Case Study: Retiring Before a Stock Market Crash

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After recently disclosing my portfolio voyeurism, a reader, J.C., sent me an email sharing his financial information. He’s been tracking his numbers with great detail since December 2007.

JC's Rig

He retired just months before the financial crisis. His portfolio dropped nearly 39% between years end 2007 and 2008. 

He withdrew over 9% of his year end 2008 portfolio value to support his retirement spending in 2009. His withdrawal rate stayed above 5% every year until 2019. Then it dropped to 3.67% of his previous year end balance.

I was fascinated exploring his detailed numbers. I asked if he would be willing to answer some questions about his experience of retiring just months before a global financial meltdown and allow me to share with our audience to help us all learn from his experience. He graciously agreed. Enjoy!

J.C., thanks for being willing to share your story. Let’s start with learning a bit more about you.

When did you retire? How old were you when you left your career? What career did you retire from?

I retired in early January 2008. I had turned 57 that previous November.  

The last decade of my electronic career, I worked at Apple in the Hardware Development Department as a Unix System Administrator. I was the technical lead for a group of ~10 of us.  

Did you have contingency plans to go back to work if needed? Or were you certain you were done working at the time?

There were no plans to go back to work. I had reached the pinnacle of my career and was on the decline with regards to my skills compared to the young whippersnappers coming on board.  

There was little doubt that I was done. Although I do remember thinking I might be able to go back to bartending as I had done in my 20s.

Describe the emotions of taking nearly 10 percent of your 2008 year end balance to provide your living expenses in 2009.

We recognized right away that we could not sustain our current burn-rate, so we hunted around for workamping jobs. There is a whole subculture of working full-time RVers out there who work (usually for the campgrounds where they are staying) while being on the road. There is even a job-finding website called workampers.com.  

We decided to spend the summer in the Black Hills of South Dakota and look for work. It only took a couple of days and we found work at Crazy Horse Monument Campground (now called Heritage Village RV Park). We did that for the summer of ‘09 making a little over $8 per hour plus a free campsite.  

At the time we were spending about $400 a month for diesel and $600 a month for campsites. So this saved us $1k per month plus our small income. By the end of that summer, Oct 2009, our portfolio was on the mend. We never had to workamp again.  

To clarify, our bottom was not the $928k at the end of ‘08 as shown in the spreadsheet I shared. We actually bottomed out at the end of Feb ‘09 at $864k. By the end of that summer we were back over $1M ($1,087,612 to be exact). 

Still, I don’t remember being all that concerned about our finances. I knew we still had enough for a minimalist existence if we had to.  Luckily, as you can see in my spreadsheet things just got better and better financially.

JC's Portfolio Progress Spreadsheet

Were you aware of safe withdrawal rate research at the time you retired? If so, how did that shape your withdrawal strategies? If your knowledge was limited, would you have done anything differently knowing what you now know?

Nope, I had not discovered any of that stuff yet. 

The withdrawals were not done all at once. I pulled money over time as we needed it. Also, a good portion of our portfolio was a Laddered CD stack. We did not have to touch the investment portfolio for the first couple of years. We’d just cash in a CD at maturity to live on for 2 or 3 months until the next one matured.

I would have kept even better records. You might have noticed that from 2008 thru 2011 our expenses were conveniently rounded numbers. That’s because in 2012 I set up a spreadsheet and started recording every expense. At the end of that year I saw how much we were burning through, so I went back and reconstructed those past years.  

Luckily we had accurate data for end of year balances and with bank and credit card statements. We did our best at guesstimating our expenses. Then in Aug 2013 we found YNAB (You Need A Budget) and everything changed. We dropped our spending down from north of $100k to just $88k that year.  

We’ve tracked every penny in YNAB ever since. I love that app.

Around 2012-2013, I was starting to learn about safe withdrawal rates and FIRE. I was somewhat concerned about our withdrawal rate, but not too much because I figured as long as we ended each year ahead we were doing ok.

Did you derive comfort seeing your year to year balance progressively increasing between years end 2008 and 2014 at which point the portfolio finally recovered on a nominal basis to where you started at year end 2007. What were your contingency plans to cut spending or increase income if things would have played out differently?

