Post FI Notes 019: $5 Million at 55 and Needing Guidance

One of my more popular blog posts covers 5 ways to retire with $5 million by age 55.

Today’s interviewee has the $5M by 55, achieved using at least two of the five ways, but hasn’t retired just yet, even though there’s no shortage of post-retirement plans.

Having gotten lousy advice from potential wealth managers, this doctor has been self-managing the portfolio, but as you’ll see below, has many questions. I hope we can help with at least a few of them!

If you’re interested in participating in one of three interview series, please download the most appropriate form for your life situation: FIRE Starter, FIRE Crossroads, or Post-FI Notes. To see other posts in the series, visit our Q&A archive.

 

post-fi-notes-019

 

Getting to Know You

 

You’re financially independent. About how much does your household spend in a typical year? How much could you spend while still abiding by the 4% rule?

My current portfolio value is about ~$4,400,000 (it was $5,000,000 before markets dropped). My only source of income is my salary. Over the past 20 years, I periodically received parental gifts adding up to around $250,000, and I recently  received an inheritance of about $100,000. The rest came from earned income and investment returns.

My current monthly expenses are about $6,000 (annual ~ $72,000), which includes my charitable giving.

I think using the 4% rule (using current portfolio value of 4.4 million, I could have $176,000 a year to spend. Or if I use a 3% withdrawal rate, which is now being encouraged, it would be $132,000 a year.

I plan to start collecting SS at 65, which is projected to be  $3,120 monthly (pre tax), and I am taking that into account in retirement planning, but I have no Long Term Care or Life Insurance or Medigap as Fidelity is recommending I should plan for.

My risk tolerance is “I want a balanced investment approach that offers some growth potential and some protection against market fluctuation,” per Fidelity’s website.

I am not an emotional investor, although I did stop reinvesting dividends as I’m saving for potential down payment towards a first home. Even if I don’t end up buying, I feel staying in cash is not a bad option at this time (~ $273,000 in cash currently).

However, my 403(b) is being invested monthly through work, so I am still buying that way.

Portfolio performance is as follows: (I really am not sure how to interpret it – so please help me understand this!) I am using Personal Capital and Fidelity graphs in these notes.

 

1-Personal-Capital

 

I don’t know why TIAA is showing my net worth at $5 million when Fidelity, Personal Capital, and Vanguard are showing it around $4.4 million, and I cannot tell if the Rate of Return of -19.42% matches what the Personal Capital graph above shows. [PoF: This is usually a result of an account being double-counted in on e place, or not counted in another. It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out by comparing the calculations.]

 

My Retirement Analyses using Fidelity in “Today’s Dollars “and “Future Dollars” in a “significantly below average market” are:

 

“today’s dollars” or inflation-adjusted expectations

 

“future dollars” or nominal expectation

 

 Tell us about your household. How many people and at what ages? Are you supporting anyone outside of your home? Where do you live?

I just turned 55 years old, and I’m divorced without any children/significant other/other dependants. I live in the northeastern United States in a HCOL city/state. I am not a home owner; I have always rented.

 

Are you still working? In what career? Did your work schedule or attitude towards work change once you knew you were FI?

Yes, I am still working in a low-paying pediatric subspecialty in the academic setting.  It took me 24 years (1997-2021) to get from  $0 to $ 5 million (dropped to about $ 4.4 million in the current bear market) – basically, I’ve been living like a resident this entire time and not competing with the Joneses.

Last summer (2021, exactly a year ago), I reduced to  0.9 FTE as I was burning out – cutting further would have affected my benefits and vesting.

I need to be in this job for 3 years which will be true in August, 2023) before I can take my vested money if I decide to leave this job or retire early based on when I can come up with a portfolio that is tax-efficient and I’m comfortable planning my withdrawal strategies.

 

Was financial independence a long-term goal of yours? Did you think you might retire early or be able to do so when you first got started in your career?

Yes, it was my goal as I have no other support system to fall back on. Also because of health issues (spine surgery after an MVA in residency; pre-diabetic, hypertensive, strong family history of coronary disease) and deteriorating healthcare environment for us physicians, I wanted to live frugally and save diligently so I would have the option to cut back or walk away at the earliest.

Now with historically high inflation, rising healthcare costs, and a possible recession, I need advice from the PoF readers regarding my situation.

