More than half, or 52%, of American families are “at risk” of not having enough assets to maintain their lifestyles into retirement, according to the National Retirement Risk Index, a measurement tracked by the Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research.
“It’s not uncommon for us to see even high-earning people, who are used to spending what they make, come in and say, ‘I want to retire yesterday,’ and they have all sorts of ideas about spending even more money. And it’s just not going to work out,” says Patricia F. Raskob, president of Raskob Kambourian Financial Advisors in Tucson, Ariz.
As a group, baby boomers are particularly unrealistic about how to plan for retirement, says Suzanne Wolfson, founder of For Retired Only in San Francisco.
“Boomers believe that they are entitled to a certain standard of living, and they will not reduce their standard of living to deal with future needs,” she says.
A variety of strategies allow financial advisors to help their clients save and budget if they are nearing or in retirement.
For example, downsizing a home may help to reduce costs and bolster savings.
“Planning can start at 85. No kidding, it can,” Wolfson says.
Point out potential trouble to clients, even if isn’t news that they want to hear. Visual approaches may help.
“I try to diagram everything, and offer options A, B and C, with the pros and cons,” says Wolfson, who stresses how crucial it is to plan for the worst, especially in health areas. “You need to keep asking clients questions, like ‘What if?’ because you simply don’t know what’s going to happen to you.”
“I’ll show a client a graph, and it’s clear, in red – I show them, “this is where you’re going to run out of money,” Raskob says.
She recalls one graphic projection that had one of her older clients running out of money when she was 79.
“Will you visit me in the poorhouse?” the client asked Raskob.
Raskob says she was able to help the client by suggesting that she cut back on gifting to her children and that she shift the emphasis of her portfolio from growth to income.
Advisors need to be clear but tactful.
“If someone comes to you and wants to play golf every day of the week and you tell them they can’t play golf anymore, they’ll just get mad at you and say it’s your fault,” Raskob says.
But if you help them figure out a cheaper way to play more golf, they will be happier and more likely to take recommendations, she says.
Raskob’s office also maintains close ties with the local county’s council on aging, which can make it easier to assist retirees.
Rather than letting clients dwell on what they are losing by budgeting, advisors should emphasize the freedom it can bring.
“Controlling your expense factors gives you choice in retirement,” Wolfson says. “It gives you choice in life.”
Paul Hechinger is a New York-based freelance writer.
This story is part of a 30-day series on retirement planning strategies.