Podcast: Joe Kuhn on the Tools You Need to Decide If It Is Safe to Retire
Episode 69 of the NewRetirement podcast is an interview with Joe Kuhn — former world-class plant manager and reliability leader, and current Financial Independence influencer on YouTube. Steve and Joe discuss Joe’s journey to financial independence, his rise on YouTube, and the lessons he’s learned along the way.
Steve: Welcome to NewRetirement Podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking with Joe Kuhn, a former world class plant manager and reliability leader and current financial independence influencer on YouTube. We’re going to be discussing Joe’s journey to financial independence and status as influencer and the lessons he’s learned along the way. Joe retired at 54 and reached FI, financial independence of 52 and is joining us from Evansville, Indiana. So with that, Joe, welcome to our show. It’s great to have you join us.
Joe: Yeah, I’m very excited to be here and maybe share a nugget or two that can help somebody in the audience.
Steve: Yeah. No, I appreciate your time. So I’m going to jump in with some questions. I think generally, I like to cover your story, a little … what I thought we’d talk about, how you discovered financial independence and then, kind of get into your journey into becoming … getting famous on YouTube and then, we’ll wrap up with some other questions, but it’s pretty interesting. So just in terms of background for everybody, now, I first heard of Joe through some members of our community who are mentioning, “Hey, I heard about you guys on YouTube and there’s this guy Joe Kuhn,” and I watched a couple videos at that point and then, I think just a few months later, we basically connected and that’s how we got here today. Joe, it’d be great if you could give our audience a few minutes on your background and how you got here and then, we’ll dive into details.
Joe: Okay, great. Yeah, actually my hometown is Evansville, so I’m still in my hometown. I did move away once, but I’m a degreed mechanical engineer and I started with a Fortune 500 company called Alcoa, a big aluminum complex, smelting, rolling, casting facility, a few thousand people that work there. I started as a mechanical engineer at the age of 22. I just advanced into leadership roles. I like to tell people I was the average mechanical engineer and so, I went into management, but just I had a passion for building teams, for finding talent, developing people. I spent a lot of my free time looking and reading, listening to audio books on how to be a better leader, how to motivate people, how to get more better results systemically.
That’s what I focused on during my career. Now, at the same time, I had a 401K, a 100% company match at the first 6%. I didn’t know any better. They told me to put 6% in, they matched 6%. Then, what I started doing is every time I got a raise is I put the vast majority of that raise into my 401K. So if I got a $500 a month raise, I would put $350, 400 in that 401K and trying to prevent a little bit of lifestyle creep. I grew up middle class and I thought I was wealthy as an engineer. Then, just fast forward 32 years, I retired. So you work that long at a company and I did my job pretty well. I was fully engaged and I wasn’t just punching the clock, having a job, I had a career and I pushed, not just trying to get to be higher and higher in the organization, but just I wanted to have more and more influence.
One fact about my career is I never had a job for more than four years. I would come in and be in charge of an area and I’d kind of turn it around, build the right team, get the right focus, and then, I kind of wanted to do something else. So I had 14 jobs with Alcoa. Then, about the age of 52, all my math made sense and I’m ready to retire, but a couple buddies of mine twisted my arm and they said, “This particular plant inside of Alcoa, they need you and your skill set.” And they were long-term friends and I told them no six times and they asked me seven, so I worked two more years and then, it was time.
Steve: Yup. Well, that’s neat. That’s amazing. Now, did you have professional guidance on this journey or just saving and made a good portfolio decisions and took the right amount of risks so you could kind of get there?
Joe: Yeah, you’re talking financially. I didn’t really … I’ll be honest, I didn’t have much of a plan. I grew up in a family that was frugal, that believed in buying things of value. We weren’t poor but we definitely weren’t even close to rich. I grew up in a 800 square foot house with a basement and my dad worked, my mom stayed at home. So when I was working as an engineer, I thought I had all kinds of money and I just really was … I didn’t let lifestyle creep affect me. My wife and I, I’ve been married to my wife for 34 years. I have four adult kids, all through college. By the way, they’re all engineers too. Very proud of them and what they’ve accomplished. It would be lying to say I had this master plan to retire at 52. I knew that … I mean, I was making decisions to be able to, but I had no concept that I would be able to.
It was like, “Hey, just don’t buy … don’t become house poor.” I don’t get excited about new cars. I believe in experiences over things, buying happiness, and that’s just … I grew up middle class and I really tried to stay middle class even though I was probably upper middle class.
Steve: Yeah, I would love to find out, has your lifestyle changed now that … I mean, a big lifestyle move is retiring early, right? So that is the ultimate gift to yourself, giving yourself that gift of time-
Joe: I get made fun of all the time by my neighbors. I drive a … until recently, I was driving a 2005 Camry with 150,000 miles on it. It was my kid’s car in high school and college. They pass it and now, it’s dad’s car. My neighbors are all driving these new trucks and these new vehicles and they’re laughing at me and said, “Joe, why don’t you buy a new vehicle?” As they’re driving to work, they’re telling me I need to buy a new vehicle. Now, I’m driving a 2012 minivan that was a hand me down from my wife. I fix things around the house. I cut my own grass. If my sink clogs up at home, I fix it. So now in retirement, I’m actually … I do a lot of things myself because I can and I got YouTube, I get on YouTube to find out how to fix a garbage disposal or a refrigerator.
No, it’s lifestyle creep that I’ve … looking back and reflecting back, I would say, as I was raised, I was raised not to let lifestyle creep happen to me, and that’s one of the lessons that looking back, that I did well.
Steve: Yeah, there’s a guy, Doug Nordman. He ran a site called The Military Guide and I asked him, he was on the podcast and I was like, “What’s the single key or most important thing?” He’s like, “High savings rate.” And I think that’s right because a high savings rate implies a lot of things. So I mean it implies you’ve got discipline, you’re able to sustain it and hopefully if you’re investing it, it can lead to financial independence.