 

Investing 

How is your nest egg invested? Approximately what percentage is allocated to stocks, bonds, real estate, and alternatives?

 

Asset allocation

 

Are your investments primarily in tax-deferred, Roth, or “taxable” post-tax accounts?

  • Taxable/Post tax = $2.8 million
  • Tax deferred/403 b/Rollover = $1.3 million
  • Roth IRA = $95,000
  • Fidelity Charitable = $49,000
  • Cash = $273,000 (mostly dividends and saved cash from salary, of which $37,000 is in a checking account for monthly expenses and partial Emergency Fund)
  • HSA – $3,000 at this time. Once I stop working/don’t have this access to an HDHP this bucket will remain pretty much the same – is there some way to increase it after FIRE?
  • Physical 24 karat Swiss Gold biscuits – (240 gms) which is approx. $14,000 @ current rate of $58/gm (PLUS some Indian gold jewelry I received from my parents when I got married, which I don’t calculate as I plan to donate upon death).

 

My stock allocation is 100% mutual / index funds – though I hear ETFs are better for tax efficiency. [PoF: This is true for mutual funds from companies not named Vanguard.]

I’m not an emotional investor – I set it and forget it and rebalance once a year or so.

I don’t own real estate as I don’t want the hassle of being a landlord and being single with no heirs. I don’t want to be the richest woman in the cemetery and have no one to dispose of my property after me. I’d like to leave a minimal mess to clean up after I die

 

Do you have investments in an HSA? How about 529 Plans?

I was eligible for an HSA for the first time when I started this job in 2019, but was not sure if I had a high deductible health plan option, so I missed signing up for it, but signed up for 2020. I’m not sure if it helped me and my tax situation, so I did not sign up in 2021, and then I decided to sign up again for 2022.

I have no kids, so a 529 is not for me.

 

What has been your best investment?

Monetarily: I don’t know how to figure that out the details of my portfolio – would be great if someone can show me how to figure out retrospectively (which may likely be a daunting task, but I could use the information to look at this going forwards)

Otherwise: Honestly, I don’t know –  perhaps educating myself and not trusting finance people – I lost $10,000 that my dad had given me when I moved to the US by entrusting it to Morgan Stanley and then a Northwestern Mutual guy (I made the mistake of getting my disability insurance with them 10 years ago) tried to sell me annuities and wanted to take over my account for an AUM and my gut told me not to do it.

 

Your worst investment?

Again, monetarily, I don’t know how to figure that out, but I think I have too much in Vanguard bond funds and in my old 401(k) account (with TIAA where the options to invest are very poor) for several years and I should have had that in index funds or ETFs.

I have been lazy and scared to do much as I got paralyzed by fear after I quit one toxic job and then got laid off from the following one after a year because the hospital got sold.

 

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Post-FI Life

What do you like to do with your free time? How much free time do you have these days?

I have lots of hobbies and interests that I want to pursue that I never had time for since I started residency in 1997.

I was in a motor vehicle accident and had to have a three-level cervical fusion that has led to restriction of a lot of these interests – I cannot run, swim, hike, do yoga headstands or do active gardening as I used to be able to do so before my spine surgery.

That has caused a lot of depression for someone who was very active once upon a time. I would love to have a small single-family home with a garden as I have always wanted to do gardening, start dancing and piano lessons, and stargazing (one of my attendings in residency was an eclipse chaser!).

I could perhaps try acting and French pastry cooking classes, painting silk scarves to sell on Etsy, volunteer and teach my skills to others in underdeveloped countries , etc.

I would like to buy a nice condo finally and feel proud of having my “own” place that I could paint whatever color, travel, and have someone cook my meals for me.

However, I also want to repurpose my long-honed skills and education in some useful way and not just let my neurons die off without stimulation! My dad passed away at 90 and was still practicing as a cardiologist till 87 years old and had to stop because of Parkinson-related physical limitations, but he was sharp as a tack!

 

Do you enjoy travel? Tell us about a favorite trip you’ve taken.

I love traveling but have not done much because I was helping take care of my parents when they were alive overseas in my home country so all my vacation time till 2019 was spent with them.

Then when I started making plans, the pandemic came. My last trip was summer 2018 to Spain. I just returned after spending 2 weeks in Pakistan meeting old friends and loved it! Looking to sign up for Morocco and Turkey once this summer “revenge travel” madness ends.

