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Review: Cash-Rich Retirement by Jim Schlagheck

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Cash-Rich Retirement by Jim SchlagheckCash-Rich Retirement by Jim Schlagheck, seen on public television’s Retirement Revolution, seeks to turn the retirement advice community on its head by taking “the investing techniques of the mega-wealth” and bringing it to the masses. It’s quite a bold statement to make, since we all know the mega-rich are afforded a much different set of rules than the rest of us, so we’ll see if Mr. Schlagheck can deliver.

The dust jacket says that Schlagheck’s advice “breaks with conventional advice that tells the public to invest mightily in stocks, flip holdings, and seek capital gains.” I’m not sure that the conventional advice says you should be actively trading stocks, but then again personal finance bloggers live in a world where we are exposed to the sage advice of Buffett and Bogle, two accomplished investors who actively advocate index funds for the masses. However, even if you accept the belief that the conventional advice is flipping stocks, Schlagheck advocates investing for “prudent income… Build a ‘life-cycle’ annuity package for lifetime retirement income. Focus on dividend-, interest-, and rent-producing investments and insurance.” If your alarms went off when you red “life-cycle” annuity package, you weren’t alone – mine went crazy. Annuities are actually one of the “six straight-shooting, show-me-the-money steps” in the Cash-Rich Retirement plan. We can see what Schlagheck means when we get to them.

The six steps are:

  • Change your “automatic pilot”
  • Diversify your holdings in radically different ways
  • Build out your investment plan with funds and objective research
  • Get all the professional help you can
  • Build income streams with a ladder of annuities
  • Invest in long-term health care insurance

Setting the stage

The book begins by discussing retirement and how the rules of the game have changed. Schlagheck has a very straight forward and easy to understand writing style and the book is organized in a way that makes it very easy to follow. He makes excellent points about how the retirement is changing, given the changing demographics, solvency of Social Security, and a whole collection of other issues. It really does drive the point home that the old rules of retirement are changing (because they are!).

Let’s see these six steps…

Change your “automatic pilot”

Schlagheck’s term of “automatic pilot” refers to the fact that you concept of “saving for retirement” is investing for speculative gains. It means taking stocks in your Roth and going after high flyers, it means pushing your 401(k) contributions into microcaps or other more risky investments, and he argues that you need to rewire the way you think and act differently. Less like a slot-machine player and more like a saver and cautious investor. Mostly, he’s saying you need to take your retirement seriously right now. What does he recommend you do?

  • Save at least 20% pre-tax income
  • Hold savings in tax-sheltered accounts (401k, 403b, etc.)
  • Automate saving (think, Automatic Millionaire)
  • Don’t chase speculative gains

So far, nothing super incredible or only within the realm of the super-rich. It’s just straight up, smart personal finance advice that’s been repeated before, though it does have some eye-opening statistics not often included in other books.

Radically diversify your holdings

This chapter focuses on how your asset allocation is probably off, though it focuses on many of the simple mistakes people may make such as investing too much in company stock or being too risky in allotments. He advocates investing in things that provide cash flow. That includes dividend stocks, interest bearing accounts or investments, and “rent” producing REITS or rental properties. This is probably where the “Cash-Rich” in the title comes from. Another category he says you should increase in is international exposure, an idea that probably would’ve netted you quite a tidy sum had you implemented several years ago.

From here, this book has some nice ideas but nothing that’s radically new or unheard of. Since the annuity chapter sounded some alarms, let us skip to that chapter.

Build income with annuities

Annuities are like timeshares, they’re not inherently bad, they were just pitched by inherently bad people. The book makes an excellent case for annuities and one that I buy into, though, as they say, the devil is in the details. Annuities provide protection against longevity risk, which is the risk that you’ll outlive your retirement savings, by providing a guaranteed constant income stream and Schlagheck recommends using them after everything else (401k, Roth). I believe that to be prudent advice.

Schlagheck explains annuities, how they are structured, the four main types, the benefits, drawbacks, etc. If you want a primer on annuities, Schlagheck has a good one in his book. He warns about the costs of an annuity, which are 2.3% average, and says that there are many excellent ones at a fraction of the cost.

So what’s this life cycle strategy? The idea is that you want to ladder your annuities so that you get different amounts of income at different points of your retirement. His example has three annuities, each paying out for three different time periods. The first pays out income for 9 years from age 65 to 74, #2 pays out for 9 years from 75 to 84, and #3 pays out from 85 and onward. I’m afraid the details are outside my capability to detail with much clarity so you’ll have to check out the book if you want to know how their structured. He also provides a lot of explanation that I think is crucial for understanding how to ladder annuities, such as tax implications, purchase tactics, etc.

Overall Impressions

Overall, I felt Schlagheck did a good job explaining his cash-rich retirement plan, even though I skipped a few of them in this review, though nothing seemed exclusive to the mega-wealthy. Granted, the ability for most retirees to invest in rental properties is slim (but not unheard of) but investing in dividend stocks, buying annuities, and many of the other suggestions are not anything special. His explanation of annuities, for someone who knows little about them or the fact that laddering them would be a good technique, was comprehensive and easy to understand. If you have the basics of retirement down and are looking to learn more, I think getting this book, either at the bookstore or your local library, would be a great first step.

{ 3 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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3 Responses to “Review: Cash-Rich Retirement by Jim Schlagheck”

  1. Bob says:

    Thank you for you review,

    I have always completely avoided annuities based on their administrative costs and their low rate of return. However I’ve always been secretly enticed by the guaranty of a certain amount per month in the later years of life. I never knew annuities could be purchased with start ages and length of runs. This would radically change their cost basis. By offsetting the “Forever Run Time” with a very old start age will radically reduce the costs. I would assume since I haven’t read the book yet that this is just for the “I don’t want to eat dog food money” but this book is going on the must read list.


  2. Folks, you need to understand, when you buy ‘packaged product’ (annuities, Mutual Funds, etc.) you generally pay a ‘pretty penny’ for the privilege …

    Compounding even 1% additional cost over a 20 year retirement means a 20% loss of capital that you have to make up somehow.

    Paul Grangaard (‘The Grangaard Strategy’) set out a similar approach using Bond Laddering instead of Annuities at a much lower ‘buy in’ cost.

    Another excellent, and again much lower cost method, of funding a ‘cash rich’ retirement was laid out by a highly respected professor, Zvi Bodie, in his book Worry Free Investing which also advocated bonds (Inflation-protected Treasury Bonds, called TIPS).

    I would check out all three of these books (and seek some bloody good advice) before committing my retirement to any one strategy!

  3. Richard says:

    The real question of the day is what will inflation be like in the future?

    And then, what will your annuity’s REAL return look like if we are in for a period of 5-10%/year inflation?

    No one thought gas could hit $119/barrel (it did today). And I never thought a starter house would run $300K (it did until recently).

    Though, stable returns are certainly attractive to a lot of people.

    As long as there are actual “returns.”

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