Joe: People ask me, what’s the one thing? I like to get real specific, high savings rate is great, but there’s still some vagueness of what that is. I tell people, don’t let cars dictate your ego, and if you just do the car thing right and drive an old car that’s very reliable, a 10-year old car that’s extremely reliable, you do the math, you’ll say five, $600 a month. If that car gets a scratch in it, you don’t worry about it. You fast forward that lifestyle for 30, 35 years and you’ll have well over a million dollars saved, just with a car.
Steve: Yeah, maybe this is timely. I’m literally like … I understand it about used cars and we have a 2010 Pilot with 200,000 miles on it out there, and I used 2016 Volvo, but the Pilot is literally on its last legs. So we’re like man … and I have solar panels and I love the idea of getting a plug-in hybrid, but they’re only available new and then, they’re expensive. So I’m really having this internal conflict about … so maybe this is timely, but we’ll see if I can manage my own behavior.
Joe: Yeah, and with the car, you do the math exercises on, what you’re going to spend on, fuel and repairs and all that, rather than ego. Ego gets … I know people that get a new car every year and then, they make fun of me driving my Camry. I’m just saying, I don’t get any feelings of an ego. I guess I keep wanting to use that word, is from a car. I actually take great pride when people make fun of me, I just smile.
Steve: Well, I think it’s definitely true. A lot of wealthy people, they drive crummy cars, or not necessarily crummy cars, but they don’t drive fancy new cars, and yeah, buying a new car every year would be tremendously expensive. By the way, I appreciate the whole engineering background. My grandfather was a civil engineer, building bridges in upstate New York. Then, my father was a quality control engineer and I was a systems engineer, but I mostly have worked in software technology most of my life. I don’t think any of my kids are going to become engineers.
Joe: Yeah. My wife thinks I just plotted against her. My wife was a school teacher and she ended up being a stay at home mom with the kids, raising all four kids and all my kids became engineers, but I really … honestly, I started working on them early about getting a skill, getting a skill in problem solving, something that’s unique, not something that could be commoditized or outsourced. They all decided to become engineers and they’re just doing great.
Steve: Yup. Hey, anyone listening, America needs more engineers so it’s always good. Yeah, I think it’s great because you’re solving problems and you’re building things that are tangible. I remember my mother would tell stories about her father saying, “Hey, yeah, I built that bridge, and the bridge we’re driving across, I designed that bridge,” or saying kind of cool stuff like that. Awesome, so you’re on this journey, you achieve financial independence and I guess as you’re approaching it, you’re thinking about it, how’d you know or get confident that you had enough money to retire? Because I’m assuming you’re drawing your assets down or did you annuitize or something like that?
Joe: No, I’m drawing my assets down. The math is actually pretty easy to figure out and what I encourage people to do is approach this from several angles. You got the 4% rule out there, so you say, “Okay, well look at my assets. If I draw up 4%, is that what my expenses are?” And you check that box. Then, you go to a couple financial advisors that coach people on this, two or three of them and they say, “Yeah, you’re okay.” Now, I add to that the NewRetirement software and say, you enter your information in there and you do the Monte Carlo in simulations and you say, “Okay, now I’m okay there.” So I’ve got three sources of information, the 4% rule, the NewRetirement software and financial advisors, and it kind of works out. I guess the first step before that is what’s your budget? How much money are you going to spend?
It is amazing, when I calculated my retirement budget, I’m spending about 70% of what I thought it was going to be. So you’re not financing the kids’ college anymore? I don’t have any debt. I’m not funding my 401K. I canceled my life insurance. That was actually one of the hardest things I had to do was cancel my life insurance just emotionally because you’ve always had that. I’ve always got to protect my family, and you’re like, well, you’re self-insured. Then, getting healthcare, what are you going to do about healthcare? I found an excellent source of a pretty good, a very good healthcare through Farm Bureau. I love them, but it’s really understanding your expenses, and then, actually my expenses were like 70, 75% of what I thought they were going to be. We cut cable, things like … “Hey, let’s become streamers.”
I had a lot more time to dive into things that I used to pay for, like lawn care service. Heck, I fertilized my own lawn. Just different things like that. So I ended up spending less and here’s another one, and this is embarrassing, but I used to spend … we have two cars. My wife’s got one and I have a car. I drive my car about 2,500 miles a year now in retirement. Well, that used to be 10,000 miles more. Well, gas, tires, wear and tear, windshield, wiper. I mean it is … My gosh, look how much money you’re saving here and there and in close, it really adds up.
Steve: Yeah, I think probably a lot of folks, we saw that too with just the remote work culture. So when you add up like, “Oh going to San Francisco used to be …” like, I would take the ferry. I would drive and I’d park for four bucks. I would take the ferry, which was six or $7 each way with a little clipper card. Then, you’re eating there and you’re having a coffee. It ends up being 30 bucks a day or something like that. Just at least, probably 50, right? Depends on how you live. For the privileged, quote-unquote privilege of going into San Francisco and working. So, yeah, when you’re at home for sure, I’ve seen that too. We’re driving a whole lot less. We’re running everything here. We’re saving all … we’re eating at home for lunch and stuff like that. It makes a giant difference.
Joe: Steve, when I think about my journey going from working and earning and saving to a spender, and this is what my channel, my YouTube channel has kind of turned into, the financial part of that is not really the hardest thing because you get your math all to make sense. Those three sources, everybody … all of them, you got to, yes, check mark by them and then you have to jump and everybody is scared. That’s one of the things I tell people, I’m an engineer, I was a plant manager, running a massive organization and everything makes sense. Got to yes by everything. My gosh, this is a jump because your whole career … when you’re a little kid, you’re learning in school. You’re learning to be a second grader or a third grader, or a high school, college.
