Knowing what I know now, if I had to do it all over again, I probably would have followed in my kid brother’s footsteps and pursued a career as an airline pilot.
What’s the next best thing? How about getting that pilot’s license while I’m still young enough to enjoy the thrill of nailing that first 15-knot crosswind landing? And so I did.
I love discovering the technology that is buried deep inside the airplane’s computer system, especially the autopilot function. Key the destination airport code into the computer, and that little, single engine, four-seater will fly itself, making adjustments along the way, countering the changes in wind and other unforeseen factors from when the flight plan initially was established back at the departing airport.
Come to think of it, a financial plan is a lot like a flight plan, offering a road map that gives you guidance on how to get from point A to point B. And like that airplane, there are certain to be many unforeseen financial events you will encounter in your journey to point B and beyond.
There are so many components that go into the creation of a financial plan — like your saving and spending levels, Social Security amounts, and the rate of return of your portfolio — that it can scare you away from designing a plan in the first place. Here’s where the concept of an autopilot comes in handy. Instead of trying to build the perfect financial plan (because there isn’t one), try instead to establish one by using “reasonable” inputs, knowing that these numbers will change anyway, resulting from either lifestyle changes or market changes as you review and update your financial plan every year for the rest of your life.
For instance, two factors that will have a profound impact on your portfolio and its ability to sustain you throughout retirement are its rate of growth and your personal savings rate.
When entering the anticipated growth rate of your portfolio, you can select any number you want. If you use a higher figure, it will generate a rosier projection, but it also reduces the likelihood that you will reach your savings goal at retirement. This shortfall won’t come as one big surprise to you 30 years from now, when you are ready to retire. It will be presented to you in the form of little surprises each year, as you make adjustments to your financial plan and your life along the way.
Or, let’s say you underestimate the pegged savings rate needed to fund a retirement account that supports you during retirement.
You won’t wake up someday when you turn 65 and realize that you are ready to retire but your portfolio isn’t ready to support you. Instead, you will discover as you move closer to retirement, that each time you update your financial plan, you either need to save more, work longer, or retire with a reduced standard of living expectation. Your yearly attention to a financial plan works much like the airplane’s autopilot, allowing you to make little adjustments along the way.
All the leading financial institutions, including Charles Schwab, Vanguard, and Fidelity, have web-based financial planning software tools to assist you in getting started on your journey from point A to point B.
The effort you make to establish a meaningful financial plan today will go a long way toward creating a turbulent-free glide slope throughout your retirement years.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of “425 Business.”