Q: My wife and I both turn 60 this year and are making a financial plan for the time when we start living off Social Security and our investments. I want to do the legwork myself and rely on a financial professional more to review my plan than to put together a plan for me.
The free online planning calculators that I have seen are not sophisticated enough for me. I am looking for a retirement planning software package that is priced for an individual user. Do you have any thoughts as to where I could find this?
Bruce, St. Paul
A: I like your approach. It reminds me of the slogan of Syms, the former discount clothing store in New York City: "An educated consumer is our best customer." The sentiment is certainly true when it comes to developing a financial road map and a relationship with a financial planner. You may find at the end of the process you don't need a professional adviser or, if you do, you'll have a more fruitful financial partnership.
The free online planning calculators are largely good for the quick check-in, a fast answer to the "how am I doing" question. Firms like Vanguard, Fidelity, Morningstar, and T. Rowe Price offer good online tools for ballpark estimates.
For a more detailed analysis, I would check out ESPlanner. The programs were developed by economist Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University. The defining approach of ESPlanner is putting spending at the core of financial planning. The two centerpiece programs for households — ESPlanner and ESPlanner Plus — are time consuming to fill out. The return is detailed recommendations, including taxes and Social Security. (ESPlanner is $149 for the first year, with $50 afterward for updates. ESPlanner Plus is $199, plus $50 for updates). Another well-regarded program is Retiree Income, founded by Baylor University's William Reichenstein and financial planner William Meyer.
I would also spend time looking at Analyzenow.com, the brainchild of Henry "Bud" Hebeler. His focus is on conservative planning that puts a floor on downside risk.
My last thought isn't directly targeted at financial planning for retirement. But I would check out online programs like LifeReimaged.org. It might help you think through what it is you want out of the next stage of life. Once you know that, the money questions are much easier to answer.
Christopher Farrell is senior economics contributor, Marketplace, commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.