Then, you’ve got your career and everything is progressing up and then you’re making this massive jump to retirement and what is that? There’s so much fear out there, and I try to help people with that fear because it’s a lonely journey. You’re doing all this math for your retirement. You’re doing it in a little closet in your house and you don’t share that with your friends. Financial advisors, they make a lot of money off people. They’re good. They’re very good and they’re a good solution for a lot of people, but financial advisors are … one of the needs that they’re solving for people is, “I need somebody to talk to. I did all this math, am I wrong?” You’re paying them 1% assets under management just to feel good. So I encourage people to get a friend group.
I have a retirement group that we talk about finances, we’re getting together next Wednesday. About once a month, we get together and do intimate sharing. There’s two other people, I’ve lifelong friends and I share every single thing about my finances. Everything, I’m spending every nickel I’ve got and their job is to tell me that I’m screwing up, that I’m doing something wrong. This is not just, “Let’s be nice to each other.” This is what can go wrong, why I wouldn’t do that, and in a very supportive, nurturing way, and I think that is so powerful because it is a very lonely journey and it’s scary to make that jump. My math made more sense than, I was in good financial shape and it was scary for me. I’m an engineer. I’m a plant manager. I’m used to dealing with numbers and it was a jump for me.
Steve: Yeah. No, it’s great to hear your story and I totally agree with you. I think getting support from the community or building a community, a small … for your own, yourself, your friends or being part of what you’re doing on YouTube and discussions you have there, and we have a community in Facebook and people they do. I mean, I think talking to people that are like you, it’s a very different thing that … and you have to know that they’re trusted and they’re aligned with you, but if they’re peers then it’s a similar experience.
Joe: I do. I’ve got a link in my videos and this really just came out of need. A lot of people, they just trust me and I think they trust me maybe because I’m an engineer and have that background, so they just want somebody to talk to me. So I put a link in my YouTube videos to contact me and set up an hour with me just because people were overwhelming me, wanting information. Steve, you would be shocked. I mean in the comment … I’ll make a video and in the comments, somebody will write, “I got this much money in a savings account. I got this much money in an IRA. My wife and I spend this money.” I’m like, “Hey YouTube comment section is probably not the place to be putting that information.” It shows you how desperate people are for a second opinion.
A financial advisor is a route that can be used but boy, get your own friend group. Get your own financial group. I think it’s very powerful and will help you through the fear.
Steve: I’m seeing more people create these communities and clearly, you’re starting to do it but yeah, you could … we hold office hours and we’re seeing is like, people just show up. Our coaches say this, some people are just showing up because they want to talk to someone, get that second opinion in a judgment free zone. I still think that there’s something … so you’ve done a great job, you’re ready, you know you can do it. You’re an engineer, you can roll the math. There’s still lots of people … I mean, you’re the 5% or the 2%. There’s a big chunk of people at the bottom unfortunately, that are nowhere or 30% are in very tough straights and then, there’s probably 50 or 60% that they made some progress, but they have serious work to do. Some of them don’t necessarily want to show up and be like, yeah, if you’re like, “Hey, I’ve saved a million, two million bucks,” and they’ve saved a hundred grand or 50,000.
Then, they’re probably like … it’s putting people together that are in similar situations, I think is a big part of this, because everyone starts somewhere and you actually … I’ve seen this in my life, like family members where they came to saving and investing late but then got very serious about it and still were able to pile up a material amounts of money by getting … it’s like losing weight or getting in shape. They were like, “Okay, I got religion about this and I’m like going to go nuts on it,” but they’re starting somewhere.
Joe: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I actually did a survey on YouTube. There’s a feature to ask questions and your discussion prompted me to think of it is I asked, where are you getting your … what’s your withdrawal strategy? What are you doing? It was 68% of the people were using just a fixed withdrawal rate like 4%, 3.5, whatever. So they were using a fixed withdrawal rate or they were using an Excel spreadsheet with … I’m wanting to say, with a fixed return like, “Hey, the stock market is going to return 7%, my bonds are going to return 4%,” or something like that. I mean, I actually made a video after that that kind of scared me. I said, “Oh my gosh, what are you doing?” Because there’s so many other factors out there and I’m an engineer and I’m a plant manager. I’m used to looking at finances. I’m saying, “Oh my gosh guys, I can’t do this myself.”
Your software. Monte Carlos simulation, what can happen? What’s a pessimistic view, an optimistic view? Taxes. Most people are not even looking at tax, they’re just looking at one year at a time. Stock market went up, I’m going to pull out 4.2% this year, stock market went down, I’m going to pull out 3.5. Well, what are your RMDs going to be when you’re 72? I don’t know, I’ll dress … I’m like, “Oh my gosh, if you just do some Roth conversions now or move some money around, it will make all the difference in the world.” Yeah, so there’s a lot of people out there, I mean it’s almost seven out of 10 that aren’t thinking long-term, even when they have money. Even when they got a half million dollars or 750,000 or a million, that they’re not thinking long-term and it’s pretty scary. I think you guys have a great solution. It’s helping me. It’s helping me.
Steve: Yeah, if you zoom out and look at this, the history of retirement was, well, you worked until you drop. Then, we had pensions and the company was taking care of you, but they also took all that mortality risk. They were acting like insurance companies. Then, they said, we don’t want that. Probably, Alcoa, I bet they used to have pensions or maybe they still do for some people. They said, “Well, let’s put all this risk on the employee, so that every employee has to figure out, okay, how much should I save? How should I invest?” If someone put it in a great way, it’s like, “Okay, we took … used to have professional pension managers. Now, we took every single person and made them their own CFO.” It turns out, a bad idea. So you’ve got a whole quarter people that are like … and I’m one of them, I was an early 401K person and did some good things with it, but it’s still imperfect.
