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Retirement Planning > Spending in Retirement > Lifestyle Planning

How Planning Innovator Sheryl Garrett Is Designing Her Own Retirement

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“Money by itself does not provide security,” asserts Sheryl Garrett, founder of the Garrett Planning Network, in a recent interview with ThinkAdvisor.

The planning-practice innovator, 60, is permitting a peek at what she calls a “lifestyle design” for her personal retirement. It will be on the 30 acres in Arkansas that she owns and where she resides with her 11-year-old daughter.

At the same time, the certified financial planner offers valuable advice to financial advisors for conducting retirement planning with clients.

“People need to get prepared for where they’re going and what they want to do in retirement,” she emphasizes.

The communal setting she envisions for herself may hark back to great-grandma’s day, but that mindset of sharing is precisely what Garrett is hoping for in retirement.

“There’s a lot of wisdom in having a ‘self-designed community,’” she says, “whether it’s a biological family or not.”

Garrett is best known for advocating fee-only financial advice by planners who adhere to the fiduciary standard and charge by the hour. In 2000, she founded the Garrett Planning Network, which today has nearly 250 member planners.

Former President Barack Obama singled out Garrett in a 2015 speech during the Department of Labor’s push for its fiduciary rule. He said she was a financial advisor who entered the business to help people.

Obama was referring to Garrett’s stance that, in his words, “the role of a financial advisor is one of the most important jobs. [But] there is a sector of the industry today that operates like the gunslingers of the Wild West.”

In addition to founding the Planning Network, Garrett co-founded an RIA in 2011 but sold her ownership in it eight years later.

For the last few years, she has been designing her retirement. That plan has undergone some change, however, with the death of Garrett’s wife last fall, leaving her with the couple’s young daughter to raise by herself.

On her vast property outside Eureka Springs in the Ozarks, she has seven buildings — including log cabins she rents to tourists — and where she’s planning to one day build a small retirement home.

An industry activist, Garrett has worked with the House Subcommittee on Financial Services and testified before Congress on Social Security reform. She was named seven times to Investment Advisor’s annual list of the most influential people in financial planning, the IA25.

She grew up in Emporia, Kansas, amidst “nature,” she says. Now she’s “circling back to it,” noting the trees, shrubs and garden she’s planting to produce food during her retirement.

“Access to food is security,” she notes.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Garrett, who was speaking by phone from home. Here are highlights:

THINKADVISOR: What’s the first thing to keep in mind when thinking about retiring?

SHERYL GARRETT: People need to get prepared for where they’re going and what they want to do in retirement.

My current theme has been percolating for two or three years now. I’ve been working on it with another single woman here in our community.

What is it?

I’m literally designing my retirement lifestyle, and part of that is arranging for us to live close together. In our design, we’re thinking about what we want out of retirement.

There’s a lot of wisdom in having a self-designed community, whether it’s a biological family or not. But the idea is that you move by design.

What’s one significant issue pre-retirees need to consider in deciding to relocate?

Climate change. The three [top] places people are moving to right now are California, Arizona and Florida. None of those states are safe. Two have major drought problems.

What happens if you’re living there 30 years from now? What’s your house going to be worth? Do you really want to move to an area that you may have to move from in five or 10 years?

What’s another major component to designing your retirement?

Security. Not just having a big pile of money. But, for instance, I need a roof over my head, electricity, air conditioning. I need to maintain my health. I want some food.

Money by itself does not provide security. Access to food is security.

How are you planning for that when you retire?

I’m taking time right now to invest in plants, trees and shrubs to provide a substantial amount of food for pleasure or need 20 years from now. Hopefully, I’ll be here. Maybe not. But my daughter will be.

Many people in pre-retirement or retirees garden as a hobby. But you’re talking about growing food partly in the context of food security, right?

I have 16 baby trees in my front yard. There’s so much food on this property, including black walnuts. They just grow!

It’s so exciting when you can reach out and get strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries. And the figs taste like something you’ve never had.

I was raised in Emporia, Kansas. It’s just nature out there. I’ve played in nature a lot. And as I’ve grown up, I’m circling back to it.

Do you have a garden?

