Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Smart retirement" is not an oxymoron

Author Dan Solin explains how to get the most for your money for retirement.

The Smartest Retirement Book You'll Ever Read 
The Smartest Retirement Book You'll Ever Read. Daniel R. Solin. Penguin Group. 272 pages.

by Richard Pachter

I currently have no plans to retire. As long as I still have most of my marbles, I'll just keep working, though I may eventually be forced to stop. This is highly unlikely (yeah right), but to be prudent I ought to prepare for the possibility that my earning days could end. I'll need to look closely at what remains of my 401(k) and other savings so that the funds will last at least as long as I do. Reading this book is smart.

Dan Solin's previous entries in this series, The Smartest Investment Book You'll Ever Read and The Smartest 401(k) Book You'll Ever Read, were clever, breezy guides to navigating through the financial morass without getting hurt. Really, the info contained therein would undoubtedly be sufficient for anyone seeking to manage their finances through post-employment life. Still, the publishing business being what it is, Solin was undoubtedly encouraged to continue. And that's fine. This new book gets into the basics of investment, stocks and bonds in context with the present economic scene, so reading the earlier volumes doesn't mean that you won't get anything out of this one.


In fact, in addition to advice on retirement accounts, Solin casts his wise eye and sharp pen on other important subjects like reverse mortgages, age of social security distribution, prenuptial agreements for seniors, options and implications of delaying retirement, and the locally ubiquitous phenomenon of "senior seminars'' involving a ``free'' meal at a ritzy restaurant accompanied by a steaming side dish of potentially costly advice.

The best thing that Solin brings to the party is his shrewd and skeptical approach to the art and science of investing. Have an account with a brokerage? Close it, he instructs. Those guys are just trying to sell you stuff that you may or may not need in order to generate fees for themselves, not returns for you. And be sure to have a will that reflects your current wishes so your heirs, not the state, get whatever is left of your estate. You may not agree with everything Solin writes (especially if you're a professional whose livelihood depends on fees), but there's no question that his focus is on what's best for individuals, not institutions.


Throughout, Solin writes clearly with style and humor but stays on topic and doesn't bloviate or pontificate excessively. He includes a number of charts and other tools to figure out what to do with your money so it grows into the amount you will need to live on for the rest of your days. He also includes a pretty clever bibliography that painlessly presents his sources and offers options for further reading and investigation.

The only thing about this booked that bugged me was the brevity of each chapter -- some about a page and a half. Seemed to me that in most cases, several could have been neatly combined. This may seem like nitpicking, but the narrative would have flowed a bit better and maybe a couple of trees could have been spared in the process.
Originally published 8/24/09 in The Miami Herald

Two books outline preparation for retirement

Two authors examine the preparations that must be made before one retires. Or not.


Retire? For some it's not a viable option. For others, it's a possibility, but their financial well-being is the prime determinant of the timing. Two new books examine retirement from the perspective of the critical issue of investing self-directed retirement funds and the option of pursuing a different path that would offer an alternative to total withdrawal from the workforce.

Smartest 401(k) Book You'll Ever Read: Maximize Your Retirement Savings...the Smart Way! By Daniel R. Solin 
The Smartest 401(K) Book You'll Ever Read. Daniel Solin. Perigee. 240 pages.

For poor slobs like me, 401(k) and 403(b) plans need to work very hard. Though a friend recently joked that she thinks that she can probably afford to retire in the year 2525, there's a chance that circumstances may prove otherwise. Another buddy told me that he has three retirement funds sitting with three ex-employers. Nice. Both of these comedians ought to pick up this useful new book by Daniel Solin, pronto!

I reviewed his previous tome, The Smartest Investment Book You'll Ever Read: The Simple, Stress-Free Way to Reach Your Investment Goals when it came out about a year and a half ago, and this one is a worthy successor. Instead of going on to other subjects or bigger things, Solin focuses on retirement savings plans. It's a fertile topic and his advice seems sensible enough, though it's touted on the jacket as being ''controversial'' and ''challenge(ing) some basic assumptions.'' Well, maybe I'm missing something, but Solin's admonitions to keep fees and expenses low, use index funds and diversify seem pretty solid.

Solin also isn't afraid to be specific, which is very nice, too, so look for some very sharp criticism of several funds (including TIAA-CREF) and investment instruments such as annuities. He provides a few model portfolios, rails against professional investment advisors and politicians, and suggests ways to augment retirement plans with additional investments. This book also provides several work sheets and questionnaires, making matters a bit easier, so one's excuses for inaction becomes a bit weaker.