So then we have 401Ks, then we had target date funds inside the 401Ks that are a little better. Now, it’s actually interesting as we’re getting to in-plan guarantees where you can take your 401K savings and start converting it into lifetime income, but you’re kind of doing it through buying annuities or the company itself offers their own version of this. One of our … We have enterprise customers and one of them is doing that. We also use some work more nationwide. They’re also thinking about this, but it’s interesting how it’s come full circle but really, I mean, we still ask people to be pretty freaking sophisticated and look at yourself, you’re trained as an engineer, you’ve managed billion and a half dollar plants with 2000 people.
You still found this somewhat daunting and then, we are saying to tens of millions of workers, go figure it out and then, hopefully have a good outcome.
Joe: Yeah, and there’s people that manage that well and there’s people that don’t, and I talk to all of them. Yeah, it’s a big challenge and some people need to go to a financial advisor. I think that recognizing what your skill gaps are, that’s a big deal. Don’t guess. You don’t need to be guessing with your retirement, especially.
Steve: All right, well, before we jump into your journey to YouTube which I think is fascinating enough, but I want to … any huge regrets about retiring early? Do you feel like you made any big mistakes?
Joe: No. I mean, I’m wanting to laugh when people ask me that all the time. Did you retire too early? It’s just funny. You do miss the relationships, the social aspect of work was great. The pats on the back for doing a good job, but absolutely not. Sometimes I wish I would’ve retired a couple years earlier, but the work I did was great. I really enjoyed my last two years, but it’s … what I tell people, it’s always going to make financial sense to work another year, but what you’re trading is you’re probably one of your most healthy years and nobody that’s 85 would trade a year at 50 for another year on their life even. So, absolutely no regrets. Every once in a while, what was funny is, I’ve been saying, “Gosh, I miss the thrill of winning and making an accomplishment at work.”
Then, somebody from my work would call me up, just to bounce an idea off me and they would talk about some of the crazy things happening and I end up telling you, “Thank you for calling me. I was having a weak moment about maybe coming back to work part time. I mean, just that seed entered my mind and I wanted to thank you for calling.” Now, that was year one. I’m working on year four here and I just laugh when somebody asks me if I should’ve worked longer, not even close.
Steve: Well, you’ve solved one of the things that a lot of folks … many people need to solve for, which is like, what’s your sense of purpose? You’re obviously building a second career here, whether you like it or not, or you’re in tendency or not as a YouTube person, which is pretty interesting and having a pretty big influence, I was seeing your videos as part of this. I was like, “Oh yeah,” so three years ago you were doing videos about plant management that got 90 views. I think your latest one had like 410,000 views. Our entire podcast has had 600,000 downloads ever across 50 plus episodes, so it’s crazy.
Joe: It’s crazy. The best advice somebody gave me associated … non-financial advice associated with retirement is to retire to something not from something. So about three to five years before I retired, I knew what I wanted to do on my schedule and on my time, I wanted to be an influencer with reliability and maintenance of equipment, which sounds crazy to most of your individuals out there, but it’s something that … I’ve had some unique training and I was able to put it into practice at my plants for 20 years to get dramatic results. Inside the maintenance and reliability of equipment at plants, there’s a lot of pain. There’s a lot of suffering, there’s a lot of bad stuff happening. Equipment breaks on Christmas day, all the mechanics and electricians are required to work Christmas day and the day after.
I mean, it’s a harsh world and I found a better way and nobody was teaching it and I don’t know anybody in the consulting space that was teaching it, so I felt … I’ll be honest, I just felt obligated. I’ve got this process and talent, I’ve got to share it with other people, how do I do it? Well, then YouTube came and I said, Well, I’ll give it away. I was happy to get 50 people, 50 maintenance managers, reliability engineers, plant managers to listen. I’m delighted with that and then, that went up to 200, 300, 500, even 1,000, 1,500 or something like that on my reliability and maintenance videos. Even right now, this week, I spoke at a conference that had 200 people at it. I’ve spoken at conferences and they pay me to come and talk to them. One had 800. I’ve written a book and I’ve been on some podcasts associated with that.
So that was what I was trying to do to be an influencer in that space. Well, then you get a lot of viewer comments and one of the viewers, I don’t remember which one said, “You look awful young to have retired. How did you retire?” So then I … Hey, here’s why I retired. Here’s what I’m trying to do and then, it just kept snowballing. Well, how much money did you have? How are you managing your money? Where are you invested at? Was it hard moving from a spender? So it just evolved and I found this just great hole in, I think YouTube. There’s a vast number of great people talking about how to invest your money. So I actually don’t talk a lot about that. I talk about the other things. What’s the journey been like for me?
The personal experience, the fear of jumping from working to spending. The fear of what am I going to do with my time now? What’s my health journey been like? What about my friends and my relationships and my social calendar? How am I traveling? How am I withdrawing money? All those things that aren’t investment questions, I’m an expert on my story. I’m not telling you what’s right and wrong. I’m telling you that I’m an expert on my story. It’s crazy. I’ll work an hour preparing a video and I’ll get 5,000 views. I’ll work five minutes on a video and just think of it on a whim and I’ll get 300,000 views and I’ll tell my wife that. I say, I have no idea what’s going to take off. Just no idea.
Steve: It’s incredible though, right? I mean I had this thought when we’re doing this podcast, this year I’ve been speaking more and so, I did a talk for … I’ll do a talk for 30 people and then, I did a talk for 200 people and I was like, “Wow, 200 people live,” you get kind of nervous and there’s going to be a talk a little bit for seven or 800 people, which I’m feeling a little better about but I’m still like, that’s a serious number of people and you’re up there and you got to be like on. I’m like, you roll one podcast and we’ll get a few thousand people listening to it and you’re rolling one video and you might get … I mean, it’s hard to imagine, right? Think about 300,000 people. That’s like a city, right? That’s like not an NFL stadium. That’s like 10 NFL stadiums, right? It’s kind of crazy when you think about it that way.