Yep, we were aware of our spending and the high withdrawal rate, but because the portfolio more than kept up with our spending we were not overly concerned about it. Now that we are collecting Social Security our withdrawal rate has dropped WAY down.

Regarding contingencies, over the years we have improved the ability to subsist in the coach alone out in the desert if needed.  We have added, in increments, 1110 watts of solar to our rig such that we can live for free (or darn near close to it) out in the BLM land out west. We also converted our batteries to Lithium.  We’d still need to purchase the basics and keep right with the IRS and insurances, but we believe we could really bring costs down such that we could probably get by on just SS if we had to.

Your situation could be viewed as extremely unlucky to experience one of the biggest stock market crashes in American history just months after walking away from your career and source of income.

You could also be viewed as extremely lucky. Your investments delivered double digit positive returns in 9 of the 12 ensuing years. You experienced only one losing year of about 9% in 2018. Despite maintaining a relatively high level of spending through that experience, your portfolio recovered fairly quickly.

Do you give much thought to the impact pure chance and luck have on retirement outcomes? Do you have any insights on these topics that you think readers may find useful?

Yea, a 10+ year bull market didn’t hurt. But we were hit with quite the sequence of returns issue we had to deal with. 

I do believe in the low cost index fund approach to investing. It had a lot to do with our success. We had both good luck and bad luck, but our portfolio just kept marching on ever upwards. 

We always kept an eye on things (as demonstrated by all the spreadsheets) and were prepared to cut back on spending (or maybe workamp again) if things got tight. Plus we could always go park out in BLM land and live practically for free in our outfitted motorhome.

I appreciate you being so forthcoming in sharing your numbers, strategies, and the emotions that went along with navigating such a challenging start to your retirement. Do you have any final words you would like to share with readers who may be considering or just starting their own retirement?

I’d be honored if you would peruse my 15 lesson investing course I put together, initially for my nephew. I’ve since shared it with several of my relatives and friends over the last couple of years. Each lesson is a page or two. Here’s a link to it.

Thanks so much for asking me to participate in this exercise. It’s been fun. I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with data.

Take Home Message

When talking and corresponding with readers, I frequently hear questions like:

  • Do I have enough money to retire?
  • What is the optimal asset allocation?
  • Is 4% too high (or too low) of a starting withdrawal rate?

We all want certainty. People pay financial advisors a lot of money to answer these questions. Others spend a lot of time crunching numbers over and over again. Many of you do both. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either action. But it’s important to acknowledge that no matter how much time and/or money we spend seeking certainty, it doesn’t exist.

I appreciate J.C.’s willingness to share his detailed numbers, actions he took, and emotions he experienced when starting retirement at such a tumultuous financial time. There are many lessons to be learned from his case study.

In my opinion, the most important is that the more willing and able you are to be flexible the more bullet proof your plan. Conversely, if you’re unwilling or unable to be flexible, you’ll need to save more and plan much more conservatively.

There are a number of retirement levers you can pull to adjust to conditions as they present themselves. J.C. focused primarily on reducing living expenses, while also generating a little income early in retirement by workamping and then later in retirement by optimizing his Social Security benefits.

It’s important to consider and honestly assess which levers you would be willing to pull. There is no universally right or wrong answer, but there is an answer that is correct for each of us.

Thank You J.C.!

J.C. closed by stating he hopes he hasn’t overwhelmed us with data. That may not make sense to those of you seeing only this finished product.

I edited out over half of what J.C. sent to me. This allowed me to highlight the challenge of retiring before the financial crisis and navigating the uncertainty of the next decade.

I’m grateful for J.C.’s willingness to be so forthcoming with details of his financial strategies. If you have further questions, comments, or desire to learn more about J.C., leave a comment below and we can continue the conversation there.

Update: Readers left a number of comments asking for more specifics regarding J.C.’s spending, asset allocation, and Social Security claiming decision. Rather than address each one individually, we agreed it made sense to share the full list of questions I asked him and the answers and supporting documents that he sent me back before I edited. Here is a link to the document.

