Are you ready to make retirement planning a lot less stressful? If you’re like most people, you’re facing the looming specter of retirement on your own in a do-it-yourself retirement system. You’re not sure you’ll ever have enough money to retire, and you’re concerned that you won’t know how to make that money last as long as it needs to. That’s where Pat Strubbe comes in.
In his new book, The Retirement Secret, Pat introduces the three retirement mentors, teaching you how to understand your finances and plan your retirement before you get there. His book will set your mind at ease, answer your questions in a fun and easy to read story that you won’t want to put down.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey Listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Pat Strubbe, author of The Retirement Secret: A Simple Approach to Financial Peace-of-Mind. Pat, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.
Pat Strubbe: Thanks Drew, looking forward to it.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off, can you give us a rundown of your professional background?
Pat Strubbe: Yeah, I actually stumbled into working as a financial planner and retirement planner right out of college, so that was well over 20 years ago back in 1997. That’s what I’ve done my whole adult life.
I was very blessed that that happened because I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was in college. It was a turn of events through interviewing, and I didn’t know what to expect but very quickly, I learned that I just loved it. I had a passion for sharing financial information with people and trying to help people with their finances. That’s when I learned that none of us have a lot of education or experience most of the time with saving and investing and how to handle those things.
It’s just a sorely needed area and that’s what got me excited about, not only helping people individually but also sharing more information through a book.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, why was now the time to share these stories? Did you have an “aha moment,” did you have a moment of inspiration, did something happen after book one where you realized, “I need to go right into book two.”
Pat Strubbe: Well, I will say, I thought book two would come to a lot faster but they’re not that easy to put together. What we found was with many of our clients, one of the things that was so difficult and caused so much stress and worry was really just this simple idea, “Where do I put my money?”
This came up over and over again, and we actually found this idea, this basic concept that really streamlines that entire question. We started calling it the secret and what we found is the more and more people we talked to and we worked over a number of years, people just loved this concept. That was that “aha moment” when I realized, this is not just something we should be using with a few hundred clients of ours. This is an idea that could really change people’s lives, and we’ve seen the change in people’s lives for the better, to help them have more comfort with their finances and less stress and more peace of mind. I realized it was a powerful idea.
That was what really got me to buckle down and start putting everything together to try and convey it through a book, that hopefully will be a fun read for a lot of people and will help them learn about the secret.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, a lot of authors have the idea of the book rattling around in their head, you might even have the outline on paper, but during that writing process and sometimes just through digging deeper into some of those subjects, you come to some major breakthroughs and learnings. Did you have any of these your second time around in your writing journey?
Pat Strubbe: I did actually. I can share that the first time writing my first book, the “aha moment” was when I did my first chapter of my first draft, I thought it was really good. Then I went back and read it and I thought, “This is the most boring thing I’ve ever read in my entire life.”
That’s when I changed my first book into more of a story, and so I continued that theme with this book. But to your point Drew, you’re exactly right. I had the basic idea of talking about this secret but what I hadn’t fleshed out before actually organizing the book is that before digging into the power of the secret, that there are actually some fundamental principles about how we handle our money that I wanted to start with.
We start the book with these three foundational principles and then we lead into this idea of a secret that helps to give you a simple way of understanding how to handle your money.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, your last book that we just talked about a second ago, you talked about storytelling, and you taught America how to defeat seven retirement villains. What is the difference between that previous book and this one?
Pat Strubbe: My first book was called Save Your Retirement and it had a superhero and a villain theme, and so the idea there was really more of a broad education and what I felt were the biggest concerns most people had as they’re entering retirement and going through retirement.
Those seven villains represent those things. For example, one is lady longevity and of course, we would all love to live a long time and be healthy but when we’re handling our finances, living to 95 or 100 or beyond, that just means we have to be that much more careful with our money to make sure we never run out. So, that’s one example.