Joe: Yeah. What’s funny, I’ve got four adult kids. My youngest is 25, my daughter, and I have three boys up to age 32. Well, my 30 year old, he called me up and said, “Dad, you got a video with 400,000 views, you got 400,000 people listening to you.” I mean, it’s just … My kids, I love embarrassing them. I mentioned them in the videos and whenever they introduce me like, if we’re at a wedding or some social thing, they’ll say, “Hey there’s my dad.” And they’ll say, “What do you do?” I’m a social media influencer. I do that just to make my kids get embarrassed.
Steve: That’s funny. Well that’s awesome. I mean it is incredible. I think it is amazing … that is one awesome thing about technology and YouTube and you can reach and educate all these folks and people can decide for themselves and hey, is this person seem trustworthy? Do you know what they’re talking about? I also think back to the trust thing, it’s like, you don’t really need the money or anything. It’s like, there’s no alternative motive. There was a guy, Bud Hebeler, that was an advisor for us and you probably appreciate his story. He was the former president of Boeing and a journey like yours, where at the time, he is like, “Hey, I’m getting ready for my own retirement,” and he’s an MIT engineer. I have all these tools available to me as an executive at Boeing, but most everyone else doesn’t have these things and they have to figure all this stuff out.
So, he was on this war path 20, 30 years ago by just writing in the Wall Street Journal and stuff like that, but same thing. Smart, organized, didn’t necessarily have a distribution channels. We still got a lot of awareness but now, it’s like you can reach whatever. I mean, who knows, it wouldn’t surprise me if you get billions of views on these things.
Joe: Yeah, and one of the things that I realized that I loved about my job and work is actually the helping of people. When you’re in leadership roles, you’re building a team, you’re like the manager of a baseball team and you get to work with the pitcher and work with the short stop, hitting and all that kind of stuff. I love helping people. That is the outlet of YouTube. It’s been great for me and it’s hard to describe. I like … It is humbling to have 400,000 views, but if I help one person, I’m happy and really, the format of my channel, I designed it on purpose. I wanted it to be two people talking and a lot of my videos, I’m just sitting out on my front porch or my back porch and I’m just talking, like I’m talking to just one person.
I don’t have PowerPoint presentations. I intentionally don’t do that. I can make PowerPoint presentations, and I that folksy trustworthy, two people talking format has resonated with a few people.
Steve: For sure. Yeah, it’s interesting. I was watching some of your videos and I was like, “Oh, yeah, it’s just you kind of talking to the camera.” I can see why it’s appealing. You’re definitely a very approachable person, normal … it feels like, hey, you’ve lived through this and learned a ton. When we did our podcast, I purposely was like, I like the guest format because I just like hearing people’s stories and hearing them share their own stories is great, but maybe we’ll have to try this-
Joe: No, I like that format as well. I’ve done that a couple times interviewing, but you got to remember I’m retired. So organizing calendars in times to do this with two people is a little more obtrusive to your retirement than just making these videos whenever you want. So I like to try to protect my time. I enjoy this journey that I’m on, helping people. I’m not sure how long I’ll be on it, but I really enjoy it right now. I’m making a little bit of money doing it. I’m an influencer in the reliability and maintenance space as well. I enjoy that and enjoy, people want help and have … with retirement. I talk to them all the time on that. I mentor people that are plant managers. I’ve got a guy, a couple guys that … every month, I’m talking to them about career and my advice.
I wish I would’ve had more coaches in my career instead of stumbling through it. It did okay, but still coaching really can help you accelerate your journey.
Steve: So what are some of the big lessons that you’ve taken from your community and also for yourself? I know you like … I watched a couple of your videos, you had a couple big aha moments. One of them was about health. I’d love to actually hear that, but also just then, follow what are people asking and worried about?
Joe: Yeah, I talk about two big surprises that I wasn’t planning for in my retirement, and number one, you mentioned it is health. You retire and then, all of a sudden, for me, it’s like, well, how many more years am I going to be alive and what’s going to be the quality of those years? I never thought I was under stress. I met with a lot of people, and coached, mentored and supervised a lot of people in my plant manager roles. I mean, I was almost always asked, how do you handle all the stress? You got 2000 people in this organization? How do you handle all the issues? I said, “Well, I hire good people and I let them do their job and they bring big problems to me and hey, I can handle it. It’s no big deal.” Until I retired and when I retired, it was setting down a 10 pound weight.
I was carrying around this 10 pound weight and I didn’t even know it until you sat it down and you’re like, “Oh my gosh,” nobody’s calling me at 10:00 at night saying somebody’s in the hospital or that we had a spill in the river or we had this environmental emissions or we had a fire here. No little problems came to my desk and that stress just weighed on me, and one of the mechanisms I used to deal with stress was eating, and I always exercised, always was a hard exerciser, but I found myself overweight. I’ve ended up losing 40 pounds. I’ve lost 40 pounds. I eat real healthy. My doctor told me I was the healthiest patient he has had the last two years.
Steve: I was going to ask you that question. How much did you weigh when you retired versus today?
Joe: 235 versus 295. No, versus 195, sorry, 235, 195 and I lift weights. I love pumping iron. I’d love to lose about 10 more, but it’s hard. The last 10 for me, I have been five pounds lighter, but it wasn’t something I could sustain, but I feel great.
Steve: What did you weigh in college?
Joe: College, I probably weighed about a 170, a 175, something like that.
Steve: So, you’re not too far off.
Joe: Yeah, no.
Steve: That’s amazing, but health is a big deal. So, I’m eating better. I eat whole foods, one ingredient foods. A box of nothing, so that one … then time. One of the big myths that’s out there, is people … and this is an argument I get in with people. They think, “Oh my gosh, I want to retire and I want to do nothing every day.”