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[Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. After achieving financial independence, Chris began writing about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? He is also the primary author of the book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. Chris also does financial planning with individuals and couples at Abundo Wealth, a low-cost, advice-only financial planning firm with the mission of making quality financial advice available to populations for whom it was previously inaccessible. Chris has been featured on MarketWatch, Morningstar, U.S. News & World Report, and Business Insider. He has spoken at events including the Bogleheads and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants annual conferences. Blog inquiries can be sent to chris@caniretireyet.com. Financial planning inquiries can be sent to chris@abundowealth.com]

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51 Comments

  1. Chris – this post is outstanding and perfectly timed! These real-life or case studies are incredibly helpful. Thank you!
    DJ

  2. Thanks Chris. Two points stand out for me in JC’s story. The first is for those of us who spent our careers doing technical IT work as JC and I did, going back to work as a contingency plan means near minimum wage income, as technical skills become obsolete immediately upon leaving the workforce. The second point is that as a society we cannot depend on the whims and cycles of markets to support our retired population. It is my belief that public policy is required to address the looming retirement crisis. The defined contribution model experiment is proving to be a failure with serious consequences ahead.

    1. Re: Returning to work. I also found that interesting and something I’ve been thinking about as well as I linked to the articles about going back to work.

      Re: Public policy. I’m not sure how I feel about that. In an ideal world, I would love more simplicity and reliability. Managing the complex financial situations of retirement at a time when we ofter are experiencing mental and physical decline is indeed a challenge. At the same time, every action and decision, even the best intentioned and well thought out ones will come with unintended consequences. For those reasons, we have to move with care.

      Best,
      Chris

    2. I’m 61 and earned my computer science degree over 35 years ago. I want to retire. The bastards I work for won’t let me. I had to plead to go part-time. The key to longevity… don’t be afraid of new stuff and NEVER get into management. I figure at some point if I slack off… they will whack me. At least that is my hope. hehe

      1. They promoted me to management. After a couple of months I gave it back. 8^)
        I recruited a previous manager to come to Apple and be my boss again. She interviewed, accepted the position, and was my boss for the remainder of my time at Apple. I could not have been happier. 8^)

  3. Thanks for sharing this experience. What was J.C.’s asset allocation to achieve these returns?
    Thanks

    1. I’ve invited J.C. to hop into the comments as he wants. I’m going to leave any questions related to more specific information than was shared in the post to him if he chooses to field them.

      Best,
      Chris

      1. Wow, Chris, this JC piece is certainly the best I have read. Throughly genuine. He retired without knowing 4%withdrawal rule, without FIRE knowledge, probably just common sense of ‘expenditures must not exceed income stuff’ .
        Though I admire people with thorough keeping of records like excel sheet, I find it too much hassles. I prefer the simple, easy lifestyle of spend to enjoy without being conscious of cost etc. However, it takes years of discipline of frugality to reach this stage of enjoying frugal life without feeling of deprivation or poverty, in fact a great disdain of luxuries, wastage etc. I notice in today’s lifestyle we paid so much more in their marketing and packaging. Example much snacks are sold many times higher with their beautiful packaging rather than the snacks itself.

      2. Chris,

        I saved our original draft as a PDF. Can I provide a link to it in these comments? It answers some of the follow up questions I’ve seen here in the comments.

    2. Per JC’s “Asset Allocation” writeup:

      “I’m not going to recommend to your what your AA should be, but I’ve been sliding mine down from 80/20 when I first retired to its current 70/30. As I age I intend to continue down to 60/40 by the time I’m 75. That’s my goal.”

      Pretty traditional Bogleheads stuff – meaning a ton of sequence of returns risk, the need for a cast-iron stomach for enduring volatility and a belief that the tailwind (especially for bonds) that saved his bacon during that specific time frame will save yours going forward with bonds of all durations offering negative real yields and stocks highly valued.

      1. Kevin Knox,

        OK? So, what’s your advice or what would you have done or do you do differently? Share your wisdom with us so we can all learn before the next doom comes.

        1. ales,

          Kevin is a big believer in controlling volatility in a portfolio, particularly when in the decumulation phase. This is similar to the approach advocated by Scott a few comments down.

          There is no absolute right answer for everyone, but this approach has merit both psychologically and mathematically. You can explore approaches like the All Seasons and Permanent portfolio at the site Portfolio Charts to learn more.

