With retirement looming, Jan Alfano wanted to make sure she'd have enough. She now has a plan.
As she neared retirement age, Jan Alfano’s life started taking a major turn.
First, her husband died seven years ago. Her daughters had children of their own. And now, at age 65, retirement was looming, and she wanted to be sure she’d have enough to live on.
The question she couldn’t answer, however, was “How much is enough?”
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What she did know was that after years of living out in Buckley in Southeast King County and commuting to Kent for her job as a transport coordinator for a food wholesaler, she felt her future lay elsewhere.
Specifically, with two of her three sisters planning to move to Arizona, and her own plan to continue her tradition of watching the Mariners in spring training, her plan was to move down there herself.
“Buckley’s getting expensive,” Alfano said, explaining that her sewer bill has nearly doubled the past year to $72 a month. That’s for one person. “The cat doesn’t flush,” she said.
With retirement looming, she filled out an online survey to participate in a free financial makeover to find out just how much was enough, and whether her savings and investments were it.
“I keep thinking of it as a solid block of money, not something that keeps on growing,” she said.
She has a modest salary: about $3,000 a month, and she puts 25 percent of it into her 401(k) plan. When she retires, her monthly payment from Social Security will be about $1,400. Her husband’s pension provides an additional $1,100 per month.
Her assets are also modest: Her three-bedroom rambler is worth about $225,000, and she has about $38,400 left on her mortgage, which she could pay off in about five years with her monthly payment of $660. Her car, a 2004 Toyota Camry, is paid for, but she wants to buy a new one.
She spends $250 to $300 per month on gasoline for her car. In winter, heating costs and other utilities can run up to $350 per month.
She estimates spending $50 a week on groceries.
“I don’t cook,” she said. “My husband was the cook. When he died I lost 20 pounds.”
Instead she brings home “simple stuff,” or eats out, but only to the tune of about $125 per month. There’s food at her workplace, she said. Aside from her trips to Arizona or San Jose, Calif., where one of her sisters lives, she doesn’t travel much.
She toys with the notion of a trip to Ireland one day, but her entertainment consists primarily of Tuesday-night bingo and dances at the local Eagles hall.
Financial planner Alec Williamson, managing director of Pacific Crest Financial Advisors in Everett, said that Alfano’s challenge was in figuring out exactly how much she would need once she retired.
One thing that became clear was that Alfano had misplaced hope that her next car would be her last one.
“Her history is that she buys one every 10-12 years,” said Williamson, who is also a member of the Puget Sound chapter of the Financial Planning Association.
He also suggested she not do anything with her mortgage before selling her house.
“Refinancing her home loan makes no sense at this point,” he said.
In planning out the next three decades — his plan takes Alfano to 2040, when she would be in her mid-90s — Williamson’s assumption was that she would buy another car 10 years from now, and possibly that the house she plans to buy in Arizona might not be her last. That plan also provides some wiggle room in case Alfano finds herself with significant expenses for medical care later in life.
Williamson also suggested some gradual tweaks to Alfano’s investment portfolio. Since her husband died, Alfano’s funds had been almost exclusively investing in bonds and other low-yield fixed-income products.
Over the long term, a 30 percent equity position would allow for a bit more growth, so to get there he suggested that new contributions into her portfolio match that 30-70 equity/fixed-income split.
Even though Alfano will retire next year, just that minor adjustment can increase her asset base by 5 percent, Williamson said.
The most significant change he suggested was to not start on her own Social Security benefit when she turned 66, but rather to take her husband’s survivors’ benefit. It amounts to a slightly smaller payout of about $1,300 per month, but by waiting until she turns 70 to start drawing on her own Social Security, it has the benefit of increasing her monthly payments from $1,400 to $1,800.
Williamson also recommended that Alfano rent for a year in Arizona before selling her house, to “go though the entire weather cycle of Arizona before cutting her strings up here,” he said.
To further pad her bottom line, Alfano is considering taking a part-time job once she gets to Arizona.
“I was planning on doing it anyway, because I miss the people, and the structure to my day,” she said.
On the whole, she came out of the process increasingly optimistic about her financial future.
“When he first showed me a progression of the money coming and going, the ebb and flow … amazing,” she said.
And even if a trip to Ireland is on the back burner for the moment, she’s looking forward to the next stage of her life.