More than half of Americans say COVID-19 has impacted their retirement planning and goals, according to a 2021 survey by the National Institute on Retirement Security.
As of February 2021, the survey found 33% of Americans were rethinking when they planned to retire because of COVID-19. Some spent emergency savings (22%), made changes to their investments (15%), withdrew funds from their retirement plan (12%) or decreased their retirement plan contributions (10%).
In 2022, as rising inflation continues to stress budgets at the gas pump and the checkout lane, it’s clear that most Americans’ financial worries aren’t over. But according to financial advisors who spoke with Kentucky Living, the overall picture for retirement planning is simple—have a plan and stick with it.
“Continue to pay yourself”
“People need to just be aware of the fact that they need a plan, they need to continue to contribute,” says Bob Crawford, a financial advisor and Warren RECC consumer-member based in Bowling Green. “Continue to pay yourself, which is what you’re doing when you contribute to a retirement plan.”
Despite worries about inflation, Crawford says to think about long-term goals rather than short-term challenges.
“There’s a temptation, especially because of inflation, as people see more of their disposable income going to food and energy, to neglect to pay themselves,” he says. “They need to continue to contribute to pay themselves, and also to have some perspective. The headlines are quite daunting. But they seem to always be. It’s good to talk to someone that’s been through that before and work with a financial advisor to regain that perspective.”
With increasing mobility and frequent job changes—another byproduct of COVID-19—Crawford also advises people not to cash out retirement savings, even if it’s a small amount from a short-term job. “They should continue to shelter that money,” he says.
A change in attitude
For some, changes brought about by the pandemic— including illness or the loss of loved ones—have led to new relationships with employment and different goals for the future. Dave Winebrenner, a financial advisor based in Lebanon, says he’s seen a difference in some of his clients’ attitudes.
“There’s a sea change of folks saying, ‘Life is short—what’s this all about?’” Winebrenner says. “We’ve noticed that individuals are really looking at the rest of their life that they have left and saying, ‘Maybe I’m going to retire from a full-time job, work some side gigs, work some different part-time jobs, but have enough money that I can enjoy the things that make me happy for the days that I have left.’ And I do think that that’s different from the past, for sure.”
Winebrenner has also noticed an increased interest in giving back, whether through charitable giving or volunteerism.
“I think that’s going to be a really good thing, long term, that comes out of COVID, as individuals have been able to find that their lives are abundantly enriched by having this volunteerism, this charity,” Winebrenner says. “Those kinds of works, I think, are really important. The data tells us that money doesn’t make you happy, but happiness comes from how you are able to find peace in your life and be able to be surrounded by loved ones, family, friends.”
Like Crawford, Winebrenner says an important part of finding peace in retirement is sticking to a well-thought-out plan. While markets have shown some volatility, especially during the early days of the pandemic, he says investors who left the market in 2020 made a “tragic” mistake.
“They’ve missed a lot of those gains, unfortunately, and now they’re stuck in savings and checking accounts and not really making much in the way of interest,” he says. “That’s part of the value of having a financial advisor or coach to be able to assist you with going through that. It’s no different than a pilot. When you have turbulence in the air, you don’t want to jump out of the plane. That’s not going to be a good end result. So, you have to have an experienced pilot in your financial life to help you through these turbulent times.”
Mark Henderson, a certified financial planner based in Somerset, says while inflation is a normal part of a healthy economic cycle, unprecedented levels of inflation can cause concern. It can be hard to determine whether market changes call for patience or a change in strategy—that’s where expert advice comes in.
“People are looking at their bank statements and seeing if they are living off their interest, or are they living on the earnings,” says Henderson, a South Kentucky RECC consumer-member. “Are they still having excess left over? Are they starting to run a deficit on that? For folks that work with a financial planner, those are discussions that we’ve been having all along, hopefully, and we are prepared to make a shift, if needed, to help them get where they need to be to stay on pace.”
From the pandemic to rising inflation to war in Europe, life can feel uncertain right now, but Henderson stresses the importance of thinking ahead and planning for the future.
“Life is going to continue,” he says. “Life continued after Vietnam. Life continued after September 11. Life continued after the financial meltdown of 2008-09. The pandemic has definitely changed our way of living and our way of thinking, at least in the short term, and there are things that will probably never go back to pre-pandemic ways. But life will continue. Make sure that your life is still on track.”
Having previously served on the board of directors for Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation, financial advisor Bob Crawford has an insider’s perspective on the value rural co-ops provide consumers. In his home co-op, he’s seen how a high-speed internet project helped clients stay connected through the pandemic.
“COVID changed a lot of things such as work from home, and it also enabled a lot of people to meet with advisors and so forth, virtually. A big thing that rural Kentuckians need is broadband, and I know that’s a big thing for co-ops. That’s a valuable service that they’re providing to give people that flexibility to meet virtually and to work from home,” Crawford said.
In Warren County and Simpson County, 2,619 homes are currently signed up for high-speed fiber internet through partnerships between Warren RECC, North Central Telephone Company (NCTC) and Franklin Electric Plant Board. Warren RECC also partners with NCTC to serve 567 homes in Grayson County. Kim Phelps, senior director for communications and public relations at Warren RECC, says the numbers are increasing every day.
Fiber internet provides upload and download speeds up to a gigabyte (one thousand megabytes) per second — a significant increase over the current federal benchmark for broadband speed (25 megabits per second for downloads and three megabits per second for uploads).
“Part of our mission at Warren RECC is to improve the quality of life for our members,” Phelps says. “High-speed internet access in rural areas is crucial to our members and co-op members nationwide. It’s a difficult proposition. If it wasn’t, the large companies would be there already. Fortunately, we have been able to develop a successful model with NCTC. This partnership represents a giant leap in progress for our members, and we’re excited about the momentum.”
Securities and advisory services are offered through LPL Financial (LPL), a registered investment advisor and broker-dealer (member FINRA/SIPC).
Insurance products are offered through LPL or its licensed affiliates. Forcht Bank and Hamburg Financial Group are not registered as a broker-dealer or investment advisor. Registered representatives of LPL offer products and services using Hamburg Financial Group, and may also be employees of Forcht Bank. These products and services are being offered through LPL or its affiliates, which are separate entities from, and not affiliates of, Forcht Bank or Hamburg Financial Group. Securities and insurance offered through LPL orits affiliates are: Not Insured by FDIC or Any Other Government Agency | Not Bank Guaranteed | Not Bank Deposits or Obligations | May Lose Value