Retirement planning can feel like being alone at sea. You’re responsible for plotting your own course, preparing for stormy weather and responsible for everything that could go wrong along the way. It can feel overwhelming, but it does not have to be. Our next guest, Robert Gerstemeier, author of Planning Your Retirementdraws on 20 years of experience to remove the overwhelming guesswork from your next stage of life and outline the steps you need to prepare for a comfortable retirement.

Robert Gerstemeier: I’ve had a binder in one of my desk drawers that, for probably 13 years, I would just keep clipping articles and put things in that I think I wanted to organize and put in the book and get it prepared.

I’ve got this big, three ring binder full of stuff that I had just been collecting thoughts and ideas for a long time. And it primarily came from the perspective of you write a book, you can get all your information out there easily, quickly, so that people have a chance to be able to sit down and go through it, sit down and read the book and have a real clear idea of the services that I provide, what the processes I go through with my clients.

It just became, to me a really easy way for me to get my story out so that people could understand what I do, how I do it, why I do it.

I also can only help and serve so many people in my daily practice. So providing a book that has a lot of the information will go a long way towards serving a larger audience than what I can do in my practice every day.

Recurring Questions 

Rae Williams: What was the biggest thing that you were actually seeing in your practice that people were getting wrong or having a lot of questions about?

Robert Gerstemeier: I don’t know if there was anything specific, as much as it was a repeating the same story or the same mantra over and over again and you get different questions.

When you work with a new client, it might take four to six months to get through all the steps that we need to do for them. From the onboarding to the financial planning aspect, retirement planning, estate planning, all those sorts of things takes a little bit of time to go through.

And then you have a client with you for two, three, four, five years, and different questions will come up again and again with different clients. Lots of times it’s the same questions related to how your investment philosophy, why are you recommending this, why aren’t we doing something different?

It was a way to get a lot of that information in the book so that somebody could sit down, read it, have a real clear idea and grasp of what I’d be doing and why.

Start with Where You Are

Rae Williams: What is the biggest idea or story or concept in the book?

Robert Gerstemeier: It’s a step by step process, and I think that’s the biggest takeaway after going through the book, reading it again. It is a roadmap, pure and simple as that. You can look at individual parts of the book, you can read it from cover to cover and then come back and dig into one area that you might be dealing with in your personal lives at any particular moment.

Whether that’s college funding or estate planning or thinking about taxes or you’re getting ready to retire and you want to think about what you should do related to social security…It is an easy reference book that you can go back to and look at it. I don’t know that there’s one thing as much as it is in the concept that it’s a roadmap to help you set yourself up for a good and stable retirement.


Rae Williams: Where do you start with retirement planning? I feel like a lot of people, they don’t start because they don’t know where to start.

Robert Gerstemeier: One of the chapter titles I have is “Start With Where You Are,” and it’s essentially let’s figure out where you are right now and get that one page snapshot of what your current situation is.

What do you have in bank accounts? What have you saved so far? What is your debt situation? Do you own a home? Cars? Do you have investments, investment property, land, real estate, anything along those lines. Get it all on one sheet of paper and take a look at it.

And even doing that on an annual basis, just one time a year, you wouldn’t believe the decisions or the things that jump out at you on that one page of a net worth statement that you can start taking actions on. The first step is start where you are, figure out where you are. And then from there we, we start looking at where you want to go.

Plan for Retirement Early

Rae Williams: Do you get a lot of people that come to you that don’t think a proper retirement is possible?

Robert Gerstemeier: I would say that I don’t personally run into that very often. Usually the only times that I do really run into it is when somebody comes to me and they’re two months away from retirement. There’s not much that you can do to prepare somebody for retirement when they haven’t really been planning or doing things all the way throughout their lives.

For some people it’s okay because they’ve been doing a lot of the planning and the saving on by themselves and have done a pretty good job with it. And they’ve gotten to the point where he asked maybe there two to three months out from retirement and they need somebody to help them, creating that retirement paycheck as time goes by after they stop working. I can absolutely help those people to have a safe and secure retirement.

Someone that really hasn’t been saving, investing, doing the right things for the last 30, 35 years, there’s not much I can do in the last two to three months to fix what hasn’t been done.

For the most part, anybody that comes to me and they’re younger, just starting out, it’s really just getting some of the basic techniques and steps set up so that they can, almost put it on autopilot for a number of years. Just increasing their savings, paying down their debts, things along those lines that will set them up 15 to 20 years down the road.

Rae Williams: What happens if we don’t do anything with this information and we’re not planning properly for our retirement?

Robert Gerstemeier: I’ve got some statistics that are in the book that pretty alarming, and you see him come through the popular press all the time talking about how little people have saved and what happened back in the late 70s, early 80s when there was a stark change and a movement away from company-provided, defined benefit plans to 401(k) plans.

And the takeaway on that switch is companies used to take care of this, you know, retirement and pension plans and those sorts of things for their employees. Around that time period in the late 70s, early 80s there was a massive shift that went from the responsibility being on the employer’s shoulders to now being on the employee’s shoulders.

