Retirement Lessons from Saigon

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(David Rosell — Trying to stuff bills in my money belt. Vietnam 1993 | Photo courtesy of Rosell Wealth Management)

Addressing Today’s Unforgiving Inflation

I was just a youngster on April 30, 1975, the day the People’s Army of Vietnam captured Saigon. This event marked the end of the Vietnam War. My generation did not learn about this war in school as it was too fresh in the minds of Americans. The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now and Born on the Fourth of July were my only means to getting somewhat of an understanding of this horrific time period until I visited this beautiful country in 1993. I spent five weeks traveling by bus, train and thumb from Saigon to Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi located 700 miles to the north. Along the journey, I visited such places as the Cu Chi Tunnels, Hamburger Hill, Monkey Mountain, Khe Sanh, China Beach and perhaps the most infamous site in all of Vietnam; the Hanoi Hilton where American POWs, including Senator John McCain, were jailed and tortured for years. Every time I meet a Vietnam Veteran, I reach out my hand to shake theirs, I look into their eyes and I sincerely thank them for their service.

As President Clinton had not yet signed the U.S-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, there was a trade embargo the U.S. had in place since the Vietnam War ended 20 years earlier. Americans were not even supposed to enter the country, as just visiting was considered trading. I was quite nervous landing at Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport as I contemplated passport control as well as how the South Vietnamese people would react to an American, considering we left them to face years of oppression from their northern countrymen. I was unofficially in Socialist Republic of Vietnam. People stared at me but no one seemed to be bothered by the only westerner in sight. The first thing I did is exchange money into the local currency. In 1993 there were no ATM machines in Vietnam so I carried Travelers Checks in my money belt that was hidden around my waist. $100 U.S. Dollars exchanged to 2,083,333 Vietnamese Dong. The largest denomination they had at the time was a 1,000 Dong bill. If only you could have seen my facial expression as I left the bank with a grocery bag overflowing with over 2000 bills. “How will I get back to my hotel with all of this money?” “Is this dangerous?” “Where will I put it once I get there?

The inflation rate that year was 37.7% in Vietnam. Although this may sound ludicrous, it is well below the 200% inflation rate they experienced a decade earlier in 1982¹. Inflation in the United States currently seems to be smacking us in the face every time one goes to the pump, grocery store or a restaurant. Who would have ever thought that a six-pack of local beer could approach $14? Before the pandemic, inflation was just shy of 2%. Today, it exceeds 9%. Although inflation has been as high as 13.5% in 1980, it is important to put this in perspective as historically in the United States, inflation has always come back to the average annual rate between 3-4%.

“They probably spent more money purchasing their last automobile than their parents spent purchasing their first home.”

During your years of retirement, it is imperative that you are able to maintain your purchasing power. The inflation rate of 3.5% may not sound like much, especially when we compare it to countries like Vietnam, however it isn’t until we realize that at this rate prices will double every 20 years! How does this impact your retirement? Imagine retiring at age 60 with an annual income of $100,000. Twenty years later at the age of 80 you will need to withdraw $200,000 from your same retirement accounts just to maintain the same standard of living and this does not factor in the additional costs of health care and possible long-term care expenses. If you happen to live to age 100, this figure will double once again and you would need approximately $400,000 each year to purchase what $100,000 purchases today. When clients find this hard to fathom, I help to put it into perspective by sharing with them they probably spent more money purchasing their last automobile than their parents spent purchasing their first home. This is when they begin to see the daunting effects of inflation. Inflation erodes the purchasing power of retirees. Let’s take a look on its detrimental effects during a 30+ year retirement. In 1980, the average new car cost $5,985. Today that same car costs over $47,147². In 1980 the average new home cost $48,980. Today the average cost of a new home is approximately $428,006³. This means you’ll probably need to increase the amount you withdraw from your investments each year you’re retired just to maintain the same standard of living. Simply put, inflation means that every year your money buys a little — or a lot — less than it did the year before.

Before embarking on a journey to a place like South East Asia, it is important to understand the guidelines for a safe and successful experience. The same is true when planning for retirement as this is a time when there are no mulligans or second chances. The day you turn on the spigot to your 401(k) or IRA — all of the rules change. This will be the last day you are contributing to your pool of funds and the first day that you will be taking. You will be dependent on this income stream you’ve spent a lifetime accumulating over the next 30-40 years. I refer to this period as “The Fragile Risk Zone.” The good news is that instead of contributing to your retirement fund, you’re finally going to start benefitting from distributions. The bad news is that you must understand and overcome the serious risks experienced in this zone. Creating a Retirement Income Survival Kit can help to ensure that your money lasts as long as (or longer than) you do. In short, you need to ensure that your income streams are protected against the inflation risk that you, and indeed all retirees, face.

¹indexmundi.com/Vietnam/inflation_rate

²Kelly Blue Book

³RedFin

David Rosell is President of Rosell Wealth Management in Bend. RosellWealthManagement.com. He is the host of Recession-Proof Your Retirement Podcast and author of Failure is Not an Option — Creating Certainty in the Uncertainty of Retirement and Keep Climbing — A Millennial’s Guide to Financial Planning. Find David’s books at local bookstores, Amazon, Audible as well as the Redmond Airport.

Investment advisory services offered through Valmark Advisers, Inc. an SEC Registered Investment Advisor Securities offered through Valmark Securities, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC 130 Springside Drive, Ste. 300 Akron, Ohio 44333-2431. 800-765-5201. Rosell Wealth Management is a separate entity from Valmark Securities, Inc. and Valmark Advisers, Inc.

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About Author

David Rosell — Rosell Wealth Management

David Rosell is president of Rosell Wealth Management in Bend. He is the author of Failure is Not an Option- Creating Certainty in the Uncertainty of Retirement. You may learn more about his book at www.DavidRosell.com or Amazon.com. Ask for David's book at Costco, Barnes & Noble and in Bend at Newport Market, Cafe Sintra, Bluebird Coffee Shop and Powell's Books in Portland.

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