A Hall of Fame Retirement

What’s the greatest rock and roll act of all time?

Totally depends on who you ask, doesn’t it? And the same person might even give you a different answer today than what they would have told you last week. Same problem if you tried to determine the greatest anything.

The greatest basketball player? Is it Jordan? Wilt? Kareem? Oscar Robertson? My dad at Creswell High School in the early 70s? Given those choices, I think we can all agree that it’s probably not Kareem, but you could have a healthy debate between the others.

At least with sports, you have statistics that can help guide the conversation. With music, where do you even begin the debate? What if one person’s definition of “greatest” has to do with all-time album sales, while somebody else only cares about who played the meanest lead guitar? We can’t even agree on who should be in the conversation, much less who’s actually the best.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame constantly deals with the challenges of this subjective discussion. Here’s part of a letter that Hall of Fame President Terry Stewart sends to fans when they write in to the Hall campaigning for their favorite artist to be inducted:

“Nomination and induction into the Hall of Fame is not about popularity, records sales, which label the group is on, or anything other than the process below. The love for, the evaluation of, and the impact of any artist are subjective questions to be answered by the nominators and the voters. Unlike baseball, football, basketball or hockey, statistics are not relevant. The entire nomination and induction process is coordinated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation in New York City. Individuals can be inducted in four categories: Performer, Early Influence, Non-Performer and Side-Men. The only formal criteria for the performance category is that an artist has to have had their first record 25 years ago. That said, candidates are reviewed and discussed relative to their impact on this music that we broadly call rock and roll. The innovation and influence of these artists is also critical. Gold records, number one hits, and million sellers are really not appropriate standards for evaluation.”

Great. Literally the only definitive criteria is “it has to be at least 25 years since your debut album.” That means Justin Bieber will still have to wait another 18 years. So we have that going for us, which is nice.

Other than that, it’s incredibly subjective. I especially love the phrase “this music that we broadly call rock and roll.” So we can’t agree on the best rock and roll act of all time, partly because we can’t agree on who should even be in the conversation, and partly because we can’t agree on what rock and roll actually is? Fantastic.

Too many people experience the same problem in trying to evaluate their retirement plan. With no firm criteria, how are you supposed to know if your plan is a good one?

Some people look at the wrong criteria. Others just have no criteria.

If you have no criteria, your assessment of your own financial health is going to be easily swayed by whatever stimuli you find in front of you at a given moment. The news will always make you nervous because you won’t know how the next world event is going to affect your portfolio. You’ll fall for almost every financial sales pitch you hear, because anything can be made to sound appealing when you’re rudderless and don’t have a coherent strategy. And every month you’ll open your statements and have no idea if the numbers that you’re seeing are good or bad.

If you’re using the wrong criteria, you rely on benchmarks that really have nothing to do with your overall financial health.

You might look at the year-to-date returns on your savings: “My 401k is doing great right now! I’m in good shape!”

You might compare yourself to people around you: “My neighbor said he finally hit the million dollar mark with his savings so he’s ready to retire. But I don’t have nearly that much. I’m going to have to work until I’m 75!”

Or you might lean on rules of thumb that don’t actually mean anything: “I heard that I can take out 4% of my savings each year without having to worry about running out of money.”

So what might be some better criteria for you to use in assessing the health of your retirement plan? You could start by seeing how many of these questions you know the answer to:

How much do I need to spend each month to maintain my lifestyle as I know it?

How much income will I need in 20 years to maintain the same buying power?

How much income is my portfolio generating now?

How much money am I likely to lose if we have another market crash similar to 2008?

What are the current fees and costs in my portfolio?

How well-prepared am I to address long term care costs if I end up needing nursing home or assisted living care?

Do I want to leave a legacy to my kids and grandkids, and if so, what’s my plan to do that?

If you know the answer to all of those questions, we’ve established that your retirement plan is probably close to being worthy of Hall of Fame induction. If you know the answer to half of them, you’re still ahead of most people, but you still have work to do. If you don’t know the answer to any of them, you have a long way to go before we can consider you to be a candidate for the Retirement Hall of Fame.