Why Do People Run Out of Money During Retirement?

Nearly Half of Americans say running out of money is their primary concern.  So, why do people run out of money during retirement?  

In this episode we will discuss:

  • There is almost never just one singular reason, it is a combination of factors.
  • A major stock market decline is one factor, but it takes more than a bear market to derail retirement.
  • We identify four of the other common factors which lead to disaster.

Watch Now: Why Do People Run Out of Money During Retirement?

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Last week AARP published an article. It had the results of a survey conducted by three organizations. They asked workers about retirement. Here are some key findings:

  • Only 36% of Americans were very confident they could retire comfortably.
  • 44% said declining health as a major concern.
  • 49% listed running out of money as their primary concern.

So, Why Do People Run Out of money During Retirement


The first contributing factor is a major bear market. That includes one like we saw in the great financial crisis or the dot com bust. We could define this as a period where stocks decline 30% or more. Fortunately, these are not a frequent occurrence. Since the 1960’s, it has happened five times.

Many want you to believe bear markets are the sole reason people run out of money. But, that’s not usually the case. There has to be something else at play.  Sometimes those other factors can be more significant.

The Other Contributing Factors To Running Out of Money in Retirement

Run out of money during retirement spending

Let’s start with how much you spend. There are plenty of debates about what constitutes a safe withdrawal rate.  If you talk to ten different financial planners, you might find ten different answers. But you can reach a point where you are taking too much income from your nest egg.  That dramatically increases your risk of running out of money.

Why do people run out of money

The next is when the bad year—or years—happen early in your retirement. There have been many studies about sequence of returns risk. This data shows bad returns early in a person’s retirement can create big challenges.

Reasons 4 and 5

Click to enlarge.

The fourth contributing factor: people get too aggressive with their allocation. The better the stock market does, the more people want to pursue those returns. They often get more aggressive near the top of a market cycle. Growth is important. Remember, increasing your allocation to stocks to pursue returns increases your risk.

The fifth common element is selling low. It is hard to stick to your long term plan when you see your nest egg shrink. The declines can be extreme. Remember this. In every prior instance of a major market crash, stocks have recovered their losses and set new highs. If you sell your stocks at low points, it makes it impossible to participate in the recovery.

Rarely does “one thing” cause a financial disaster for retirement. Creating a plan can help you address these factors and avoid a potential disaster.

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Financial Planning

Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors  He typically works with people who are planning for retirement.  Fleming Watson is a Registered Investment Advisory firm located in Marietta Ohio.  Our firm primarily serves Marietta, Parkersburg, Williamstown, St. Marys, Belpre, Vienna and the surrounding communities in Washington and Noble Counties in Ohio and Wood and Pleasants county in West Virginia.

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