The Military Pension and Retirement Asset Allocation

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Jonathan Clements is one of my favorite authors. As a prior financial columnist for the Wall Street Journal and current author of the Humble Dollar blog and money guide, he doles out common sense advice on a regular basis. One of his tenets of personal finance is to take a holistic approach to your financial life and include everything you’ve got and will receive when deciding on your asset allocation and risk tolerance.

In 2017, he published a blog post discussing how he values future income, Social Security, and pensions. If you stick around the military long enough to get an inflation-adjusted pension, his approach and the security of the pension would allow you to take on a lot of additional risk, more than many traditionalists would recommend. He and I discussed this very issue in the comments section, so do me a favor and read the post.

My comments to him were:

I am a huge fan of your writing AND the beneficiary of an inflation adjusted pensions if I stay in for 20 years, which is quite valuable. You advocate for including the value of social security (SS) and pensions in your overall asset allocation, but the other side of the camp would argue you should not because you can’t rebalance with SS or pensions. The present value of SS and an inflation adjusted military pension can be quite large, and with your approach would likely represent all of a person’s “bond holdings” unless they were very wealthy or extremely conservative.

For example, if a retired military member wanted to generate $75K in annual income, and was going to get $15K/year from SS and $35K/year from his/her military pension, that would leave $25K/year they need to generate income from. Using the 4% rule, they would need about $625K in investments.

If they wanted a 50/50 stock/bond portfolio, using your approach they might own all $625K in stocks. They’d have nothing to rebalance with when the stock market soared.

Using the argument of those who don’t agree with your way of allocating assets and don’t include SS/pensions as bond-like, they’d own $312.5K of bonds and $312.5K of stocks. They could easily rebalance.

Does the case of someone with a very large, inflation adjusted military pension change they way you’d approach retirement asset allocation?

His reply:

What you describe falls firmly into the category of “nice problems to have.” If I had $50k guaranteed every year and needed another $25k from investments, I’d set aside $125k of my $625k portfolio in cash and short-term bonds, to cover the next five years of required portfolio withdrawals. And then I’d probably put much or all of the remaining $500k in stocks.

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