          Best,
          Chris

    3. Started off with 80/20 in Jan ’08, but today it is down to 65/35. Will probably take it down to 60/40 by the time we turn 75 in 5 years.

  4. J.C. is one lucky fellow. His investing style is obviously one where he is swinging for the bleachers and (yikes!) have a burn rate of nearly 100 grand/year (while camping!?). My wife and I invested similarly to the Permanent Portfolio and have not doubled our $ since 2007, but have quadrupled it. Instead of camping, we bought a ranch and now EVERY day for the rest of our lives is “camping”. For us, invested as we were, 2007-2008 was not a devistating sequence-of-return event, but simply an extrordinary time to plow available cash into investments and secure our future beyond pretty much all doubt. 2020 has provided yet another opportunity. J.C.’s story is inspirational in it’s clarion call to anyone contemplating retirement, early or not, to have a handle on their expected annual spending, a knowledge of “their” safe-withdrawal-rate, and a plan to fall back to if it all turns to crap.

    It is interesting to see that despite a crushing investment experience at the very beginning, there appears to be no indication of recognition of that event reflected in his budget. That goes to show you that a million and a half bucks can finance most any lifestyle at least for awhile, or until extrordinary luck steps in (again).

    As far as one commenter suggesting that the government step in and “help” retirees, I hope that that help means going into Middle Schools and start teaching youngsters 1. what money is, 2. how interest works. 3. What the Federal Reserve is and how the banking system works, and finally, 4. provide a basis for solid investment phylosophy (Robinhood isn’t it). Retirement problem solved.

    As always, thank you for thoughtful and interesting posts. As one who has “won the game” it is still interesting and fun to read.

    1. Scott,

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      I agree to an extent that J.C. was lucky. That’s why I asked him about it.

      I also agree that he could have even more money had he made different choices. Your observations are valid.

      However, as I feature readers stories, I want to explicitly say that I am not endorsing any particular decisions, actions, plans, and values. I am also not inviting anyone to judge those who generously share THEIR stories, decisions, actions, plans, and values. Instead, we should use case studies to consider OUR OWN decisions, actions, plans, and values. What can we learn from them? What would we have done differently?

      Any case study is just that. It’s an experiment with an N=1. We shouldn’t over generalize the results. But there is still a ton to be learned.

      Re: financial education. I obviously share your passion for financial education in general. However, items like your #1 & #3 are not black and white, come with value judgements, and aren’t easily taught in an agreeable way. So I’m not holding my breath waiting on that to happen. As shared above, I’m also skeptical of government, big business, etc. stepping in and “helping” us. As imperfect as it is, I think our best option is to take responsibility for ourselves and understand the world as it currently works rather than how we wish it did.

      Best,
      Chris

    2. Scott,

      Sorry to say, but you sound very judgemental. BTW, he admitted that he didn’t know about the SWR until later, but he did learned and moved on.

      I would highly encourage you to share YOUR story either in the comment section or we can ask Chris to share it as a separate post because we would have follow-up questions as well. We learned from J.C. about his luck because looking at his spreadsheet it does reflect luck in my eyes, but it sounds that we could learn a ton from you, the educated saver/investor/spender and it sounds that you’ve been retired for a while yourself, right? People love real stories. I even don’t know what the Permanent Portfolio is and how it works. Now, if you retired with say a $5M portfolio (in today’s dollars) and have generous pensions, then of course you would be very different in the crowd of readers, IMO.

      Regarding the retirement crisis, sorry, until the eye-poking inequality is solved in this country, good luck with anything and educating anyone (consumerism, social media, etc. are other issues). I am not optimistic about the future. You, I, we all feel how we’ve earned and deserved our wonderful/successful savings, etc., but the more I read about inequality in this country, I’m sorry to tell but the majority of us are just lucky to be born in the right families. We should be humble and admit the luck of our birth. We don’t see a lot of stories of ‘rags to riches’ (not Hollywood type, but the ones who grew up in poverty and overtime joined the middle-class and now are on the way to a safe retirement) as compared to over-night millionaires (it seems so nowadays, anyway), but I think the former stories would be much more encouraging to the unlucky people out there.

      Anyway, Scott, consider my suggestion of telling us your story. I for one would love to read it along with the numbers.