If you're considering reading this book, I'd suggest doing so quickly, as things change, but much of what Solin writes is very solid and useful. If you haven't taken a recent look at what your own retirement investments are doing and -- perhaps even more important-- how they are put together, reading Solin's smart little book might provide the impetus for action.

Retire Retirement: Career Strategies for the Boomer Generation
Retire Retirement: Career Strategies for the Boomer Generation. Tamara Erickson. Harvard Business Press. 192 pages.

Erickson's premise is similar to my friend's who plans to work forever; those reaching the traditional age of retirement need necessarily not do so. The author proposes ways to adjust one's compensation and expenses to accommodate this. She also offers insights into strategies and options, such as location, transportation and lifestyle choices. Sure, they're all related (if not defined) by economic factors, but Erickson puts them all into a larger context, which is very useful, too.

Though primarily aimed at boomers, I suspect that much of Erickson's advice can be adapted to others, too, as the ongoing changes in the economy and our culture continue to alter the nature of work and the relationship between employers and employees.
Originally published 6/23/08 in The Miami Herald

Three books offer fundamentals of investing

Three books on the fundamentals of investing offer advice and wisdom from those experienced in the art of finance.


Aside from professional traders, speculators and hobbyists, I think most people invest only when they have to. But for many of us with disappearing or nonexistent pensions, or ''self-directed'' retirement accounts, it has been necessary to take a more active role in saving and allocating funds to either supplement our current earnings or help us get through the days when we will be unable (or unwilling) to work.

Here are three books that offer general investment advice.

The Best Investment Advice I Ever Received: Priceless Wisdom from Warren Buffett, Jim Cramer, Suze Orman, Steve Forbes, and Dozens of Other Top Financial Experts
The Best Investment Advice I Ever Received: Priceless Wisdom from Warren Buffett, Jim Cramer, Suze Orman, Steve Forbes and Dozens of Other Top Financial Experts. Liz Claman. Warner Books. 240 pages.

I must admit that I rarely watch CNBC, which the late Neil Rogers called ''The Gambling Channel.'' That wacky, noisy, wildly gesticulating Cramer fellow seems to be on the tube most times I cruise by, but without Jerry, George or Elaine, he's just not that entertaining. Author Liz Claman is a news anchor on that channel, but since I don't recall seeing her there, it's probably easier to judge this book on its content rather than on anything else.

That said, it's pretty good. The contributors are either corporate executives or financial experts and managers. She might have had a bigger seller if she'd solicited input from Dancing with the Stars-type celebrities, but she opted instead to provide something of substance, which is commendable. Oh, she's got a few ringers in here, like oddly coiffed TV host Donald Trump and the aforementioned Crazy Cramer, but she also has AutoNation's Mike Jackson, Warren Buffett, Suze Orman, John C. Bogle, Alexandra Lebenthal and others who know what the heck they're talking about. You may not instantly become a smarter investor after reading this book, but you will certainly benefit from the bits and pieces of experience and knowledge offered in the aggregate.

The Smartest Investment Book You'll Ever Read : The Simple, Stress-Free Way to Reach Your Investment Goals 
The Smartest Investment Book You'll Ever Read: The Simple, Stress-Free Way to Reach Your Investment Goals. Daniel R. Solin. Penguin. 179 pages.

I really like Andrew Tobias' book of a similar title, The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need, which takes a sober and comprehensive approach to the subject. Tobias updates it regularly, too, so it's usually as timely as it is timeless. You can also go to his very useful website: www.andrewtobiascom/ -- which is another way to share his wealth of information.

Solin's book is more of a how-to investing book, covering stocks and bonds and such. His nuts and bolts approach to the subject is quite good, especially for those of us who have to manage our own 401(k) plans, savings and investments but have little enthusiasm and inborn abilities to do so. It's tightly written, always on-point and not weighed down with anecdotes and aphorisms, and could be just the instruction book that you were looking for, but never received with that thick pension package from your company's HR department.

The Little Book of Value Investing (Little Books. Big Profits)
The Little Book of Value Investing. Christopher H. Browne. Wiley, John & Son. 180 pages.

I quite liked Browne's The Little Book that Beats the Market, and this one is a worthy sequel, as he provides more information and support for his notion that investing in good, profitable companies can be more lucrative than going for the short money and the quick scores.

There's a bit more fluff here, but Browne is an engaging and self-effacing writer, so it's not too painful and never boring. If you read his previous little book, this one is a worthy and useful companion.

Originally published 11/27/06 in The Miami Herald