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Using A Retirement Income Buckets Approach

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Using a retirement income buckets approach: One of the most common questions financial planners receive from soon-to-be-retirees is, “What’s the safest way to give myself a paycheck once I quit working?”

The question often stems from the knowledge that needing to withdraw funds in a down market can be both ill-advised and scary.

Those who have been around long enough probably know someone who retired close to a particularly bad market year, like 2001, 2007, 2008, or now 2022. Because that someone had to, or chose to, sell some investments at that terrible time, they ended up living off of much less than they originally thought. This can be a scary thing to watch. It makes one wonder, “How do I make sure that doesn’t happen to me?”

A Buckets Approach

Enter a buckets approach to retirement income. Below is a link to a video excerpt from the online course, “Retirement Readiness,” outlining the approach in more detail. (A link to the course can be found at the bottom of this article and here.) A description for each of the buckets follows below.

https://youtu.be/mkeqzgJfeFc

Bucket 1 – Cash and Money Market Accounts

The first bucket will provide your paycheck. Here is how it works.

  1. Calculate any retirement income you will have (pension, Social Security, dividends, interest, rental property, for examples);
  2. Figure your annual recurring expenses (do not include one-time expenses such as replacing a car, roof, or paying for a special trip or wedding);
  3. Subtract 2 from 1 to come up with the difference; and
  4. Keep 1 to 2 years of that difference in Bucket 1.

For example, Justine retires at 65. She expects to live past age 82 so she is waiting until 70 to claim Social Security. She has a pension of $800/month ($9600/year). Her recurring expenses are $70,000 annually. The annual difference is $70,000 – $9,600 = $60,400. To start retirement, she decides to keep 1.5 years of the difference in Bucket 1 so $60,400 x 1.5 = $90,600. She puts that in a high-yield money market account and sets up an automatic transfer of $5833.33 monthly to her checking account. Voila – she has a new paycheck.

When she turns 70, she will collect $45,000 in Social Security. At that time the annual difference will fall to $70,000 – ($9,600 + $45,000) = $15,400. She decides to keep 2 years of the new difference in Bucket 1, so $15,400 x 2 = $30,800. She reduces the monthly transfer from the money market to $1283.33 per month.

Bucket 2 – Bonds, CDs, and Bond Funds

The second bucket replenishes Bucket 1. As the paychecks come out, the principal in the money market account will naturally decrease. Eventually it will decrease to a level that makes you say, “Yikes! I only have xx in my checking and money market.” Everyone has a different level of “Yikes.” When the balance approaches your unique Yikes level, a transfer is made from Bucket 2 into Bucket 1.

Bucket 2 is comprised of a combination of CDs, bonds, and/or bond funds. CDs and bonds have maturity dates, so they are structured in a ladder (staggered maturity dates usually 6 to 12 months apart into the future). As each one in the ladder matures, the principal is either transferred to Bucket 1, or, if Bucket 1 is comfortably above the Yikes level, redeployed into a new CD or bond with a maturity date at the end of the ladder. If bond funds are used, they are laddered according to the duration in the fund, and funds are sold as needed to replenish Bucket 1. Using bond funds is a bit riskier due to the lack of maturity dates, so at least some portion in CD and individual bonds are recommended.

Bucket 3 – Stocks and Stock Funds

Bucket 3 replenishes Bucket 2 through harvesting gains in stocks. Here is how that works.

  1. Review Bucket 3 on a regular but infrequent schedule (at most quarterly and at least annually).
  2. If there are gains, transfer those to replenish Bucket 2.
  3. If there are no gains (i.e. the market is in a correction), then do nothing until the next scheduled review.

In this way, stocks are not sold at the most inopportune time. With up to 5 years of paychecks in hand in Buckets 1 and 2, you have provided yourself a secure cushion from market corrections.

Final Notes

Whether each bucket is held in a tax-deferred account or a taxable account makes a big difference. Buckets may be spread across accounts in different combinations to minimize taxes.

You can find many varieties of Bucket approaches online. The goal of this particular Bucket approach is not to generate the best returns of any retirement portfolio ever on record, but rather to help prevent retirees from selling during downturns by providing security in Buckets 1 and 2. It works best for people who want the feeling of security from retirement income but don’ t need the high cost of an annuity to get it.

For monthly tips on retirement income, taxes, and psychology of money in retirement, subscribe to the free e-letter, “The View from the Porch, ” at https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn. And for a short online course on retirement readiness, see Simple Finance Retirement Readiness: https://bit.ly/3p3BkXE.

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® has an advice-only, hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, Holly primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States except Texas.

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