The first book was really identifying those seven issues or concerns and then just starting to broadly tackle some solutions to those. In The Retirement Secret, we drill down into how you are saving and investing going into retirement and then through your retirement. It’s really focused on that one area, as opposed to a more broad look at income planning and tax planning and healthcare and estate planning and things like that.
I really wanted to focus on what I find for most people is the number one worry, which is “I’m trying to accumulate money for retirement, and I’ve got this pile of money and I just have no idea if I’m doing the right thing with it.”
Drew Appelbaum: Who would you say this book is for? Is this for early professionals in their 20s and 30s? Is this geared towards folks nearing retirement in their 50s and 60s, or actually folks in retirement?
Pat Strubbe: Yeah, that’s a great question, Drew. I think that my first book, Save Your Retirement, was really geared towards someone who is about to retire. The Retirement Secret I think starts there, I think it’s ideal for someone who is six months to six years from retirement because that’s often when we meet our clients when they’re looking for someone to help guide them through retirement.
One of the things we talk about in the book is there are three phases of investing for most people, and so I think it has value for anyone of any age.
The first phase of investing is really when retirement is still far off and for most people, they’re trying to figure out a way to save a little bit here and a little bit there, probably for decades before they retire. That’s that first phase.
To your point Drew, the final phase then is when you’re in retirement and your goals have changed dramatically. Instead of trying to accumulate this big pile of money, when you’re retired, you want to generate as much income as you can, but preserve as much as possible and that third phase of investing is just the middle ground.
Because for most of us, we don’t want to be really aggressive until the very day we retire and then switch over to something really safe and conservative. For most people, there’s a transition time in the middle. The retirement seeker talks about those three timeframes and if someone is either anxious about retirement or excited, then it really could be appealing and useful for anyone of any age.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s start from the beginning of the book, and it seems like a very basic question but I guess it’s kind of hard to answer–is retiring successfully a hard thing to do?
Pat Strubbe: That is a good question. I really believe Drew, that it’s not. The reason for that is, I’m 46 right now, I can remember a generation or two ago my parents or grandparents and retirement was much more simple then. It was, work for the same employer for most people, retire with a gold watch and a pension, apply for Social Security, and sit back and relax and enjoy retirement.
Well, that is a day of long ago for most of us. Now, most people do not have access to a pension and now it’s up to us to handle our own investments. We call this the “do-it-yourself retirement system.” What they really should do when you leave high school or college and you get your first full-time job, is they should say “Congratulations on your job, by the way, you’re now your own retirement pension manager, so you better get to work on it.”
You think about all the things that are incorporated into that, you have to figure out how much to save, where to invest it, how to structure it, try not to touch it until you retire, how you deal with stock market highs and lows, how you deal with interest rates changing, the list just goes on and on and on. Of course, most of us have little to no education on that at all.
We’re all just kind of left out there and to me, that’s the biggest problem with the system in general. Now, you fast forward to where we are today and you have historically low interest rates, so if someone is retiring today and you think, “I’d love to just save my money and then plunk it into a CD or something to live off of the interest.” Well, no one’s going to do that anymore because nothing pays any interest.
I really feel like we have people stuck between a rock and a hard place and that’s why I thought the book would be so helpful to so many people, to talk through some of those issues and solutions.
Drew Appelbaum: This “do-it-yourself” method as you called it, is there anything generally wrong with that way of thinking? What are the big things that folks are missing when they go for the “do-it-yourself” method?
Pat Strubbe: Well, there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing your investing yourself if you have the understanding of how to do it and the interest. I think both of those things are certainly important. The question is, first of all, do you have both of those characteristics? Of course, we’re probably a little biased because the people that approach us are not interested in doing it themselves, they’re looking for someone to solve that problem for them.
I think that’s one area where we all realize, we’re devoting time to our jobs, and then when you have free time, the question is, “What do you want to do with that?”
