This Is What You Need to Know about Investment Risk in Retirement


When investing for retirement, risk tolerance generally changes over time. Individuals who are decades away from retirement typically accept a larger amount of risk for the chance to achieve significant growth, which is one of the benefits of saving for retirement earlier rather than later.

As individuals get closer to retirement, they tend to get more conservative to protect their nest egg from market fluctuations. With decades to spare, individuals can wait out lows, but this is not always possible in retirement when people may need immediate access to money.

Prior to retiring, individuals should take the time to look at their investment risk and make sure they are not jeopardizing their ability to make ends meet in retirement.

The Issue of Investment Risk during Retirement

Balancing investment risk in retirement has become a more complicated issue in the past decade or so. People are living longer than ever before and cost of living continues to increase. Many individuals are asking themselves how they can make their nest egg last for 30 years without taking on at least some risk during their retirement years to help those investments continue to grow.

At the same time, being too aggressive during retirement can mean losing big and possibly running out of money. The risk is greatest during the first few years of retirement. Taking a big loss at this point in time can cause issues for the rest of retirement and may even make it impossible to recover.

retirement investing

Because of this issue, some people minimize their risk in the years before and after retirement. Then, these individuals slowly increase investment risk to get the best of both worlds.

At the same time, getting more aggressive with risk later in retirement comes with its own complications. This situation is most frequently encountered by people who have not saved enough money to retire comfortably and need to play catch-up.

Individuals in this situation are likely to take losses much harder than gains, according to recent research. When people are unable to deal with losses in an acceptable manner, they may end up panicking if the market has a downturn and selling their stocks.

This is a losing strategy since it does not allow for normal recovery. Realistically, people should only accept retirement risk in retirement if they have the mental capacity to handle losses strategically instead of panicking.

The Decision of How Much Investment Risk to Accept

The decision of how much risk to accept in retirement is ultimately a personal one. Individuals need to consider how much they have saved and their projected budget for retirement. These two data points can help people figure out how much wiggle room they have financially.

People should view the amount they need from their investment accounts to meet annual spending projections the minimum level of productivity for those accounts. The amount of their nest egg needed to produce this amount should be protected from risk as much as possible. Any money in retirement accounts beyond that could theoretically be invested aggressively provided that people can deal with market fluctuations, since individuals would still have the minimum amount that they need to make ends meet.

The general rule of thumb is that people should never take on more risk than they need to meet their financial goals during retirement. However, there are situations in which increasing risk could make sense provided that the minimum monthly income is still met.

For example, some individuals want to build wealth to leave a legacy for heirs. In this case, goals will change over time. At the beginning of retirement, people in this situation want to have enough to maintain their lifestyle, but later they will want to build their wealth as much as possible.

These individuals often take more risks as they get older since they have enough to maintain their lifestyle and want to get as much as possible out of their investments. In this situation, it is still important not to invest so much that a market downturn could hinder the ability to cover monthly expenses.

The Other Option to Consider with Retirement Investing

Adjusting allocations during retirement is risky, whether that means increasing or decreasing the percentage of a portfolio in equities. People may find themselves forced to buy stocks when they are high or sell when they are low. For this reason, many financial advisors recommend keeping allocations fairly constant throughout retirement, but the decision ultimately depends on someone’s unique situation.

A safer way to invest in retirement involves adjusting spending rather than allocations. With this strategy, individuals change their spending based on market performance. If the market goes down, individuals can dial back their discretionary spending as a means of protecting their nest egg rather than changing their portfolio allocations.

Bear markets are temporary, but the losses incurred with selling off stocks during them are permanent. Adjusting spending is a way to avoid the panic impulse of selling off stocks and helps bridge the gap until market recovery occurs, at which point the losses will no longer matter. The other thing to keep in mind is that recessions tend to follow a bear market, so people may actually save money by postponing discretionary spending, such as vacations, and taking them later when it is actually cheaper to do so.

Published by Robert Ryerson

A financial professional with more than three decades of experience, Robert Ryerson works closely with clients in the Freehold, New Jersey, area to meet their financial planning needs. As a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) at New Century Planning, he focuses on retirement income planning, as well as estate administration, regularly assisting his clients with legacy and estate planning. He also advises them on health and disability insurance, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Medicare Supplement Plans. Mr. Ryerson’s many years helping his clients navigate the complexities of retirement planning gave him a deeper understanding of the healthcare costs that retirees face. In 2013, he drew upon this knowledge to co-author the book What You Don’t Know About Retirement Will Hurt You. Outside of his work at New Century Planning, Robert M. Ryerson is a regular fixture at workshops and seminars on retirement. He has delivered several keynote speeches on the often-confusing topic of required minimum distributions. Mr. Ryerson continues to share his financial expertise as a facilitator of online courses for Certified Public Accountants through The Society for Financial Awareness. In the early 2010s, Mr. Ryerson became concerned about the threat of identity theft after noting the many cybersecurity breaches suffered by major companies. He became a Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist (CITRMS) in 2014. He has since taught identity theft recovery courses at local community colleges. Mr. Ryerson also wrote a book on the topic entitled What’s the Deal with Identity Theft: A Plain English Look at Our Fastest Growing Crime. A graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in economics, Mr. Ryerson began his career in the financial services industry as a stockbroker. He obtained his CFP designation in 1991 and began working as an independent financial planner a few years later. In addition, he is a notary public.

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