      1. If I came across as judgemental, it was not intended to be so. As far as investing, to each his own. I think that the story posted is a cautionary tale of someone who spent too hard and was invested too agressively, and still lived to tell about it. I think that allowing the story to be told is generous and instructive and appreciate him for telling it and for Chris for publishing it. As for the Permanent Portfolio, it is a methodology originally proposed by Harry Browne. There is also a fund by the same name, but is NOT the same thing, which should be understood. It can be GOOGLED, and certaily isn’t for everyone; it advocates for a mix of assets which would make some head for the hills. In reality, it performs exceedingly well if you can live with 8% gains when the stock market is returning 20% and can live with losses of only 8% when stocks are down 35%. Boredom with the market is a real blessing in retirement and allows one to sleep restfully every night. Honestly, for me, that is what it is all about. And finally, no, I did not retire with $5 million nor am I at any risk of seeing that number any time soon. All the best.

        1. Scott,

          I appreciate your contributions in the comments. If you would ever want to do a Q&A to do a deeper dive into your experience, it would be welcomed. Just shoot me an email.

          Chris

      2. S&M,

        I’m actually publishing a post about the role that luck plays in our success next week. I’m curious to hear what you think.

        Chris

        1. Looking forward to your new post, Chris. I’ll see how much I am off the mark or close to the mark :-).

          But I also hope that you’ll consider publishing more of the real life cases like JC’s or guest post you had recently about the divorced dad. Oh, and don’t forget to write more on Parlana or other calculators ;-). E.g. what if you put JC’s or similar portfolio into the calculator and write about what results/conclusions you got? Examples are one of the best tools to teach audience, IMHO.

      3. Lucky to be born in the right families? Inequality? I don’t think so. It takes discipline and hard work. I was a single mother raised by a single mother, youngest of five, mom never owned a house.. first to graduate from college. I don’t go to salons and get my hair done I don’t buy fancy clothes I don’t get tattoos I don’t get piercings I don’t have an expensive car. I make six figures as a registered nurse in California. I am 57 my house will be paid off in 2 years and I will be able to retire at age 59. It’s not luck s&m, it’s hard work, dedication and living below your means. The most important factor in that last sentence was living below your means.

        1. Tracy,

          I agree to some extent with you. Generally speaking, we all judge others based on our own experiences. Unfortunately, there isn’t statistics, only anecdotal stories. How many people do you know who achieved exactly or better than yourself? I hope your siblings did the same.
          I was thinking of the families with domestic violence, drugs, alcohol, poverty, etc. When you grow up in these kind of circumstances, how many of such kids end up successful instead of joining that same hell? I’m also thinking of some immigrants who come to this country legally to seek American Dream and end up being an Uber driver and cannot afford the tuition for college. Yes, perseverance plays a big role, but not all. I sometimes wonder if I would want to take the same pathway as I did if I could rewind my own story.

          Based on your story, I should also claim or assign the whole credit to my hard work and not luck. However, I do consider myself lucky where I come from (wasn’t born in the USA). After living 20+ years here, I give lots of credit (aka ‘luck’ in my mind) where and how I grew up. I do have experience/knowledge of alcoholism in the family. I do know about standing in a long line for bread and milk. I do know quite a few things, but I feel lucky and I appreciate my past because thanks to that it helps me understand other people who are not as fortunate.
          E.g. when I came to this country I lived or worked for rich families for a few years, so I got a taste of America as seen in the Hollywood movies. When I think of those rich people and what we talked about (not too much as I was paid help to them, but I suspect it was intriguing to them to have an educated immigrant to do such work for them), I now understand the disconnect between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ here.

          I think I have a different interpretation of luck than you or other people do. E.g. I fell for consumerism for a couple of years after 2-3 years of living here (no credit debt though), but I got tired of it fast because I saw it as stuff and nothing else. So, my disdain to consumerism is not because of the brain I have LOL, but because ‘I was lucky’ to grow up in a poor system/country and we were quite happy or content with very little.

      4. S&M

        Please don’t take this as judgemental, as you read a reply to your previous comment. As this is mine and my wife’s story.