 

Do you incorporate giving (money or time) into your post-FI life?

I have an idea to teach my specialty to doctors in my home country virtually. Also, I would like to go there once a year to see patients and have the local doctors follow them. I’m not sure how successful I will be in this, as usually doctors from overseas doing this are perceived as a threat to the local doctors.

I donate a lot to charity and my favorite charities have been named as my beneficiaries after I pass away.

 

If retired, do you miss work? Do you get bored?

I am not retired, but my biggest fears are getting bored and declining cognitively and feeling like I am no longer a physician along with the fear of regret losing my ability to work as a physician in case I run out of money due to healthcare expenditures.

I’m not sure how much worried I should be of this with the size of my portfolio and the fact that I’m the only one using it.

 

What advice do you have for others hoping to achieve the financial success you’ve found?

I have been “living like a resident” since before it became a famous statement. I made sure to start maxing my 401(k) and 403(b) accounts right from day one of residency until now.

I saved all the monetary gifts my parents gave me, so I had the benefit of compounding interest and time. My Acura, which I bought used after a year, is 11 yrs old with only 60,000 miles. I have not had time to drive around and work is barely 5 miles from home.

 

What challenges are you facing from an estate planning perspective?

What are physicians who have no close family or friends that they can trust or may outlive figuring out who will be the executor of their estates?

My younger sister is a breast cancer survivor and will move to Germany with her German husband after retiring, as they get better healthcare coverage there.

My older sister is too self-absorbed to even care if I am alive. One of her sons agreed to do this, but he moved to Pakistan and I am not sure how much he will really do. Her other son has a young family and I don’t want to burden him.

 

Finally, is there anything under the sun that you’d like some help with? The hive mind would be happy to weigh in.

I need help with my portfolio – I tried a couple of wealth advisors recommended to me and was very disappointed.

I have almost $600,000 in my 401(k) in bond mutual funds that my Fidelity advisor made me do over two years ago to rebalance my portfolio that I feel is not making money.

Also, I want to convert the mutual funds in my taxable account at Fidelity to ETFs without having crushing taxes to pay.

Most importantly, I am struggling with what to do with my old rolled-over 401(k)s ($1.2 million combined) for over 3 years sitting in TIAA in pathetic holdings.

I want to start doing Roth conversions as I know I will have high RMDs. I was thinking of opening a solo 401(k) with side income, but my tax person has been discouraging me and wants me to open a regular traditional/self directed IRA.

My previous tax person also used to discourage a solo 401(k) and would tell me to open a SEP IRA and could never understand pro rata rule, but then I feel I will not be able to do backdoor Roth and also the pro rata rule will apply to Roth conversions that I want to start doing.

I also worry that if there is not enough income from side gigs after I retire, will the IRS want me to close that account. Also, I wonder if I should only move half of this old 401(k) as it is better protected from creditors while in the custody of the hospital.

I’m planning to turn off reinvesting dividends and capital gains in all accounts to divert them from mutual funds to ETFs.

I need help figuring out healthcare coverage options – I know everyone says the healthcare exchange, but I am very confused about that whole thing. I am still 10 yrs from Medicare age.

How does one shift from mutual funds to ETFs in taxable accounts without having a huge tax hit?

 

[PoF: I’ll cover this last question publicly. At Vanguard, one can easily do this without any tax consequence, because the ETF is a share class of the mutual fund. It’s like being converted from investor shares to admiral shares of the same fund.

With Fidelity or any other brokerage that I’m aware of, there’s no way to do this without realizing capital gains when selling the mutual funds.

In a situation where you own Vanguard index funds in a Fidelity or other brokerage account, you could transfer the balances to Vanguard “in kind” to a new or existing account at Vanguard, and from there, you can convert them to ETFs, as long as the mutual fund has an ETF equivalent.]

 



 

PoF: Catch all the future interviews from those just getting started, at a crossroads, or at the end of their FI journey with a free subscription to Physician on FIRE.

 

 

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I thank today’s interviewee for sharing their story, and I’ve shared my feedback privately with them. I wouldn’t want my opinions to influence yours. Please give your take and answer any questions they have had in the space below!

Again, if you’d like to partake in a future Q&A, please download a FIRE Starter, FIRE Crossroads, or Post-FI Notes interview form.