Yes, but it’s been fallow for about 15 years. I told a fellow that I want it plowed and re-established.

And I’ll ask neighbors who have birds if they want [to split the cost of] a fence. They’ll supply eggs. So we’re going to have egg-layers and game fowl or chickens, or both.

Can designing their retirement be a way to bring retirees additional income?

Yes. For example, many have a basement or extra room [they can rent out].

Some women have brought roommates into their homes who are paying half the cost of their home. It really helps.

One of my friends who’s 70 anticipates living a long time, and she wants to make her money stretch. So she found a man, 25 or 26, to become her roommate. He can’t afford to be by himself, and she likes having a guy around. She says she feels more safe and that “he carries heavy things for me.” He works at Walmart and brings home stuff that she needs. He’s so handy.

She’s absolutely thrilled — not because of the financial [aspect] but because she enjoys his company.

When I lived in Kansas, I knew an older woman who needed someone to run errands and take her around. She found a college student who needed a place to live without high costs.

Another woman I know lived with an older man for 12 years. She didn’t need the money — she gave this gentleman a helping hand.

Would an arrangement similar to those interest you personally?

I’m looking at that kind of thing because now it’s just me and my daughter on 30 acres. It could get spooky if somebody wanted to mess with us.

So you might ask another person — a roommate — to live in your house with you and your daughter?

I’ve got a basement that I don’t use enough and a rental house. Like almost everywhere else, our town needs affordable housing.

I could convert my basement. I already have a separate entrance, and the ceiling and walls are done. I could probably convert it for less than $5,000.

And I’m going to close out my pantry. I need to add two walls and a door and put in a small kitchen and private entrance. There’s a beautiful area for a patio. I could easily rent this [space] for $750 [or more a month].

I’m surrounding myself with the kind of life I would like to play in. My daughter’s best friend and his mother will be building their small house on our property very near our home.

Having all this acreage, I could slowly acquire neighbors.

What else stands on your property now?

Four log cabins [available for tourists] with a swimming pool and the rental house.

I have a huge solar array that powers the seven houses.

Any plans to add more buildings?

Living in a communal kind of setting, over the next 20 years I think we’ll build a small retirement home on the property too.

That’s a major project. Not everyone can afford to do that. Any suggestions for what others could do to create additional ongoing income while retired?

I urge people to get into little things and derive some quality of life out of it.

For instance, I just found out from my insurance company that I could rent out bicycles. That’s going to be a new revenue stream because I can easily rent them for $50 up to twice a day. So I can make another $100 a day on bicycles.

What are some of the plusses to being involved with people in the community as a retiree?

A lot of things that used to be normal in certain cultures are gone, and I think we need to bring them back.

If you try a little more community involvement, you’ll find that you can help support one another. For example, a friend who’s going through medical treatment needs to be taken to and from the clinic; if you have a vehicle, you can drive them.

And who’s going to help you when the snow is piled up and you can’t even open your door, or when you need someone to drive you home after you’ve had surgery?

You’re paying attention to designing your lifestyle in retirement but are still running the Garret Planning Network, which you founded in 2000.

However, in 2019 you left the RIA that you co-founded with Justin Nichols in 2011. Why did you step away?

Too much work! [laughs]. Actually, my spouse was in the middle of her sickness. And I had the Network [to run]. I needed to do things where there was almost never a deadline. With an RIA, there is.

My partner Justin and I went 50/50 on the RIA with the idea that I wouldn’t stay. We both felt it needed to be developed.

The first RIA, located in Manhattan, Kansas, that merged into the one we started bought me out five or six years after we started it, which is exactly what I wanted to happen. It was a very fair price, and it’s more valuable now.

I set them up for them to pay me over 10 years on a monthly basis. I think we started at $3,000 a month, went up to $4,000 and then $6,000.

It’s working beautifully. It [the income] hasn’t hurt my tax bracket, and my solar array helps keep my [taxes] down [through an investment tax credit].

Any other advice to pre-retirees about designing one’s retirement?

The most important bottom line is that working together and developing a community isn’t something you do quickly.

I’ve lived in this town for 14 years, and I’m now getting to the point where I know the people that I’d like to live near.

It’s so luxurious to pick your neighbors!