        We both grew up in different states. Her’s background started lower middle class. Parents had no college, and their parents grew up on the other and poorer side of the tracks. Grandparents were poor, both sides. But meals were on the table, there was small homes to reside in. Parents and grandparents worked one to two jobs, found something even in depressions, rececessions to provide. My wife worked multiple jobs, while paying for college, including graduate degrees.

        I too, come the other poorer side of the tracks to a single mother, whose only had a mother and grandmother. No siblings, aunts or uncles. No college.

        My wife and I meant while both of us were working our way through different colleges. First in our families.

        We sometimes had two quarters to rub together, mostly nickles. Did without, saved, worked two jobs, and saved. Had babies, did without. Worked, saved, worked on our careers path.

        Which gets me to my main points. I meant many well to do people during the years. Most were self made, successful and well off. Never envied them. Respected them. Salt of the earth.

        Most of my friends had somewhat similar backgrounds however from the poor side. Birds of the feather. Came from little, worked hard, sometimes college, sometimes not. Saved, did mostly the right things. Most now have wealth of a million or more.

        Call it luck or call it fate.

        But integrity, hard work, common sense and decency has brought many to a place on the other side of tracks. Even with potholes and obstructions by government officials.

        Envy is crippling.

    3. Fully agree. Send all who needs help back to school ….but change the syllabus to that you suggested. The current education system is teaching much nonsense; not align with real life living.

    4. I disagree with the characterization “swinging for the bleachers (should be ‘fences’ anyway).” No, besides a few exceptions, the bulk of my equities were in the S&P 500 (VFIAX) and the Extended Market (VEXAX). And my bonds were mainly in Total Bond Fund (VTABX). Today the bulk of my bonds are in TIPS (VAIPX,I consider them safer than VTABX).

  5. I’d love to know what his stock /bond allocation is/was. Don’t think a 60/40 would have faired that well.

  6. Thank you, J.C., for sharing your personal information with us and thanks, Chris, for publishing it.
    There is nothing more useful than real people agree to share their true experiences vs. all the backtested paper portfolios.
    I have a few questions to J.C. if he’s reading this post or if Chris can share more detail in case he has it and permitted to divulge to the readers.

    – I see in the spreadsheet that you (or was only one?) began to take SS at the FRA. I’m curious how you came to that decision? Was it based namely on the results of running numbers on some website that recommends when to initiate SS benefits or was it your personal decision to wait until FRA but not much longer?
    – Have you considered starting the benefits earlier after seeing the unlucky years and if so, why did you decide against them?
    – If I understand correctly, you don’t have any pensions, true? It’s a bit unusual because pensions were still in vogue when you worked.
    – Could you share some detail about the AA of your portfolio at the start of retirement and how it changed over the years?
    – Maybe you could also provide some info about the health/dental/vision insurance and how expensive it was for you…?
    – Finally, were you a couple of DINK’s or do you have children who had been on their own when you retired?

    This is a great story and I am going to check out the link J.C. prepared for his nephew. When I hear teachings from people who lived through their experiences, it’s a different kind of learning experience vs. what you read on the Bogleheads where a lot of preaching is based on the theory of what might be.

    I totally agree with Chris’s conclusion that you can crunch your numbers until you’re blue in your face, but that will not insure against the market whims unless you really have to over-save to feel secure and that over-saving can come at a high price too, right? Like they say: money or your life and none of us can turn the clock back and amend the course.

    Thanks again. I hope you, Chris, will be able to share more stories. I am aware of other PF bloggers featuring millionaire stories but majority of them are out of reach for me so I don’t gain inspiration from them.

  7. Great story! Thanks for sharing!

    Michael Kitces research has shown that a 4% withdrawal strategy is very conservative and leaves most people with a large nest egg at death.

    My takeaway from JCs experience (and how I have approached my early retirement decision) is that if you are comfortable with a little risk and willing to make meaningful lifestyle changes in a worst case scenario- you can absolutely spend at higher percentages in the early years. For most folks, expenses will decline and social security will add income as you progress into mid or late retirement. For that reason, I am comfortable front loading my portfolio withdraws.

    1. Bob,

      This certainly makes sense if you are willing to be flexible with earning, spending, and or expectations. There is a lot of opinion on what the safe withdrawal rate is. It is important to read and understand the factors that impact it and different points of view. Ultimately though, no one knows so we have to make decisions with imperfect information and be able to live with them.

