Jared Reilly is privy to the balance sheets, budgets, and lifestyles of hard workers ready to retire. He is also a gatekeeper of sorts, telling most that an analysis of their financial state indicates that their days of catching the 7:01 to Manhattan, working 70-hour weeks, and meeting deadlines and payrolls will end in a blissful retirement — right on schedule.
But a hard part of the business of being a financial planner, he says, is that he must sometimes tell clients that their work-a-day lifestyle must go on way past the date they had mentally penciled in as their Independence Day.
“Some people think there’s magic,” says Reilly of the latter group. “They think that I can give them a Hail Mary.” He wishes he could, but he says there is no substitute for a well-built, consistently executed retirement plan.
Reilly, a certified financial planner who has been with the Mercadien Group for five years, gives a free talk, “How to Create a Financial Plan,” on Monday, September 17, at 6 p.m. at the South Brunswick Library. Registration is required. Call 732-329-4000.
Reilly, a 2007 graduate of the College of New Jersey, says he had planned to be an accountant but was drawn to financial planning because it involves working with people rather than with businesses and building financial frameworks rather than auditing books. As he describes it, being a financial planner is a lot like being an internist. “People get financially naked for us,” is how he puts it.
The process can be a little painful, but it only hurts for a short time, perhaps during the collection of the myriad documents, brokerage statements, and insurance policies that need to be analyzed if a bulletproof retirement plan is to be put in place.
Reilly and his colleagues do work with younger clients. This is a trend that should only accelerate in tandem with the disappearance of traditional pensions and all the talk about radical changes to Social Security and Medicare.
But many clients are like his own father, Gerard, a career Post Office employee, and his mother, Lynn, a stay-at-home mom who went to work in a dental office after her children were grown. Like a good many Boomers they can almost certainly count on a generous pension.
They also have 20 years worth of equity in a home. They sacrificed saving for retirement while they were raising their family and are now “playing catch up.” And they face financial decisions — how to take the Post Office pension and whether to sell the house at some point and invest the proceeds. But, with traditional retirement underpinnings like a pension, they are in good shape. Reilly knows the world is a different place for younger workers.
“You’re really on your own now,” he says of his generation. But most of the people seeking financial direction at his firm are pre-retirees in their 50s and 60s along with people who have already retired and want to make sure “they don’t run out of dollars before heartbeats.”
For both groups, the advice is the same:
Know what you’re spending. “Nine out of ten people know much money they have,” says Reilly, “but only one out of ten know how much they’re spending.” Sure, he says, most have a general idea, taking note of how much is left over at the end of the month, but few have a good idea of where the money is going.
One client who stands out in Reilly’s mind is a widow whose husband died on 9/11. “She was young,” he says, “and afraid that she was spending money too quickly.”
Reilly went over her expenditures and found that most were reasonable and fit in well with her income and plans. But one thing stood out. “She was spending in the low five figures on her dog,” he says. It turns out that the pet was not ill. “She was just spoiling it.” Reilly advised her that cutting down a bit in this one area would be a help and would not adversely affect her lifestyle.
It’s hard to make the most of a savings and investment plan without knowing where income is going. Many clients balk at keeping a detailed budget, but Reilly says that going over the past three months worth of checking account statements provides a “quick and dirty” look at where the cash is landing.
The biggest budget analysis surprise? It may be a cliche, but Reilly says eating out — everywhere from Starbucks to white table restaurants — adds up quickly to totals that take many by surprise. Car costs, especially depreciation, can also be a surprise.
“People sometimes upgrade the car to show they’ve made it,” he says. “They love that nicer model, but it’s not an investment. You can save a lot with a smaller, more fuel efficient car.”
Decide what lifestyle you want. One of Reilly’s clients, a man who makes “good money, very good money,” was getting tired of working. Ready to retire, he came in “for a brush up” to make sure that he was financially ready. He wasn’t. “I had to tell him that if he wanted to keep up his lifestyle in retirement he had to put away a lot more money,” says Reilly.
It was a hard choice, but the man knew himself. “He’s still working,” says Reilly. “He didn’t want to give up that lifestyle.”
Other clients are willing to make changes to retire on their preferred timetable. Sometimes relocation is the key, especially for residents of high-cost states like New Jersey. “My grandfather retired to South Carolina,” says Reilly. “His property taxes are one-tenth of what they were in New Jersey.”
Another client, living in a “multi-million-dollar home” he can no longer afford, is headed south. Says Reilly, “Florida will be his saving grace.”
Go over your insurance policies. It only takes one catastrophe to “blow a giant hole” in the most careful retirement plan, says Reilly. Unexpected events that occur far too often include a workman’s trip and fall on the front sidewalk, injuries caused by a teenager’s car accident, medical bills that exceed a lifetime cap, the need for a lengthy period of in-home care following an illness, and the disability or death of a breadwinner.
Prepare for these contingencies, says Reilly, but at the same time, he advises, “don’t let insurance agents scare you.”
Life insurance, for example, might not be necessary for a person with no dependents and no particular desire to leave money to a favorite charity. Likewise, a large umbrella insurance policy might not be essential for a quiet couple with few assets, but would be a prudent step for a family that owns pit bulls and enjoys inviting neighbors to enjoy the backyard pool and trampoline.
Reilly thinks long term care insurance is a good idea, particularly if it is purchased when people are in their 50s or 60s. “If you wait until your 70s, you have to be in very good health, and it will be expensive.”
Invest for security and for growth. “In real estate, it’s location, location, location,” says Reilly. “In investing it’s diversify, diversify, diversify.”
Investing in “risky” vehicles like stock, real estate, and commodities frightens many of his clients. “They want their money to be FDIC-insured,” he says. “They want to see their bank balance growing.” For some clients, he says, this is fine.
Their assets are large enough and their income ample enough that having their money lose ground to inflation year by year is not going to hurt them. Other clients, however, cannot afford the slow drain caused by a period of ultra-low interest on FDIC-insured accounts combined with the reduced spending power that inflation brings.
Reilly works with clients to balance risk with the reward of greater growth, generally suggesting a mix of mutual funds that will provide a high degree of safety along with a return that will outpace inflation.
With spending accounted for, lifestyle preferences honestly acknowledged, the right insurance in place, and money invested for what passes for a good return in 2012, people young and old can be more confident about trading in a monthly train pass for a fishing license.
Just five years out of college, Reilly himself is already working toward that secure financial future. “My fiance and I just bought a house,” he says, marveling at the interest rate they were able to obtain — “Three-and-a-half percent, on a 30-year loan! They’re giving money away!”
He and his fiance, Melissa Kvidahl, who works as a community affairs specialist for Rutgers, figured that the house, with carrying costs no higher than the rent they were paying, will be a good investment that will keep pace with inflation.
While Kvidahl, an English major, is a stickler for grammar, looking for errors in whatever she reads, Reilly, having seen at least a few people who reached late middle age woefully unprepared for retirement, keeps a budget and faithfully goes over it at week’s end. “My fiance thinks I’m crazy,” he says cheerfully, but he is in a good position to know better.