President Trump’s unpredictability, policy plans and political stumbles are scaring some investors.
Perhaps this question from a reader sums up the level of concern I’m hearing: “My husband and I are federal retirees with pensions, Social Security and savings. We live a comfortable, simple life with no debt. I am deeply concerned about the new administration, and the future impact on federal employee pensions, Social Security and Medicare. As retired people, how do we prepare, since obviously our earning days are over?”
With the help of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, I sent the question out to some financial planners.
Robert Schmansky, a certified financial planner from Detroit, wrote: “I hear a lot of concerns about specific Cabinet members or President Trump himself. It’s important to remember that one person does not make a government. There’s a lot to have anxiety about, and a lot as well to be optimistic over.”
Schmansky recommends that you position your savings for the long term in growth assets such as stocks, with investments that may not correlate with the market. For example, consider real estate funds.
“That way, if your pension and safe money do not keep up,” he said, “at least you have positioned yourself in assets that may.”
He says to not worry about market swings. It’s far more important to craft a long-term plan based on prudent risk-taking, and stick to that plan through the highs and the lows.
Spencer Betts, a certified financial planner from Boston, said that modifications to programs such as Social Security or pensions typically don’t apply to people who are already collecting: “I would expect that any changes to be made would affect those who are at least 10 years or more away from collecting.”
The main fear factor for retirees and those saving for retirement comes down to one word: inflation. You can’t worry yourself sick about what Trump is going to do. But you should try your best to keep pace with inflation. As inflation increases, your dollar buys a smaller percentage of the products and services you need.
“I would be concerned about Social Security and your pension keeping up with inflation,” Betts said. “The increases in payments from both Social Security and pensions normally are not as much as the current inflation rate. That means over time you will have to have your savings pay for more and more of your daily activities or you will need to reduce your lifestyle. Building up your retirement investment accounts as much as possible before you retire and trying to reduce your monthly expenses in retirement are key.”
Betts also has an intriguing question for those of you concerned about retirement and having enough money: Can you downsize to a smaller house or move to a less-expensive part of the country?
Finally, Scott Ward, a certified financial planner from Birmingham, Ala., offered this response to my reader: “First and foremost, kudos to you and your husband for maintaining a debt-free retirement. This is quite an accomplishment, given the reality that 80 percent of baby boomers carry some form of debt.”
By the way, this figure comes from a 2015 survey of American family finances by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The report found that nearly half of baby boomers are still paying on their homes, owing a median of $90,000. “Because most older Americans are not eliminating debt before retirement, they may be at greater risk of financial insecurity in their golden years,” Pew said.
Ward said the best way to address your concerns about any potential legislation that may (or may not) affect your pension, Social Security or Medicare benefits is to take inventory of the parts of your financial plan over which you have the most control.
Ask yourself these questions, he says:
●What are some big-ticket items (e.g., a new roof or car replacement) that will affect your budget in the next five years, and which savings bucket will you use to pay for them?
●Are there any expenses that can be renegotiated, curbed or eliminated?
●Are your savings and investments aligned with your long-term goals and needs? For example, what’s your plan to pay for long-term care expenses?
No one can predict how the new administration will shape the economy. So follow this advice from a character in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” in which the great poet Maya Angelou wrote: “Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”
Write Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more, go to wapo.st/michelle-singletary.