Retirement Readiness Brain Teaser

Ready for a brain teaser? Robert Laura is a prolific writer on retirement readiness and the professionals who help people with it. In the following article, he uses a teaser to illustrate how simple mistakes made by everyday people can lead to wrong conclusions about retirement. Then, he turns the tables on advisors themselves, pointing out the ultimate trick most professionals would miss. See how you do:

Common Mistakes

As one example of a common retirement readiness mistake, Laura says, “People assume that retirement is nothing but a big plus sign. That more freedom, time and leisure will suit them well and result in the life they have always dreamed of. But the reality is that problems, stress and boredom can multiply if people don’t have some structure, goals, direction and purpose for this phase of life.”

Making the assumption that “retirement is nothing but a big plus sign” is equivalent to missing a key part of the brain teaser equation (such as seeing a multiplication sign as a plus sign.) Oops!

Unfortunately, the equation – both in retirement and the brain teaser – have several key parts which are easily missed, and can lead to bad outcomes.

The Professionals’ Common Mistake

The actual answer can be solved in at most a couple of seconds, but the teaser lures the more detail-oriented, analytical, and math-obsessed person into a rabbit hole of complexity. Because we get so jazzed about solving complex problems, we miss the simple answer. (He got me on that one.)

Professionals can be this way. There are some retirement questions that don’t need statistical simulations, multi-year tax spreadsheets, or portfolio performance matrices.

The quotation, “Everything should be made as simple as can be, but not simpler,” is attributed to a paraphrase of a speech given by Albert Einstein. Making the complex simple is hard work. How many hours did it take Einstein to come up with the simple equation E=mc²?

Keeping It Simple

Hans Hofmann said, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” In the world of retirement finance, whether online, in media, or even in textbooks, there’s a whole lot of unnecessary. Most people turn to professionals to help them eliminate it, not add to it.

Brain Teaser Lessons

Several lessons emerge from the brain teaser that we can all keep in mind when planning for retirement:
– Remember to focus on the big picture; i.e. what “retirement” means.
– Given that answer, you can focus only on the details that truly matter.
– Always look for a simpler, more understandable way to answer the question.
– Once solved, use the answers to help discern what’s important and what’s not.

Retirement Readiness Resources

For a short online course teaching what’s necessary and what’s not for retirement readiness, see our Simple Finance Retirement Readiness page here:

For more tips on the psychology of money, subscribe to the award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch,” at

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly 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."

Leave a Reply