A great analogy would be that I’ve decided over the course of my adult life, I don’t want to spend time mowing my lawn, so I will happily pay someone else to do that for me. Same thing with handling your finances. Many people could do just fine managing it themselves, but I would say, the majority of people are uncomfortable with that and frankly, very scared by that. I think that’s kind of the starting point.
Then to the second part of your question, most people just get overwhelmed with financial information. If you look at the media, if you’re watching Kramer on Mad Money on CNBC or you’re seeing the stock ticker on the TV or you’re hearing it on the radio, wherever you’re getting your media, you’re bombarded by all of these messages at the Dow Jones and Bitcoin and GameStop, and all of these things that are constantly going on. For most people, because of the lack of training that we have, that’s overwhelming, and it causes a lot of stress and a lot of worries.
That’s where we feel like providing people with some structure through the book can be really liberating.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, why are folks so hesitant to consult with a professional about planning their retirement? Again, is there anything that they should look out for when they’re looking for financial planners?
Pat Strubbe: Yeah, I think there’s a couple of reasons that people are very hesitant and some of them are very good. One of them is, when you think about all the decisions we make in life, it can be very exhausting. It goes from, “What do we want to have for dinner?” To, “What are we going to do over the weekend?”
Then you think about, “How am I going to plan for my retirement?” That is the first step for most people, and that’s just too overwhelming. A lot of the times, we kick the can down the road, and then we just procrastinate and procrastinate. That’s why many people will hire us very close to retirement because they avoided dealing with it.
The biggest reason that the industry has created a challenge for all savers and investors and one of the things that we like to say is that there is no such thing as an unbiased financial professional. What we mean by that is, usually, we think of the word bias as always being negative and I don’t mean that necessarily. What I mean is, literally every financial professional has an opinion, and that’s really important that you understand that because it’s very rare, it would be impossible for you to go into someone and say, “Give me the best investment,” and them not have an opinion on that.
For example, there are different schools of thought for investments. We call it three different ways–there’s a Wall Street way, there’s a bank way, and there is an annuity and insurance way. If you’re dealing with a Wall Street brokerage firm and you say, “Hey, what’s the best way to manage my investments?” it’s a very high likelihood that they’re going to talk about stocks and bonds and mutual funds.
Again, I’m not saying any of those are bad, I’m just using it as an example. If you walk into your bank and you ask them, they may talk about savings accounts and CDs, which also have their place in certain scenarios, and then if you go talk to an insurance agent, they might show you annuities and life insurance solutions.
The challenge is, it’s very rare to find someone that’s willing to consider all of those different types of vehicles, and that’s one of the things that we like to do. We think there are pros and cons to everything. Why not have a look at all of those to try and find the best combination of things for you?
Now, to the point we talked about earlier, Drew, that means, we’re looking at everything, which can be overwhelming. So, that brings us back to the goal of the book, which is to give our readers an idea of a way of understanding how those fit together and how you can use them together for your benefit.
A Perfect Investment?
Drew Appelbaum: I have to ask, you mentioned there are so many different types of investments. Is there such a thing as the perfect investment?
Pat Strubbe: Well, you would think when you see advertisements that there are perfect investments, because they all tell you how great they are. That’s one of the foundational principles we have is that there is no such thing as a perfect investment and of course, we all want to know what that perfect investment is. That’s when things like Ponzi schemes and Bernie Madoff, that’s how those things happen because they tell us what our itching ears want to hear.
Generally speaking, we say, most of us would love to have three things from a perfect investment–we’d love to have a really high return, we’d love to have our money be completely safe, and we’d love to be able to access our money, wherever we want, whenever we want to.
The truth is, there is no such investment that offers all three of those. Now, there are a number of places we can put our money that might get two of those three. I mentioned a bank account CD, if it’s FDIC insured, we would consider that safe. Let’s say it’s a savings account, that would be accessible but doesn’t have a high return. No, it is paying almost zero percent right now.