Steve: I don’t know the person that can do that, and it’s certainly not me, is the person that can retire at 54 years old and just wake up, go to the couch, eat Cheetos, and then, go back, go to bed. I don’t know the person that can do that. I would feel like a slug. I think people are happiest when they’re on a journey and they’re making progress. It’s fulfilling and you feel like you have a purpose. Okay? So I tell people to retire to something not from something, and it’s a myth that you can do nothing. If you went to the beach every single day for three months, you’d probably be happy. After year … month four, month five, that’s no way to live. So, what are you retiring to? I’ve got my YouTube channel. I do personal coaching and mentoring. I’ve written a book. I’m president of a nonprofit where we improve our parks in our local town.
I’ve got a meeting tonight in a couple of hours and then, I travel with my wife. We’ll take four, five, six vacations a year, going … My kids live all over the country. We love seeing them and tying that in. So really, retirement is a new journey starting. What’s your journey? Most people don’t have the answer to that. That’s okay to retire without knowing what your journey is, but you’re going to be happier on a new journey. It could be fitness. It could be travel, but I think it needs to be two or three things and if you’re married you need to be on a couple of those journeys together. So time I think is a big one. Health is a big one, and recognizing that I was under stress. I would’ve told you the last day of work that I had, I would’ve said, “Guys, Steve, I did not have a stressful job.”
I truly believe that acted that way and now, looking back on it, I’d say, “Man, I was under an enormous amount of stress,” and I was just able to hide it well, and I handled it maybe in a macho way, I would say, “Hey, I got this. I got this. I can handle it,” but those are my main lessons that I talked to people about. I talked earlier about fear. Everybody is afraid. Everybody is afraid of making that step. They’re afraid of making the misstep. What if I retire and I missed a negative sign in my math? That’s where, like I said, get resources of financial input to say where you’re at? One, use something like the 4% rule. Use a financial advisor, see where they’re at, see what they got to offer. Then, use the software package that is out there.
I love NewRetirement, it keeps saying that and that’ll make you feel better, but a plan is the only way to trump fear. You trump fear with a plan, so get your data in line, but in the end, it’s going to be a jump and you need to know that everybody is scared and in that way, hey, if everybody is scared, there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m going to go ahead and jump.
Well, I thought it was great how you … I think another thing is to kind of reframe it where you’re like, “Okay, time is our scarceness resource.” As you get older, I think you start to really realize, one, you’ll probably know people that are getting sick or passing away. I also heard you talk about looking at the average 80 year old, which is something I do too. I’m like, okay, great, 50 something, pretty healthy, but there’s no guarantees. By the time you’re 80 or late 80s or whatever, you’re not doing the same things that you were doing at 50 or 60 or whatever. Don’t over-optimize, we’re having a ton of money or I’m perfectly safe at 80 or 90 when I might be like … or who knows, you might be dead or demented or who knows what. It’s kind of like, I think you have to be thoughtful about those trade-offs where using your time, having control over it.
Joe: A lot of people are … I don’t encourage people just to work for retirement, live your life along the way, on purpose, but saving for that next journey. Man, when people think about an epic retirement, it’s really in your 50s and 60s because 70s, how many people do that are 75 that are able to go out to Yellowstone, the Tetons, the Grand Canyon and go on a hike. How many people at 75 can do that? Yeah, there are some, not many. So having epic retirement, so whenever the math works out, go.
Steve: Yeah. Right. Yeah. What about sabbaticals? As a side note, a friend of mine, I just biked with him on the weekend, just took a five month sabbatical and he’s probably 50 and he is been working for 20 something plus years and he got plenty of money and all this stuff, but he was like, yeah the big takeaway was to refocus on relationships, his family and friends, health, right? It was good. It was like, he really could … no email and he had a big job and he is like, okay, and I think it really caused him to rethink this. Did you ever have a sabbatical or do you know folks that have done it?
Joe: No, they were able to … I had a friend that, in his job, he got a three month sabbatical every four years, he was a partner in an accounting firm and it was rejuvenating for him, but I never had that opportunity. Yeah, never ever have, but it is something. I’ve actually given that advice to some people that says, “Hey, I don’t know what I would do in retirement.” And I said, “Go to your supervisor and tell them that you’d like to take 90 days off,” just either to get reinvigorated to work another five years or to decide that now is the time and you never know what they’re going to say, unless you ask.
Steve: That’s awesome. All right, well, look, before we wrap up, I wanted to kind of share that story you share with me about … you mentioned this is one of your biggest success stories and I’m not here to pump up our platform at all, but I thought it was just interesting, do you know what I’m talking about, the three preventions?
Joe: Yeah, I had an individual contact me based on one of my videos. I mentioned NewRetirement and this person did three scenarios in NewRetirement. The pessimistic, the base plan and the optimistic plan. This person, he gave me each one of your reports, they were like 31 pages long. So he send me 93 pages of analysis and he sent me two or three pages in Word of what he had going on. This guy had a 99% probability of success. I’m looking at all his numbers. I’m saying, “Good gosh, this is easy, easy, easy,” but he had three pensions, three great pensions, okay? One had a 0% survivor benefit, one was 25 and one was 50. That’s the highest he can get on these. So I said to him, I said, “Hey, why don’t you …” I’m going to live to, I think he had like 95 in there, him and his wife are going to live 95.
I said, “Why don’t you put 65 in there and see what happens?” He put 65 in there and it went down to less than 15 and it terrified him. It’s just like, “Well, hey, it’s good to terrify you while you’re still alive and while you can still take action on this.” He just had no idea, and this is why, you have to phone a friend or you have to have a retirement group that can see an obstacle or some challenge that you may not … there’s just too many numbers and too many scenarios and you got taxes and Roth conversions and social security you’re trying to manage and debt, and this guy just couldn’t see something that I was able to pick up. It took me about 20 minutes because there was a lot of stuff to get through. It took me about 20 minutes and it just … hey, I don’t think this is going to solve here. I’m pretty concerned about this.