 

15 thoughts on “Post FI Notes 019: $5 Million at 55 and Needing Guidance”

  1. I agree with the sentiments others expressed – you’ve done a great job on the financial side, despite some bad advice and health issues along the way.

    It’s time for you to focus on the non-financial side of retirement readiness. About a year before I retired, I read an article that suggested building up your outside interests before retirement by trying things you loved to do when you were growing up. That turned out to be great advice for me; you might want to give it a try. I started slow by taking a class at a local art studio after work, then gradually explored other interests. These pre-retirement activities weren’t expensive and took just a few hours a week, but they’ve led me to great friendships and interesting hobbies that are still keeping me engaged and mentally challenged 7 years post-retirement.

    Your financial future is secure – now it’s time to invest in yourself.

    Reply
    • Thanks Carol! Good to hear that 7 years post retirement you are enjoying your life. Yes, I have read the same advice from various online resources. I am doing exactly as you have done, with the 1 day that I don’t work any more (I try to avoid doing some chart prep that day!)

      Reply
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  3. congrats man!!! I have to echo all the comments above! you have don’t a great job living like a resident on higher but not the highest income, in a HCOL area, and have more than enough. Me and my wife are both docs pulling in close to a mil, but between stupid NJ state income tax and cost of living and inflated lifestyle on our part, we are not even close to where you are (though was are 41 so do have some time). When you save more than enough, you can definitely retire early and, incidentally, also don’t need any help with your portfolio! But I will answer some of your queries.

    It’s ok to have almost $600,000 in you 401(k) in bond mutual funds! I think for you with more than enough, no need to go for aggressive stock/bond allocation. Seems actually you are still quite aggressive as your asset allocation based on your pictures are 80/20, so $600k seems like a lot but since you have $4,500,000 overall that is only 20% bonds. also, it is perfect asset location so you don’t get taxed on those bonds, which helps right now as yields are going up.

    Don’t worry about converting the mutual fund to ETFs. Again, you have more than enough so can pay taxes on mutal funds that should not be so bad as passive index funds are super tax efficient even within a mutual fund structure.

    As for your old 401(k)s with stupid TIAA holdings, roll it over to you current work 401k assuming that your new 401k has good cheap investing options.

    and yes, do Roth conversions when your income starts going down. You know more than you think as you recognize you will have high RMDs. And yes you are right- open a solo 401(k) with your side income so you can take 20% of that income and put into the solo401k and you can still do the Backdoor Roth like I do. Fire your current tax person and use some of the guys PoF or WCI recommend. Your tax guy is retarded! (don’t mean to be offensive/politically incorrect, but only in as much to focus that you know more than your tax guy and he’s a freaking CPA!!! He’s either retarded like I said, or he is trying to sell you something to open a regular traditional/self directed IRA which prevent you from doing the Backdoor Roth!!! Also, your previous tax person was also retarded! the solo 401(k) is better than a SEP IRA so you can do the backdoor Roth. Are you sure these tax guys have a CPA?

    As for the IRS closing your solo401k, it is not something that is on their radar and my tax guy (you correctly did the backdoor roth on my taxes with my solo401k open instead of a SEP-IRA) said that it should be fine.

    Also, I believe your old 401(k) is still protected from creditors because it is a 401k. It does not matter if it is with your current employer or not. As mentioned above though, I think you should rollover all of it to your current 401k to get out of TIAA option.

    I agree with turning off reinvesting dividends and capital gains in all accounts to divert them from mutual funds to ETFs. Again, I do not recommend selling your current mutual funds, unless some of those tax lots have losses, and converting to ETF’s just for tax efficiency given passive index mutual funds are super tax efficient anyway. And as PoF mentioned, if those mutual funds are in Vanguard funds, they technically can act somewhat like ETF’s anyway based on Vanguard patented mutual fund structure.

    Jeez that was a lot! hope this helps! congrats again!!!!

    Reply
    • Sadly, my current 401 k is also with TIAA – my employer changed from being hospital to university, and both use TIAA.
      I was wondering if I opened the solo 401K and moved just half of my old 401k and start doing Roth conversions from 2024 (I plan to stop working Aug/Sep 2023 so will still be having higher tax bracket), when I do Roth conversions from the solo 401 K, will I just transfer what amount I want to to a Traditional IRA to avoid pro rata, just like we leave TIRA with $0 to do back door?
      Also, if I do want to continue doing backdoor Roth IRA, would any side income be a qualifier for me to be able to continue doing that? Or do I have to have salaried/steady employed income?

