg, can be reached at 717-398-2040 or

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