Meanwhile, you might have something like a stock market mutual fund that might have a high long-term average return. You might be able to buy and sell it whenever you want but you have a lot of risk because if the market goes down, you could lose a lot of money.
There are a lot of things that might combine one or two of those characteristics, but we can’t have all three, and that is the whole idea behind diversifying. We can’t put all of our eggs in one basket, and we have to divvy them up. Once again, that is one of those foundational ideas that we talk about in the book.
Drew Appelbaum: You’re saying I shouldn’t put all of my money into GameStop right now and retire next week?
Pat Strubbe: Hey, I mean if you time it right, you’re a lot better than I am, that’s for sure.
Drew Appelbaum: I have to stop really quick and talk about the way you wrote the book. It’s in a format where you are following along with the story of several characters. Why did you decide to write it like this?
Pat Strubbe: Well, I mentioned briefly that when I wrote my first book, Save Your Retirement, I actually had it laid out almost like a textbook. I laid it out and I wrote the first chapter, I put it away, and I thought, “Man, this is going to be the best book. Everyone is going to love it.” I came back the very next day, I read the first chapter, and I was just bored out of my mind. That was my moment of realizing this is not what people want and I like data.
I knew that it needed to be different, so I came up with this idea of a couple and how they would meet the seven retirement villains. I’ve just gotten so much great feedback from it, Drew, over the years. You know, we share that book with our clients and with people when they meet with us.
What I found the most valuable from that is not only receiving compliments, but also the number of people that have said, “I don’t like finance. I’m scared or I am intimidated by finance, but your book was very helpful because it was understandable.”
That’s really the feedback that, I would say, changed my life and made me realize that that’s where I can affect a lot more people. When I started cobbling together my notes and my ideas for this book, I absolutely wanted to retain that storytelling idea because there are certainly important concepts to discuss, but the bottom line is, it doesn’t do you any good if you are too bored to actually read the book.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, let’s say you are putting money aside, you’re putting it in various spots, say you’re one of the smart ones, you are starting in your 20s or maybe your 30s, should your investments change over time, or is this something where you could read your book and say, “Okay, now I am going to set it and forget it and just hope it grows?”
Pat Strubbe: That’s a great question. Yes, I think that that’s going to depend a lot, Drew, on the phase of investing that someone is in. To your point, kudos to anyone who starts in their 20s or even in their 30s, because it is really not that common. For most people, we’re just trying to survive in our 20s, and maybe if you decide to get married and have kids in your 30s, you know, you’re overwhelmed by that. For a lot of people, they don’t really get serious about saving for retirement until the kids are gone or out of college or whatever.
Then all of a sudden, you take a deep breath and say, “Okay, what’s next?” and then you realize, “Oh I’d like to retire in five or 10 or 15 years.” But if someone is investing for many decades down the road, that is part of that first phase of investing and for a lot of people, there can be a style that is almost set it and forget it. In fact, we’ve coined a term in our office, and we call it the blinders strategy.
If you’re 30-years-old and you want to retire at 65, the main thing that you have to do is just get that money put aside. Whether that is your 401(k) or wherever you are saving it, and then get it allocated into something that you are comfortable with. Then put the blinders on and don’t pay attention at all because study after study after study show that the more we tinker and manipulate our money, the worse we do. Because human nature is that when the markets are really high we think, “Oh, it’s going to do this forever,” and so we start piling into the market, and then when the market starts to crash, towards the very end of the crash we all panic and we say, “We have to get out. It’s going to keep going down forever.” Of course, the last thing we want to do is be buying high and selling low. The blinders strategy can help a lot.
Now, as you get closer to retirement, that’s when we can’t just set it and forget it because there is such a value or an important time frame when we’re transitioning towards the retirement years. Of course, for most people, having an aggressive portfolio in retirement just doesn’t make sense because that is different than what their goals are in retirement.
Ultimately the key is keeping an eye on what your goals are with your money and that is going to be heavily dependent on where you’re at in your stage of life.