      Best,
      Chris

  8. Definitely enjoyed this one. Thanks to JC for sharing! I’m currently JC’s 2008 age and while we’re inching close to retirement, we’re more like 2 years for my spouse and a 5 year for myself. I’ve often wondered how I’d feel if there was another 2008 either right before or after retirement, so this was timely.

    I also use YNAB and think it’s such a great tool. I do think w/o much effort your spending declines when you use it (and would be invaluable if you needed/wanted to be more agressive in reducing expenses) . Probably true for must budgeting/expense tracking tools, but you have to find the one you’ll use and YNAB is that for me. I’m on year 5 with YNAB so we’ve got a lot of history to work with.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Eileen. I’m not a strict budgeter and have never tried the app, but I’ve heard many people think highly of it. I’ll have to give it a closer look.

      Best,
      Chris

  9. Thanks for sharing JC’s story. When i retired in 2016 @ 56 I was quite fearful of all that I was reading about how disastrous it would be to have an economic meltdown occur within the first 5 years. My Quicken retirement planner was flashing green and working at HP sucked so I retired and have loved every bit of it. I lived off pre retirement assets and rental income from 3 properties for the first couple of years and then had to tap into my IRA. I’ve learned some painful lessons about balancing IRA withdrawal’s and losing my ACA stipend but otherwise its been smooth sailing. My biggest question in retirement relates to when I should start tapping SS. It seems most of the models are way too simplistic and don’t take into consideration the taxes and opportunity costs I incur by delaying. Love to hear from you guys about some good, sophisticated calculators. I will say that it was QUITE an adjustment retiring that early and being worried that I’d run out of money. Now, happily I’m working on giving money to charities and helping my 29 year old twins purchase their first houses.

    1. Im still a ways off from collecting SS, but my initial thoughts are to take it closer to 62 than to wait. Give or take, it seems to work out to about the same over time. Unless your are just getting by, waiting until 70 to collect just to get a few hundred more a month doesn’t seem worth missing out on the possible tens of thousands of dollars that you could just collect and you have earned. If you dont need it, you could invest it or use it to leave your other money invested and not need to withdrawal it. Plus you dont know how long you will live. A lot can happen in waiting until closer to 70 to start collecting.

  10. A great story, thanks for sharing JC! Your decision to workamp during summer 09 shows you were ready to adjust as required, a key strength at any age but especially for someone living off their portfolio.

    I found your 15 lessons well written and engaging. I thought the way you broke them down into “bite size” lessons should make it easier for the new investor to leave the fear of starting behind. Good job!

    Chris, thanks for sharing JC’s story with us. Hearing how others handled both good and bad times is very helpful. I guess I also have a case of portfolio voyeurism!

  11. It always annoyed me when a FIRE enthusiast claimed “I can always return to work”. I appreciate this post because it points out that your skill set starts dating when you leave the workforce. Plus many employers are not keen to hire someone they suspect will retire again soon.

  12. Thanks for posting JC’s experience and, especially, the link to his lessons prepared for his nephew and niece. I found his lessons to be very clear and helpful and have forwarded them to various family members. I, like others, would like to know in which (presumably Vantage) funds he currently is invested, now that he is retired, so that the retirement target funds recommended to his niece and nephew (and others) presumably are no longer relevant. For those who criticize JC for being overly aggressive pre-retirement, I note that, after many years of splitting my investments 50-50 between equity and bonds, I noticed how poorly the bond results were compared to the equity results, and thereafter (until this year), put nothing in bonds, a substantial majority in equities, and (until recently) a substantial amount in TIAA’s Real Estate Account (which, until recently, tracked the performance of equities, but has been undercut by the pandemic).

  13. Great Article and a ton of inspiration. Middle of the fairway FIRE lifestyle with a tough sequence of returns event and JC came out ok. Keeping track of network, spending, making adjustments, working a little, and finally getting back on track. I also love the summary from Chris. We can crunch numbers in every direction to cover every possibility but somehow life still gets in the way.

  14. Would it be possible for your guest poster to provide more detailed information on how he outfitted his RV with solar and uses lithium batteries?

