Retirement Planning: Focusing on the Factors You Can Control

Posted in: Personal Financial Management

This post was authored by Will Kelly, Managing Director, at our partner company United Capital Management.

The financial services industry tends to focus consumers on the wrong things. Here are a few bits of truth:

  • Your personal financial goals are not directly tied to how XYZ Fund performs against the S&P 500 on a particular day.
  • Your lifestyle in retirement will not be dramatically affected one way or another based on choosing the latest and greatest fancy proprietary investment instrument.
  • There’s little discernible difference between investments of a given asset class.

This goes against the story that’s sold to consumers, and that last bullet point probably borders on being facetious. But let’s consider a different approach to investments — and to retirement planning. An approach that puts you first, rather than the markets and the machinations of the financial planning industry.

What matters most

As you look toward retirement, you should not be constantly asking, “How did the markets perform today?” Instead, you should be asking yourself, and your Financial Planner:

Do I have enough money, and can I do the things I want to do for the rest of my life without worry?

As you start to answer those questions, you can begin to build an investment portfolio that meets your retirement goals, whether that’s travelling the world, buying a beach house, paying for your grandchildren’s education, or donating to charity. Instead of worrying about the market’s performance, it is crucial to get a firm grasp of the financial planning factors you can control.


At the end of the day, spending is the factor over which you have the most control. It’s important to figure out your budget — what you have coming in, what your fixed expenses are, and what sort of discretionary income you have left at the end of the month. You should also consider how the budget will change once you are actually retired. And here is a hard truth: Discretionary spending trips everyone up, no matter their income bracket.

In the years before you retire, having a clear spending plan can help you free up funds for saving.


It’s important to take advantage of employer sponsored retirement plans. But what other buckets do you have savings in? I always encourage people to take advantage of tax deferred savings and after-tax savings programs. If you are making enough money, it could make sense for you to save aggressively for a certain period of time prior to retirement. You should also consider what other assets you have, such as real estate, and how to best use those assets in retirement. A safe and often quoted rule of thumb with saving is to always save 10 percent of everything you earn.


Everything in life is about timing, and retirement is no different. Your biggest target event will be the beginning of retirement itself, but what other milestones will come first? For instance, if you plan to retire to the beach, you might want to buy that beach house before you stop working. The timing and balance of things like capital purchases, selling off of major assets (your current house, for instance), and liquidating certain savings accounts is all extremely important.


Heading into retirement, you’ll be making big decisions based on your long term plan and on market factors — a big shift in the real estate market, for instance, is going to have an impact on your beach house purchase and the sale of your current home.

Risk tolerance is a fundamental factor in financial investment. It’s important for your retirement plan to be centered on an approach to risk that suits your goals and your investment temperament. Some clients will want to taper risk as retirement approaches, others may be most comfortable with a total-return approach.

One of the most important tools I use is designed to help clients figure out their investment goals and risk tolerance. The strategy starts by centering on investments in low-cost portfolios. From there, we ask the client to weigh in on three major factors: performance, protection, and tax minimization. The extent to which the client prefers one of those factors over the others informs the direction we take with his or her portfolio.


Finally, you should go into retirement with a clear idea of the legacy you want to leave behind. Too many people overlook this factor, and instead chose to “wing it.” Whether you want to leave money and assets to your heirs, create an education endowment, or spend everything you’ve made in your own lifetime, it’s important to lay out a plan. Plus, engaging in legacy planning before retirement can often help clients avoid making unnecessary sacrifices, and planning for how your money is used after you’re gone can ultimately lift a major burden off your heirs’ shoulders.

Want to learn more about retirement planning control factors? Please feel free to contact me at

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