Drew Appelbaum: I think one the most important things in this whole process is finding the magic number you’re really looking for in retirement, and a lot of people say a million dollars and that just seems really arbitrary. What is the best way to actually find that magic number?
Pat Strubbe: Yeah, the million dollars is just a nice round number, right?
Drew Appelbaum: Right. I’d like a million dollars, okay.
Pat Strubbe: Yeah, that’s right. This comes back to one of the other principles that I touch on at the beginning of the book, which is that the media talks, almost exclusively, about the rate of return. The Dow Jones was up 20% last year, the 10-year average, or a specific stock went up 200% in the last month or something like that. Yet as odd as it sounds, investing success is not measured by rate of return. It is actually measured by if you accomplish your goals.
The example I always love to use is a transportation example. If I want to go talk to my next-door neighbor, I could get in my car in my garage and drive 40 feet over their house but that is probably silly. I would probably just walk over there. If I wanted to go downtown, which is about a 25-minute drive, and go for a date with my wife, we could walk. We would probably be really exhausted and probably not smelling very good by the time we get there, so we’ll probably drive. Then across the country in California, I’ve got my old best friend from college. Well, I could drive to his house if I wanted to, but I would probably fly.
The point I’m getting at is it doesn’t mean that walking or driving or flying is necessarily the ideal mode of transportation. The point is that it’s the purpose that matters. What am I trying to accomplish? That is going to help me determine the vehicle. I have very rarely met someone in all of my years of working as a financial planner who said, “My purpose is to get the highest return and to get rich.” For almost all of us, the purpose is, “How do I retire, enjoy my life, and not have to worry about dying broke?” That’s the bottom line for most of us.
That comes back to your point of the number and, “How much do I need to save?” We can’t figure that out until we have a better idea of exactly what you want your retirement to look like.
Five Areas of Planning for Retirement
Drew Appelbaum: Now, in the book, you mentioned that a comprehensive retirement plan includes planning in five areas. What are they and is one more important than the other?
Pat Strubbe: So, this is something that we preach to all of the people that we do their retirement planning for. The first four that are all very important, but not the most important would be your investment plan. Because most people don’t want to live off of Social Security. They want to have some type of additional supplemental income in retirement. That’s where your investments are going to come in. Of course, you need that for emergencies as well.
Your tax plan, we believe, is very important because it’s determining how much you’re saving in taxes as you accumulate your money, but also how much you’re paying in taxes as you are living off of your nest egg in retirement. We have your healthcare and insurance plan, which we always say is kind of like, in a football analogy, the defense. Everyone loves the offense in sports, but defense is just as important. How do we make sure if someone passes away early, if someone needs nursing care or health care, how do we make sure that is not going to bankrupt you or take away your nest egg?
Then the estate plan is the fourth area, which is really all about how would you like things to pass on after you’re gone. How do we avoid taxes, how do we avoid the legal delays? If you are married, not only is that something that would be important if both of you pass away, but it is a really important point to remember if one of the spouses predeceases the other early on, we want to make sure that surviving spouse is protected as well. Those are the four.
To your point Drew, you’re exactly right. I do think one is the most important and that’s the one I skipped–the income plan. We believe the key to a successful retirement plan is having some kind of written retirement income plan, and it comes back to your previous question, most of us are kind of fumbling around wondering, “How much money do I need to retire?”
We have found that anyone at any age that’s interested in trying to figure out how to retire successfully, we can run some scenarios and put together a preliminary plan on paper. Drew, I’ve found that for so many people that is a very freeing process, because now, this whole strange idea of retirement that may be a couple of years or a couple of decades away, now you can actually see a path.
For most people that can be encouraging and even exciting to see where your income is actually going to come from and how you’re going to live off of it.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, I have to ask this question. Are there any real investment winners out there that people don’t really know about? Anything under the radar that you found that you use with a lot of your clients that you think, “Man, I really wish more people knew about this.”
