Financial Fitness: Balanced portfolio still important for retirees

See-saw by Dave Heinzel, courtesy of stock.xchng.See-saw by Dave Heinzel, courtesy of stock.xchng.

On the occasion of The Senior Times’ 30th birthday, I am reminded of the many readers I have had the opportunity to speak with and meet. Contributing to our community’s financial literacy is a privilege, as is working with an exceptional team. Thank you and Happy Birthday, Senior Times!

During your working years, your primary investment goal is generally growth – you need your money to grow so that you can eventually afford the comfortable retirement lifestyle you’ve envisioned. But when you retire, should you change course and adjust your investment strategy from “offense” to “defence?”

Actually, it’s not quite that simple. To begin with, even while you are working, you don’t want your portfolio to be completely filled with growth-oriented investments such as stocks. If it were, you would likely be taking on a degree of investment risk that’s too high, because, as you may know, stocks will fluctuate in price – sometimes significantly. If you only own stocks, you could take a big hit during a market downturn. That’s why you need to have an array of investments – stocks, bonds and so on.

By spreading your investment dollars this way, you can give yourself more opportunities for success while reducing the impact of volatility on your portfolio. (Keep in mind, though, that diversification, by itself, can’t guarantee profits or protect against all losses.)

Now, let’s fast-forward to your retirement date. Once you retire, you may need to look at your investment portfolio somewhat differently – instead of “building it up,” you may now want to think of “making it last.” So, your first impression might be that instead of maintaining the diversified portfolio you had when you were working, you need to switch to predominantly “safe” investments, such as bonds and Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs), to reduce the risk of losing principal.

Such a strategy might indeed be effective – if your retirement were only going to last a year. But the chances are reasonably good that you could be retired for two, or possibly even three, decades. If that’s the case, then you will have to deal with a threat to your lifestyle that you might not have considered: inflation. We’ve had low inflation for several years, but that could change in the future. Consider this: Even at a relatively low 3% inflation rate, prices double roughly every 25 years. Depending on your personal needs and spending patterns, your personal inflation rate might be even higher.

To protect yourself against inflation, you will find that investments such as bonds and GICs are typically not much help. In fact, in a low-rate environment, your returns on these investments may not even keep up with inflation, much less keep you ahead of it. That’s not to say they have no value – they can provide you with an income stream and help lower your overall investment risk.

But to defend your purchasing power, you will still need some growth potential in your investment portfolio during your retirement years. Your exact percentage of stocks and other growth-oriented investments will depend on a variety of factors – your projected longevity, other sources of income, family situation, and risk tolerance. You may want to consult with a financial professional to ensure that your portfolio mix is suitable for your needs.

Many things may change in your life when you retire – but the need for investment diversification does not.

Deborah Leahy is an Investment Advisor with Edward Jones, Member CIPF

Editor’s Note: It’s been a privilege to have Deborah Leahy pen her Finance column. My daughter Molly Newborn, now a financial consultant with Morgan Stanley in California, has praised Deborah’s expertise and wisdom. A financial column is not easy to execute but Deborah does it with flair and objectivity. Thanks Deborah for your important “financial” contributions to our pages!

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