If you are looking for an applied framework for tackling the topic of financial planning, you should read Your Complete Guide to a Successful and Secure Retirement, by Larry Swedroe and Kevin Grogan. This book serves as an excellent resource for those tackling the extremely difficult and complex task of “getting one’s financial house in order.” I’ve got a PhD in finance, but haven’t even earned my G.E.D. in how to ensure I can retire someday! Like most people, the topic of retirement planning is frightening and often overwhelming.

Fortunately, this book tells a story about planning that is intuitive, easy to follow and checklist driven, making the seemingly impossible achievable.

Swedroe is a prolific author who has written over a dozen books and numerous articles on investments and financial planning. He currently serves as the director of research at Buckingham Strategic Wealth.

Grogan is an expert in the fields of investment and financial planning and has published multiple books and articles on investing and financial planning. He currently serves as the director of investment strategy at Buckingham Strategic Wealth.

What did I like about the book?

I spend way too much time thinking about investing and markets. And, most of that time, I am buried in the minutiae of quantitative-factor investing. Factor investing is complex and summarizing the subject is exceedingly difficult.

Or so I thought.

Swedroe and Berkin‘s previous book, Your Complete Guide to Factor-Based Investing, provides readers with the best summary of factor investing I have ever seen (my review is here). After reading that book I sat back and thought, “Wow, Larry and Andy summarized a 1,000+ academic papers in less than 200 pages – and no math was involved. Amazing.”

I was confident I’d never see as an elegant story summarizing an inherently complex subject. But Swedroe outdid himself. This book is modeled on the factor book. The book summarizes a topic that is even more complex than factor investing and one that I would not be brave enough to tackle – retirement planning!

The book’s organization is excellent, well-structured and easy to follow. The chapters are outlined as follows and serve as a great reference list if the reader wants to quickly access a specific topic:

  • Chapter 1. Retirement Planning Beyond the Financials
  • Chapter 2. The Discovery Process
  • Chapter 3. Asset Allocation
  • Chapter 4. The Investment Policy Statement and the Care and Maintenance of the Portfolio
  • Chapter 5. Monte Carlo Simulations
  • Chapter 6. Investment Strategy Part I: Implementing the Investment Plan
  • Chapter 7. Investment Strategy Part II: Reducing the Risk of Black Swans
  • Chapter 8. IRA and Retirement/Profit Sharing Plans
  • Chapter 9. Health Savings Accounts
  • Chapter 10. The Asset Location Decision
  • Chapter 11. Spend-Down Strategies
  • Chapter 12. Social Security
  • Chapter 13. Medicare
  • Chapter 14. Longevity Risk: The Role of Annuities
  • Chapter 15. The Role of Insurance: The Management of Risk
  • Chapter 16. Reverse Mortgages
  • Chapter 17. Women’s Unique Retirement Issues
  • Chapter 18. Estate Planning
  • Chapter 19. Preparing Your Heirs
  • Chapter 20. The Threat of Elder Financial Abuse

After powering through the book in a marathon session, I sat it next to my bed stand confident I wouldn’t pick it back up until I wrote this review.

I was wrong.

Just last week my wife asked me about health savings accounts and why we didn’t have them. As the “finance person” in the house, I wanted a coherent well-thought out answer. Wasn’t happening. I immediately flipped through the book to chapter 9 and digested the costs and benefits of HSAs so I could present a thoughtful answer to my better half. After describing some thoughts about HSAs, my wife and I agreed on the path forward and everything was good in the world again.

The book works. And I’m proof it is a useful read and a resource for questions you will encounter.

The other compelling component of the book is the use of checklists. These summaries grasp a topic very concisely and give the reader confidence that the subject can be approached in a systematic, step-by-step manner.

My favorite checklist was on the “nine planning errors to avoid:”

  1. Sequence risk
  2. Underestimating needs
  3. Overestimating ability to continue working
  4. Becoming too conservative
  5. Underestimating tax rates
  6. Failing to provide for a spouse
  7. Taking withdrawals from the wrong location
  8. Underestimating the benefits of diversification
  9. Misunderstanding the risks of inflation

Why did I find this checklist compelling? Unfortunately, after reading through the nine errors, I realized I had a 100 percent batting average. I’m thankful that I was able to identify those problems. Going forward I’ll be better able to defend against these issues when I confront them in the future.

Constructive criticisms

Regrettably, there was an element of false advertising. At the outset I got the sense that I would be able to facilitate all my financial planning needs on a do-it-yourself basis. I realized that those chances were approaching zero by the time I reached the final chapter in the book. This is not a knock on the authors, as I was extremely grateful they were sharing so much knowledge in an open forum. With time on my hands, I could handle all my financial planning needs.

That said, I don’t have time on my hands!

One aspect that would have been helpful is a more in-depth review of how to hire a financial advisor. The authors have a short appendix on the topic, but a more front-and-center discussion would help readers like myself who sit back and say, “I got it. This is great knowledge, and I now understand what I need to do. But I don’t have the time to deal with all of this stuff!”

Summary

After finishing this book, I came away with a robust toolset for thinking about financial planning. The book is well organized and accessible for the non-professional. Readers will appreciate the in-depth discussions on a variety of topics across the financial planning spectrum, leaving those with simple or complex problems equally satisfied.

Swedroe and Grogan’s book gives the public a great guide to achieve a successful and secure retirement. As Dr. Wade Pfau points out in his foreword to the book:

I encourage you to read this book and appreciate its broad scope and many lessons for developing a successful retirement income plan.

I couldn’t agree more.


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