      Reply
      • since both current and and old 401k are unfortunately with TIAA, I would transfer all of your old 401k into your solo 401k. I believe you can do Roth conversions from your solo 401k directly into the Roth IRA, but you have to ask your brokerage company, as well as a competent tax person about it. And yes, you can still do the backdoor Roth using side income.

        Reply
  4. Congratulations! You are so much farther along than so many other people and you are truly FI. I can relate to a lot of what you said, from the spine surgery sequela to being single with limited family.

    Some unsolicited advice. I find it sad that all of your money is earmarked for charity when you pass. It is so important for us to have connection and family, and they don’t have to be genetic. In terms of who will take care of your estate when you pass, this can be a trusted friend you might also want to take care of. You still love medicine. You’re in an enviable specialty in that you could practice part time. Reduce your hours and work on the life outside of medicine- not just the hobbies, but make connections!

    Reply
    • Yes, I am working on that. Since I did not grow up in the US and have moved several times for training/visa issues/jobs, friendships as an adult with no kids (kids make it easier to meet other families/couple).
      I give a lot to charity and it fulfills me – God has been good to me and my parents also gave a lot to charity – so I really don’t have a problem with my assets going to help others less fortunate than me after my death.

      Reply
  5. Thank you for sharing your story. You are there. Really.

    My most wholehearted advice is to really figure out how you’d like to spend your time now and do that. Cut down more FTE and sacrifice the benefits now if you’d rather be gardening, dancing or anything else some hours of the week. Now (did I say now?). Said with much respect. 🙂

    I’d recommend reading Die With Zero by Bill Perkins. Great perspective on the value of money at different phases of life.

    Good luck. You’ve got the money figured out already.

    Reply
    • Thanks. Yes, I have that book on my reading list.
      I am already booked on a great luxury tour of Croatia in Oct with a select group of travellers. Have plans to to do at least 2 international trips next year to Morocco and Turkey. I just pray that with the rising cases of covid I can still go as I have not traveled since the pandemic started

      Reply
  6. You have more than enough money. It’s time to decide what to do with your wild and precious life, and leave money out of the equation. If you want to practice, do so, but do it on your terms. If there are other things you want to pursue, do them now.

    Read Mr. Money Mustache’s latest article on being over-cautious and why you will likely never run out of money.

    Congratulations, you’ve won the money game. Sometimes knowing what to do with yourself afterwards is harder.

    Reply
  7. You’ve done a fantastic job of saving money and living below your means! Congratulations!

    I’m wondering why you don’t retire now if you have felt a little bit burned out? If you only spend $70,000 a year, and you easily could spend two or three times that amount without ever running out, why not stop?

    You say you’re a little bit worried about what to do when you retire. I think if I were you, I would spend the next 12 to 18 months really focusing on what you want to do with the rest of your life. There are a lot of things you could do that are not very boring!

    Given that you have no heirs, you don’t need to worry about leaving money to anyone else. This gives you enormous flexibility, and I think that you have virtually no chance of ever running out of money even if you spent 4% or even 5%.

    You mentioned the idea that maybe people should only spend 3% now. That’s pretty crazy, in my opinion. If you simply invested everything in Treasury Inflation Protected Securities that money would be literally GUARANTEED to last you 33 years at 3% with inflation protection (100%/3% = 33 years). That would take you to 88 with 100% chance of success! Obviously, that’s not a great investment strategy, but it helps you see how crazy conservative a 3% withdrawal rate is. If you invest in anything at all, you’ll extend that 33 years to 50 or more easily.

    I think you should relax, and enjoy the rest of your life doing what brings you the most joy. It’s time to stop living like a resident, and start living like a multi millionaire!

    Reply
    • I love your suggestion of looking into TIPS -I will look into that. Figuring out a solid withdrawal strategy in this one year I have, should make me all ready to quit.

      Yes, I could retire now, and would have if it was not for the pandemic – my and hence this post and accelerated plan to at least have a retirement date in my calendar,Fidelity advisor suggested that 2 years ago when i was close to $4 million but I was mentally not ready then, but I lost my healthy brother to covid just before the vaccines came out, and that gave me pause.
      I am already looking on zillow to buy my dream 2 bed 2 bath condo in the Boston area!

      Reply

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