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How to Live to Zero

Die with Zero by Bill Perkins

The growing trend of retiring early and dying with zero continues to gain traction and popularity amongst those wishing to improve their financial prosperity. In fact, Bill Perkins’ book “Die With Zero” and its approach to life and retirement planning continue to be discussed in mainstream media. 

While we believe his mathematical equation for retiring comfortably - his “survival threshold” - is overly simplistic with a linear time horizon for the minimum we need, it does offer a good perspective on how we should think about our retirement. 

As Colonel Sanders famously said:

“There’s no reason to be the richest man in the cemetery.”

And that’s why Bill’s perspective of asking how long you can reasonably expect to live and working out how to fund retirement appropriately continues to be celebrated in consumer finance circles (paywall)

The challenges with life expectancy

Average life expectancy in America for men (73.5 years old) and women (79.3 years old)

The problem with asking yourself how long you can reasonably expect to live is that you need to rely on life expectancy calculators, actuarial tables, and averages. These often give you an age to aim for. But they do not give you any insight into the life you can expect to live. 

Financial planning also leverages these data sets when it comes to planning retirement. The average nature of the results has led the industry to rely heavily on the 4% rule for retirement withdrawals. This rule suggests that you can withdraw 4% of your retirement savings each year, adjusted for inflation, without running out of money for at least 30 years. 

The problem is that asking clients, “When do you think you will die?” is a negative and often confronting conversation. Combined with a ‘Die with Zero’ philosophy, it can lead to overly focusing on a single number as your primary goal—your “perfect nest egg target” or “survival threshold.” 

In doing so, we detract from the central philosophy of the “Die with Zero” approach - to live life fully and enjoy your experiences.

It’s not about breaking even.

Rather than having your clients think about “Dying with Zero,” perhaps a better frame is to LIVE to Zero. 

It’s about understanding how your clients want to live their lives. It’s about educating them on their “go-go” years and “go-slow” years so they can appropriately plan for bigger retirement withdrawals to match their changing lifestyle in their golden years. It’s about working through their long-term care costs and what contingencies they will need in place should their health deteriorate to avoid becoming a burden on the family. 

Ultimately, it’s about understanding their health.

Once we better understand their physical wealth, we can then define the life they want to lead and the experiences they want to share. We define the values they want to live by and the goals from designing a life aligned with their values.

With these “life” inputs, we can better determine the “minimum nest egg target” they might need to live their best lives. Our equation:

Lumiant's equation for living your best life: Your Best Life = (Values + Health) / Wealth

It’s not about breaking even. It’s not really about Dying with Zero. It’s about living the maximum life you have available to you. Your Best Life. 

How long can I live

So, how do we answer the question, “How long can I live?”

At Lumiant, we use science to help personalize, optimize, and engage clients in longevity planning with Lumiant HALO—our Health Analysis and Longevity Optimization Assessment.

Using the most statistically important risk factors that affect longevity, years of disability, and our retirement lifestyles, such as family health history, lifestyle choices, and demographic factors, HALO provides a personalized longevity projection. 

These projections include active working years, active retirement years, and assisted retirement years. These three numbers are much more important than a single “life expectancy” age. 

HALO's longevity healthspan

It gives clients a clearer picture of how long they can reasonably expect to LIVE. How long can they expect to slow down? And what care costs they might need to consider. 

For advisors, this means you play a crucial role in helping clients plan their ideal retirement lives and understand the financial firepower they will need to meet their retirement goals. It means you can educate clients on risks - like healthcare costs, market fluctuations, interest rates, etc. - to get them comfortable with what trade-offs they may need to make to Live to Zero. 

At the end of the day, we can’t predict the markets, government policies, or the future. So, while getting to zero is an honorable objective, we need to ensure we have contingencies in place to assure clients that they won’t hit zero before they pass. 

Longevity planning opens the door to better conversations

Taking a more personalized approach to longevity planning and going beyond the basic principles of life expectancy and withdrawal philosophies can benefit advice firms significantly. 

Longevity planning not only benefits clients but also advisors. 

Clients who are more confident in their retirement outcomes increase spending by 30 percent, their lifestyles will improve, and their nightmares will stop. 

Advisors will gather 25 percent more assets because they’ve created a personalized plan and built trust. And ultimately convert more clients because they go beyond averages. They go beyond general advice. And they have a personalized plan with a more comprehensive retirement formula to let them live their best lives.

Want to learn more about embedding longevity into your client’s financial plans?

In this session, Lumiant’s Heather Holmes will join industry-leading retirement transition planner Dr Amy D’Aprix to discuss how to steer your clients to thrive financially through their golden years with confidence and foresight. This webinar is a great opportunity to learn more about personalized longevity planning and how it can benefit your clients. 

BONUS: the session qualifies for 1 hour of CFP Continuing Education credit! 

You can find more information about the session here →


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