The reason I was able to get it so quick I think is because I’ve been doing a lot of work on when to take social security. I made a few videos on that and you wouldn’t believe the vast majority of people want … hey I want to take it at 62. I want to get what the government owes me, and I’m like, “Well, what’s the impact on your spouse if you die, if you’re the primary money earner, what’s the impact? It’s pretty big, so it makes sense to me, your software package, you take it from 62 and you pump it out to 70, it’ll say this is worth $276,000.15. I mean it takes the emotion out of it and it says, it’s worth more money. That’s what I was I was able to do with this guy. I said, “Hey put in 65,” boom. It’s not just me telling him I think that’s a bad idea or I’m concerned about your plan.
It was like … it went from 99 to less than 15 and he had a bad night of sleep. I set up a meeting with him the next morning because I knew this is going to ruin this guy’s life until we work through this. So I said, “Hey, wait a second. He had a life insurance policy on him and his wife.” Okay, his wife died early, it really didn’t affect his finances at all. So I said, “Hey, why don’t you try dropping your wife’s insurance policy, doubling yours, maybe tripling yours and insert that in with you dying at 65 and put that in and what’s it solved?” He got it up to like 91. So he’s like, “Okay, okay. I got it planned. I got it planned.” That was my most high drama situation. I’ve talked to countless individuals on social security and using the software to put a dollar figure on that decision.
That emotional decision that I want my social security early. Okay, what’s the consequence of that to the dollar? That’s been hundreds of people, literally hundreds of people with that and then, also looking at taxes. I’ll worry about taxes when I … I don’t worry about taxes, I just take out 4% a year. Then, they get your software package and it says, you’re going to be into 38% bracket and you’re going to pay this much in taxes. They’re like, “Holy cow, you got to do something. Those are big red bars. I got to do something about that.”
Steve: 100%, yeah, I think ultimately, the 401K is not a free lunch. The government wants its money and that’s why they have RMDs, right? They force you to take that, recognize that, and if you start living a long time, it becomes big. You’re suddenly … later years, you’re having to take out huge chunks, huge chunks of your portfolio and that could create massive tax consequences.
Joe: Absolutely, and it’s easy not to think about that. The graph makes it in your face, and gives you recommendations on what to do.
Steve: We’re definitely going to have get you on our beta testing group and get a bunch of feedback from you about our platform, on how we can make it better. I’ll have our product team call you.
Joe: The one thing I have suggested some things into … through the chat box with you guys. I mean I’d like to see something on this early death. Everybody is worried about running out of money because they’re living too long. Well what if they die early? One spouse … is there a way that the software could run some tests to say, “Hey, you’ve got a risk of dying early because if this person dies, everything falls apart to automatically trigger what I found.”
Steve: Yeah, we’re going to try to … I mean, we’re having a better version of the scenario tool that’s in … it’s been designed, it’s being built right now and then we’re going to … we’re talking about ways to make it easy to stress us, to identify things, ideally the software go through and just like see that, we run a bunch of simulations and say, look, here’s the number one risk for you that you may not have considered, right? Because there’s also Monte Carlo, like living our … historical back testing, looking at what if there’s another great depression? What if we have another great financial crisis? What happens to your situation?
Joe: It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s another much more rigorous testing than just the 4% rule, and that’s what … like I said, 68% of the people that I polled said that they’re really not looking at RMDs. They’re really not looking at optimizing social security, and I think there’s a huge opportunity to get better information, and I think it helps people with somebody like me that says, “I can’t juggle all these balls. I can’t think through the 14 different scenarios myself, so it’s okay if you can’t.”
Steve: Well, actually, this is really interesting just on this topic. I mean we are in the middle of a massive drawdown, right? So you retired four or five years ago. The market is off 25%, right? I mean it’s very scary. I mean obviously, you have a strong plan and you think about this a lot, but how are you coping emotionally? Is it … you seem fine but-
Joe: Yeah. Well, my standard answer is, I’ve got a video on that, but I use … my short answer is I use buckets of money. I have buckets of money. I started out this year. I started out my retirement with four years of money out of the market. Then, I have four years of money that’s in balanced kind of funds, 60/40 kind of stuff. Then, I have a bucket three that is 100% in stocks. What buckets allow you to do, it allows you to put a time period on a financial situation. So let me describe that, so the market has been down for nine months. Well, when I look at my portfolio, I’ve got three and a half more years of bucket one money that’s out of the market. So if the bear market lasts three and a half more years, yeah, I’ll probably start getting a little concerned.
If you just got a normal portfolio of 70/30, you’re panicking, 70/30. Do I have enough money? I don’t know if I have enough money. My bonds have been down. My stocks have been down, “Oh my gosh, do I have enough money?” There’s a lot of panic, and what I tell people, the number one challenge to your finances in retirement is you, not the market. It’s what you do and what buckets … I have so much money out of the market, a little bit more than most, but four years is what I felt was the right … if you look back at history and says, “Okay, a bear market tends to last around a year. You’ll get a recovery that may take a year to 18 months, after that.” So three years should cover 85% of historical bear markets.
So I got four, I’m doing nothing different. I’m doing nothing. My stocks are down like 28% or something right now. I’m doing absolutely nothing different and not stressing it all because I’m planning on a bear, they happen. They happen.
Steve: So basically, you will reload … assuming the market comes back and generally the market does go up over time, right? As the market recovers, then you’ll refill your first bucket.
Joe: Exactly right. So once a quarter, I get into my software, my NewRetirement, I do all the math and everything and I sit there and say, “Okay, is the stock market up or down?” If the stock market is up or near new highs, something like that, I’ll top off bucket two and three and go on down the road. Now, if the stock market is down 30%, like it is right now, I look at bucket one and I say it’s doing exactly what it should be doing. It’s protecting me from making stupid decisions with my bucket two and three money. Great, I’m going to do nothing.
Steve: So it’s really interesting. So one construct is you’re basically paying yourself every four years and you’re just … well, it allows you to control, how you take this out, but you can really be … I do this with our 529, so the market is down. I’ll decide, do I take money from the 529 for our kids in college or do I pay cash out of other buckets. The market is down and I’m like, “Forget it, I’m just going to leave the money in the 529 and do it that way.”