And largely if you look at the data in America, we haven’t done a very good job overall managing that ourselves and that’s one of the stark or key takeaways that I highlight early in the book so that people can understand that real, it really is their responsibility to do this. Nobody’s going to be looking out for them and making sure that their investments and savings are appropriate for what they’re hoping to do when they retire.

The Realities of Retirement

Rae Williams: Do you have an example you can give us someone who has gotten the most out of your ideas and out of the concepts that you present in this book?

Robert Gerstemeier: It’s going through the process and just coming to a decision on what you want to do in different areas. I view my role as almost as a coach because I’m providing perspective on the positives or negatives of doing one action versus another action.

We talk about that and come to a decision, jointly, on what would be the best approach to take over the next three, five years. Saving and investing is a lot like watching an oak tree grow. It doesn’t happen very quickly. It’s not very exciting.

But when you stop and look back maybe three, five clients I’ve had for 15 years and you can see what we were dealing with 10 15 years or so ago. And you overlay that with their current situation and it’s hugely successful. Because there’s a lot of things that you can do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis that are very small and incremental steps. But over the long term, it’s a huge change in what can happen with the success or failure of your retirement objectives.

Rae Williams: The first chapter of your book is titled “The Realities of Retirement.” I’d love for you to touch on one or two of those and let us know what are those realities.

Robert Gerstemeier: One study by the Economic Policy Institute found that the median retirement savings for families between 50 and 55 years old is only $8,000. One in three Americans have no retirement savings at all. And nearly 40% of the people that were in the survey said they had no plans to ever retire from working.

Rae Williams: Oh Wow. So we’re just basically a population of people who just have no retirement plans, which is a little scary.

Robert Gerstemeier: It is. Especially because it’s your responsibility.

Rae Williams: Right? So how, how do you tackle just that statistic, and what do you say to people who think that they’re going to be able to work for the rest of their lives or who haven’t started thinking about retirement?

Robert Gerstemeier: With everybody, you have to start thinking about it immediately and in some way, either saving for the rainy day or saving for their future, doing something. And quite often people will say, “Well, I’m young just out of college. I’ll start saving when I’m 30 or 35,” and they wait 10 or 15 years to get going.

The best one that I always hear is, quite often people will maybe save money on their 401(k). They have a couple of kids that they want to put through college, they want to get their house paid off, and then they really start thinking about retirement.

But when you stop and think about that, if you’re not really focused on what you’re going to be doing for retirement and you’re going to wait until your children are through college or you have your house paid off, for some people that’s their late fifties and if you want to retire in the next three to five years, that doesn’t give you a lot of time to make adjustments to what your retirement plans have been up to that point in order to make it successful.

For everybody, I understand that there might be some reasons that you can’t do everything that you want from a savings perspective, but even a little bit over a long time period is far better than trying to catch up and those last 5 to 10 years call it right before you retire.

Just because of the power of compounding it. It just is miraculous that the longer the time period that you have what it can do. And that just tells me, to everybody, start today. You have to start and get going on this, because every day that you don’t is another day that you’re losing.

Planning for Retirement with Robert Gerstemeier

Rae Williams: Do you have any kind of stories of transformation or how some of the lessons have affected some lives, basically?

Robert Gerstemeier: I had someone come to me at one point and they were in that scenario that I just talked about, that they’d been saving in their company 401(k) for a long time period. Their three daughters were just about through college. And they wanted to retire early.

And while they had all of the assets that they thought they needed to retire, there was a lot of debts that still needed to be taken care of, specifically the mortgages on their homes. For me, I like to see someone going into retirement when their house is paid off and doing that and making that a priority in what you are attempting to do goes a long way to making your retirement situation much more relaxing and much more enjoyable.

From a pure financial perspective, you should have the biggest mortgage that you can take out over your lifetime, but at the same point, to me it’s important for you to have your house paid off.

So I had somebody that came and talked to me their mid-fifties they wanted to retire in a couple of years and identified some of the problems of doing it that early, but what we were able to do is put a plan together so that they could tackle some of the issues that I identified in that retirement planning process that they could complete, get done, and do in the next two to three years to, at that point, set themselves up for a long and good retirement.

Listener Challenge

Rae Williams: If you had to issue a challenge to your readers, our listeners, your clients, what would that challenge be?

Robert Gerstemeier: Take ownership of this, because whether you like to think about it or not, you are the owner of your retirement situation. There’s not anybody that’s standing around that’s going to take this over for you. You have to take control of it. You have to take charge. You have to do some of the things that are needed.

One of the best things that you can do is—it’s self serving for me to say this—but it is get in touch with somebody that’s going to be able to help you through this process. If you don’t think that you can handle it and do all these things on your own, then by all means it is worth its weight in gold for you to get a partner or a coach or an advisor that’s going to help you out through each one of these steps.

Rae Williams: How can people contact you if this is something that has spoken to them?

Robert Gerstemeier: My website is All our contact information is available there, and you can reach out right through the website. We’ll be back in touch with you.