  15. Thanks, Chris, for your willingness to publish real life financial journeys, and thank you, J.C., for sharing your thoughts, experiences, financials and lesson plans with us. This type of post provides an authentic view of financial planning in action and generates good discussion within the community.

    A couple of observations . . . In Lesson 13, J.C. noted the difference between Lean FI and Fat FI. I may be reading too much between the lines, but it seems to me that J.C. may have known he was shooting for a higher-cost lifestyle in retirement and planned accordingly. That’s where the “personal” in personal finance comes in. Retirement dreams and lifestyles are unique to all of us, and I give J.C. credit for knowing what he wanted his retirement to look like and being willing to adjust the sails as necessary to make it happen.

    The other observation is that the very first lesson (Lesson 1) addressed net worth – what it is and how to calculate it. This is an excellent first lesson for anyone wanting to educate themselves, improve their financial position and/or reach specific financial goals. Completing this exercise draws a line in the sand and then provides a very clear snapshot going forward of the progress made in building your assets and reducing your debts. A lot of advice in the financial world focuses on the investment angle of financial planning, but it’s difficult to know how far you’ve come when you don’t know where you’ve been.

    Excellent post, gentlemen!

  16. This article highlights that Social Security is a real life saver for Americans I must say – especially for sequence of returns risk such as this example. That 50% of his expenses were going to effectively be paid in future is definitely a great help to lower the withdrawal rate significantly.

    It makes me wonder, for countries such as my own that has no social security net, I think I’ll need to keep building additional forms of income to support the withdrawal rate. It just seems too much of a great opportunity to keep getting some form of cash flow — at worst I can just add it to the overall stack.

    1. Charlie,

      I agree that it is wise to consider what other options you have to create this annuity type income to create a lifetime income floor that SS provides to Americans. I also agree with your points that SS is a life saver for many Americans.

      However, that’s not necessarily what saved the day in this case study. His portfolio was continuously recovering due to strong market returns and he became more conscious of spending over time. Those factors were carrying him back to a more sustainable scenario. SS was really the icing on the cake.

      Best,
      Chris

  17. For those of you interested in ‘The Rest of The Story’, Chris agreed to let me post a link to the original draft. His published version was streamlined to make the point he wanted to make about retiring into a market decline. But there was so much more to the story. Like our Social Security decision. And our Asset Allocation. And our actual Budget, along with our current Balance Sheet. IMHO, all interesting stuff. Enjoy…

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/htwsqoi21zd98xw/RetiringBeforeaStockMarketCrash.pdf?dl=0

    1. Hint, close the ‘side bar’ in the upper right hand corner of the resulting page above.

  18. JC & Chris:

    Let me add my compliments, to those above, for this post.

    JC – Your story speaks to what my greatest concern was, when we retired early in 2014 – namely – sequence of returns and retiring before a significant market correction.

    I am wondering if you purposely built into your plan the CD ladder, due to concerns about market valuation when you retired (i.e. the potential that the market might correct)? Or if you would have done so, no matter what the market level was at the time you retired? I guess I am wondering if there is a lesson – i.e. a retireed should be aware of what the conditions of the markets are at the time they are retiring, and build in extra cash/fixed income as appropriate?

    Flexibility, resilience, willingness to keep learning about budgeting, investments, etc. It is all here in this post. Thank you for sharing.

    1. eD-h,

      I can’t answer for JC regarding his specific strategy. But to answer your question should a retiree be aware of what the conditions of the markets are at the time they are retiring? YES!!! There is no single right strategy for dealing with this. Some strategies could include portfolios like others have suggested in these comments (Permanent portfolio, etc) that have much lower volatility historically, an equity glide path (starting with more bonds and gradually adding equities over time), a CD ladder as JC used, flexibility in spending, being willing and able to earn some income, semi-retiring and gradually transitioning into full retirement, and/or incorporating some real estate income. Regardless of the specific strategy, we should be prepared for a poor sequence of returns, particularly with stock market valuations as high as they currently are and bond yields as low as they are.

      Best,
      Chris

  19. This feels like the “lab” part of the sequence of return risk “lectures” I read on so many blogs. I enjoy your writing Chris. You should consider more content like this to differentiate this blog even more from the countless retirement blogs out there.

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