Joe: Well, if the market … the opposite of that is if the market is going up, I may top off the bucket one every quarter because it needs to be … its gas tank needs to be full to handle a three to four year total cycle. So if I’ve spent three months worth of money, I top it off. If I spend another three months of money, I top it off, if the market is near new highs. Then, when it drops down you go, “Okay, do your job, run the gas tank all the way down if you need to.”
Steve: Okay. Now, I have another related question. Given how you’re managing this, are you still accumulating money?
Joe: Actually, yeah, I have … Even with the downturn going on, I just looked at this the other day, I’m up about 6% of what I retired with.
Steve: Do you envision that continuing? I mean the data actually shows this, that people … there’s two kinds of people in retirement. There’s people that don’t have enough money and they kind of run out of it and then, the people that have enough money, they keep building it and also, I saw, as you called somebody else out, which is people do spend less money every year and kind of every decade, roughly 1% per year they spend less. So like you told about people like saying, “Oh, I want to have … I think I’m going to be spending a lot more when I’m 95.” No, you’re going to spending less now. Don’t plan for that.
Joe: Yeah, yeah, absolutely right. The thing about my wife and I, now that we’re retired, we’re not going to change our lifestyle and say, “Hey, I want to start buying new cars and have two vacation homes and start staying in five star hotels.” We’re not going to change like that. That’s not how we were raised and what we’re about. So yeah, if the stock market performs anywhere close to historical. We will be growing money every single year, every single year, especially because of the way I’m invested in bucket three money, it’s money that I’m not planning on touching for at least nine years. So then that allows all this drama to play out. Absolutely, why hit the optimistic on the NewRetirement software, it looks freaking great, and if I hit the pessimistic, it looks good.
So I think I’m in good shape and it’s nice to see those charts, but yeah, absolutely. Now, the question … if I knew exactly what the market was going to do, I may do some things differently with my money. My wife and I give away a lot of money, but could I give my kids some money early to help them on their journey? Maybe help them with a down payment on a house, but I don’t know what the market is going to do, so I can’t give away … we could be in for a 10 year neutral market, which I can handle, but I don’t have a lot of excess, I don’t have any excess if that happens.
Steve: Yeah, that’s interesting. I mean, I think for a lot of our … not a lot, but some of our users, this becomes a reality, and then, you also have to start thinking about intergenerational planning and the tax rate of your kids, what’s going to go to them. Also, we should do another podcast about making sure that you don’t over-hedge them because you don’t want … I have some friends that are like, their kids are going to inherit way too much money and they’re trying to not share that with their children. They don’t want their kids to know that like, “Hey, they might be financially independent because of all the hard work the parents did in their 30s or something like that,” which can screw you up in different ways.
Joe: It can actually screw up the kids, and I actually had my kids every … all four of them came to me individual and said, “Hey dad, we don’t want your money. Retire early, as early as you can. Have an epic of retirement. We don’t want your money.” They’ve got good jobs. Good careers. A couple of them will do far better than I did financially, and a couple of them chose careers where they’re going to be a little more middle of the road, but I was really proud when they told me that they don’t want my money. I think that hurts kids, that … well, what you’re doing, in my opinion, you’re enabling kids to live beyond their means. So if you give them, just say, something like a million dollars for each kid, well, all of a sudden, hey, I’m going to buy that new car. I’ve got to have that new couch.
I got to go on this vacation. You’re allowing them to develop some bad habits and you think you’re helping them.
Steve: Yeah, it’s slippery. It’s a slippery slope. Yeah, it’s awesome. No, it’s interesting how much … how you’re raised influences you and then, you have to be really thoughtful about what you do for other people, even if you have the capacity to do it.
Joe: Yeah. I credit my mom and dad for how they raised me, and one of my videos, I talk about what … when I started working for this Alcoa company, I had a 400 square feet apartment. I had a barreled lawn chair to sit on in my … and I had a barreled black and white TV, a card table, four chair card table, that I borrowed from my mom and dad, and I had a twin bed that was mine at home that I borrowed from them. That’s what I started with when I was 22. So it’s not like, yeah, I started off with two million and just kind of managed that and fell backwards into this.
Steve: The stories that … as we wrap up here, one thing I’ve heard is it’s really important for your kids to hear the stories of their grandparents and parents and how they came up because it makes it more real for them, especially if they lived … clearly your kids have grown up at least looking from your background, and a bigger, better house than your 800 square foot house that you grew up in, but for them to know where you came from and that you’re a self-made person, I think is pretty powerful, and I think everybody … if they can be self-made, it’s better, because they know they can do it. Okay, I can fall back. First case is I can go to zero and make it work, if I’ve got the human capital and work ethic to make it go in this country. Any parting thoughts for our audience and your audience as we go?
Joe: Yeah, my last thought is … and I’ve said this, but it’s, retire whenever you can, as soon as you can. Life is short. Start another journey. It is going to be scary, but jump and talk to somebody that’s been retired for five years that’s been on a new journey and they’ll say they should have retired earlier.
Steve: All right. Well that was awesome. This has really been a good podcast. Joe, I really appreciate your time. So I’m just going to close this out. So Joe, thanks for being on our show. For folks listening, I mean, we talked about it, but our goal is to help everyone make good financial decisions and achieve good outcomes in a completely aligned, independent way, and if you made it this far, definitely check out Joe’s YouTube channel, Joe Kuhn. You can Google it or you can check out our community at newretirement.com and I’ll link to all these things and this will be available in our show notes. Then, finally, I think probably both of us are looking for reviews. I’m sure Joe has a lot more than we do, but it’s always good to get feedback and learn how we can do better for podcasting, YouTube channels and software and so forth. So with that, thank you and have a good day.
Joe: Thanks, Steven.
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