Pat Strubbe: I would say that there is an idea. We talk about how Wall Street manages the bulk of money for Americans and their philosophy hasn’t changed much over the last century. It’s stocks for growth, it’s bonds for diversification and less risk, and then cash for emergencies and for safety. That’s the way it’s always been.
This is an idea that we’ve been practicing for quite a while now because I even touched on it in my previous book. There’s an idea called endowment style investing, which is basically borrowing from some of the largest investment portfolios in the world. You think of Harvard and Yale and Stanford, all of them have multi-billion-dollar endowments that they manage and then they basically spit income off of those endowments to help support the universities.
Going all the way back to the 80s, they’ve taken a different approach. They’ve said, “We really think rather than being in stocks, bonds, and cash, we think we can diversify into a slew of other different types of savings and investments and by divvying it up even more, we think there is an opportunity to lower risk and also potentially generate more return.” The other nice thing about that approach is a lot of those other savings and investment vehicles pay dividends or income. A lot of our clients are near or in retirement and they love that.
We talked earlier about the fact that if you have money sitting in the bank right now, you’re getting peanuts. Most people are getting literally pennies a month when they get their statement. So, to have something that is not tied to the stock market that is still generating some kind of income can be very appealing. The endowment style of investing isn’t perfect by any means, but it is growing in popularity to your point Drew, it’s not really very mainstream yet.
We think it’s an exciting opportunity for people to learn more about how they can diversify their money even more and potentially gain the benefits of that.
Drew Appelbaum: Now Pat, I have read the book. I have heard you on this podcast, I’m in. What are the first steps I need to take to get my retirement planning started?
Pat Strubbe: So, that comes back to what you asked me about earlier, which is one of the big decisions, “Are you a do-it-yourself person, or is it appealing to you to find an expert to help?” If you’re a do-it-yourself person and you’re in, then you’ve got the guidebook. With The Retirement Secret, you’ve got a starting point to launch from and as I mentioned before, we’ve just met more people that had either tried it themselves and it hasn’t worked out, or they just don’t have comfort or a desire to spend their time doing that.
That’s why we always offer a phone call with us as a get-to-know-each-other opportunity, and we do not charge anything for that. There is no commitment or responsibility for anyone to take advantage of that. We would certainly offer a phone call with one of our advisers as an opportunity to see if there would be a way that our services would be of benefit to you.
Drew Appelbaum: Well Pat, we just touched on the surface of the book here, but I want to say, writing a book that is going to help so many folks make wise financial decisions is no small feat. Congratulations on your second book being published.
Pat Strubbe: Thank you so much. As you well know Drew, it’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears over a long time and I’m really excited that we have reached this point.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, here’s the hot seat question. If readers could take away only one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?
Pat Strubbe: Wow, that’s a great question. I think if readers could only take one thing from the book, I would say understanding that a system has been created in America, which is the greatest country in the world, the system is a problem, the “do-it-yourself” retirement system because most of us have very little to no training on how to do that. So, I think the first step, the first takeaway is to understand that that’s a problem and then identify how you want to solve that problem by digging into the book and understanding the solutions that are out there because they are there.
The book is not designed to discourage anyone. It is to encourage, it’s to show you that there is a way, and ultimately, as the cover of the book says, it’s designed to create peace of mind. We believe that that’s the most important thing that you could possibly have with your finances.
Drew Appelbaum: Well Pat, this has been a pleasure and I’m really excited for people to check out this book. Everyone, the book is called The Retirement Secret and you can find it on Amazon. Pat, besides checking out the book, where can people connect with you?
Pat Strubbe: We have a site ready for the book called theretirementsecret.com and then our financial planning firm website is scpreservation.com. That is SC as in South Carolina, scpreservation.com.
Drew Appelbaum: Pat, best of luck with your new book and thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Pat Strubbe: Thank you so much, Drew. I really appreciate it.