Wednesday 21 March 2007

Book Review: Buying Time by Daryl Diamond

The "buying time" title refers to spending more money early in retirement to have fun and not end up with a big pile of money kept aside for fear of running out with regrets for all the things that never got done in retirement. The subtitle of this book describes better what it is about: "Trading your savings for income and lifestyle in your prime retirement years". The author is a professional retirement planner with his own website.

This book has great value in that there are few if any books (or info on the web it seems) that take an integrated, holistic view of retirement financial planning to show how the whole process starts with lifestyle priorities that then drive a number of complementary financial components and actions. There are many books or websites from which one can obtain precise and comprehensive information and guidance on individual elements such as RRSPs/RRIFs, insurance or annuities but none that put it all together. The book covers all the acronyms and keywords at various degrees of depth: RRSP, locked-in RRSP, RRIF, LIF, LRIF, CPP, OAS, pensions, insurance, annuities, probate, wills. estates, trusts, power of attorney, capital gains, dividends, interest, bonds, equities.

I found very useful Diamond's discussion of the critical lifestyle priorities, namely providing sufficient income throughout retirement (i.e. making sure not to run out money), especially considering major health care requirements for critical illness and long term care, and whatever desire there is to pass along wealth to family or friends (i.e. not the taxman). It was also very helpful to read the explanations of insurance and annuities, something I have not yet spent much time learning the ins and outs of.

The book's stated objective to provide introductory, conceptual level treatment is also, for the DIY person, a major limitation. Diamond's constant refrain is: "to work out an actual detailed plan, go see a financial planner". Is it really beyond the capabilities of an interested, reasonably intelligent person who takes the trouble to buy and read such a book, to go ahead on his/her own?

The other important caveat is that the book needs a major quality improvement overhaul and significant updates. Diamond may be a good financial planner but he needs the services of a good editor to improve grammar, sentence construction, explanations, organization/story line, labeling and such. Many times I found myself saying to myself that something was incorrect, only to think about it and figure out that it was just the awkward explanation. The update is needed for important changes that have occurred since the 2003 publication date: new tax rates for dividends, tax brackets, foreign content rules for registered accounts, RRSP maturity (in the brand new federal government budget) and the introduction of variable payout annuities, which are not mentioned at all (and which annuity authority Moshe Milevsky termed a development which has "... the potential to revolutionize retirement financing in Canada." in his paper How to Completely Avoid Outliving Your Money (about which I wrote a post a few weeks ago).

A pet peeve of mine is the short shrift he gives to Exchange Traded Funds, exactly 11 lines of text, while the whole body of his discussion assumes the use of mutual funds for equity holdings.

Among the interesting but puzzling observations Diamond makes is that the first ten years of retirement are the best ones. Now it makes sense that declining health will limit activities as one gets older. But what if I decide to retire in my mid 50s? Does it mean I will be worse off after 65 compared to someone who retires at 65 and begins to enjoy his ten best years? And in financial terms, will I need less from 65 on than someone who starts his retirement at 65?

It would be very beneficial for the updated revise edition to include four or five annotated case studies of a complete financial plan. Certain themes and situations must arise often enough to be relevant to a large portion of the public. With all his experience, Diamond would surely be able to identify them.

In sum, this is a useful but by no means definitive book on the subject of personal financial management in retirement.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey DIY,

I did a podcast interview with Daryl Diamond at the end of March.

We talked for about 45 minutes and you can listen to the podcast here:

Daryl Diamond Podcast

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