I’ve been promising to write about what it’s like to start “de-accumulating” the funds you’ve invested and saved over the years as it’s a fairly massive part of everyone’s retirement plan. I’ve already drafted a few posts talking about the subject but, to be honest, they’re almost too depressing even for me to read! That’s how painful I found the process of cashing in investments on a monthly basis as opposed to salting them away.
Why though? It’s not as if I hadn’t knew this day was coming. It’s not as if I hadn’t planned for it and it’s not as if I didn’t have countless spreadsheets predicting what my future funds might look like under various financial scenarios. From that point of view, and depending on my mood, things did actually look quite comfortable. On a rational and logical level, my financial situation seemed to be relatively secure.
The trouble is that money is an emotional subject. You can have a rational and logical approach to it for sure, but we’re not Vulcans. We have “feelings” about money that aren’t necessarily connected to any rational or logical part of the brain.
One of the hardest things I had to handle about cashing in investments was something that I didn’t see as either rational or logical on one level but, on the other hand, really felt on an emotional level. I called it “financial swing”. Let’s say I had to pay myself an income of three grand a month to cover all my expenses. In order to do that, I had to sell a portion of my index funds every month, regardless of where the markers actually were. I needed to “cash them in” – just to live! This was hard enough, but let’s also say I used to earn the same amount and was used to having three grand a month coming in. When I put both these facts together, it felt like I was six grand a month worse off!
Now, I know that the reality was actually that my if my total monthly outgoings were three grand, then that’s the sum that I was “worse off” by. And that three grand was actually buying me freedom from work – from that perspective surely it was money well spent? Unfortunately that perspective was lot less intense than my “financial swing” one. (I’m not quoting the actual figures here of what my monthly budget was, and I know that monthly income is probably top end for retirement, but it serves to illustrate a point. Whatever your working income now, it’s unlikely you’ll want to totally slash that when you step off the working life treadmill. I know I didn’t.)
So, this figure became stuck in my head and I couldn’t shake it: my retirement, my non-working, non-earning lifestyle, was actually costing me six grand a month. Net. What kind of salary would I have to be earning to compensate that?
I’m back to work now and I sometimes compare my current “pay day” to the same one I’d marked up in my Google Calendar with the same notation last year – at that point, “pay day” was the day on which I’d have to sell a portion of my investments to see them appear in my bank account the following week. I came to dread that day each month. I’d open up my Fidelity account and scan the various funds that I could sell to release some cash – should I shave a portion from the fund that was returning great growth, or just dump that underperforming one instead? Past performance is no indication of future, after all, and what if that Emerging Markets fund suddenly emerges? Should I continue to ride the wave of my best performing fund or take profits from it? Were the markets peaking, and should I take six months income before it crashes? Or are we at the start of a boom time that I need to benefit from? As ever, there was no answer to these questions. I had to make up my mind and take action.
“Had to”. That’s another key phrase when it comes to deaccumulation. When you can choose to sell, or not sell, your funds in a given period then these financial projections are quite a nice, comfortable piece of speculation. “Wow! If I sold that fund today it will have returned me over thirty percent on my investment! Fantastic. On the other hand, that dog that’s losing me ten percent, maybe I should just shoot it? Oh well, I’ll go and have a cup of tea instead and check again next month”. Not when you’re in deaccumulation you won’t. You have to choose, and if not today then definitely tomorrow. You still have bills to pay. You haven’t quite escaped that rat race yet.