How Do I Control The Beast?

OK, how do I get ESPlanner to let me control total spending? It came up with a number that is about double what we actually spend then draws down our regular savings to pay for it. Huh? I really don't care what ESPlanner thinks we should spend. I only care about what we do spend and can spend in the future. We know what spending our lifestyle requires. The upshot is that the program draws down all of our regular savings in about 9 years when nothing of the kind will happen since our actual spending will be nothing close to what ESPlanner suggests it will be. How can I force it to be more reasonable?


The easiest way is to adjust the Standard of Living in the Assumptions tab. I describe a process for this in the comment to the link below describing a "safety factor" approach:


dan royer's picture

Yes, it's a spend til the end approach--it leaves nothing on the table unless you tell it to with Estate or give it away as special expenditures. If you spend less now by lowering the living standard in the near term, of course that will cause you to spend more in the far term.

It's good to be aware of what you "do spend" but what the program is showing you is what you "can spend." It sounds like your are borrowing constrained, which is why you see a great deal more in the future and a spending down of our regular assets.

There are different ways to manage that, special withdraws for example. But if you want to lower your living standard (discretionary spending) in the short term you can do that but you'll see even more in the long term than you see now. Perhaps that's a good thing. Different people would view that differently. ESPlanner is a descriptive tool, and you an adjust variables to describe things differently if you want to.

Thank you. I ended up getting reasonable spending numbers by using a combination of your suggestions. I set the spending growth rate after 2015 to 0.5% and then "gifted" approximately all of our regular assets at age 100 as a special withdrawal. I also reduced the rate of return on our retirement assets to 4% which seemed to help.

There is still one quirk and that is there seems to be a recommendation for excessive life insurance and the value seems to go up as spending decreases which makes no sense to me. It recommends life insurance for my wife greater than 15x her annual income when she is retiring in 7 years. What variables go into that calculation and can I control them at all? Also, the current amount of life insurance premiums ESPlanner thinks we are paying is about 3x higher than we are actually paying. Part of that is due to the fact that on one of our policies it is an employer paid term policy and on another is a paid-up policy. Where does ESPlanner get those current premium amounts from? Can I control that at all?

I don't mind getting recommendations, but I want to be able to massage the results when they seem unreasonable.


The approach I mention above doesn't have these issues. By putting in a large end of life expense, you force the program to protect against this with life insurance among other issues.

Instead, you can adjust the standard of living very flexibly to meet your specific needs. Essentially, this approach has you spend less than ESPlanner's recommendations (you decide how much less) which builds up assets (or prevents them from being spent) until later in life.


I'm close to retirement. If I enter data in such a way that avoids any $0 balance in regular assets, I get a smooth standard of living for life. But, as Brian observes, ESP suggests spending more than I currently choose. I'm very comfortable with my current lifestyle and am not depriving myself of anything.

I manipulate that by increasing my reserve fund enough now to make my regular assets go to 0 at the last year before retirement, then release all of my reserve funds in the year I retire. (My retirement accounts are, in effect, my reserve fund at that point.) The result is a smooth SOL until I retire, followed by a different smooth SOL until my demise.

Having accomplished that, I then tweak the reserve fund contribution up until ESP's suggested discretionary spending matches my budgeted discretionary spending. (My budget in Quicken is arranged to conform to the different sections in ESP, e.g., housing, savings, special expenses, etc.)

Since I set my reserve fund to 0 at retirement, the increased reserves are shifted to retirement. Because the modest change in retirement SOL is spread over the rest of my life, the difference is small. But I share Brian's view that I don't want to spend more now than I am, and I'm very comfortable with that amount.

This approach validates both my current budget and ESP's future projections. That assumes future predictable spending (college, housing changes, weddings, LTC expenses) and income (SS and pension, investment returns) are as representative of reality as is practical.

dan royer's picture

Yes, I like those strategies. Brian and Chris always have good ideas.

For the record on the life insurance: It's the dollar amount that year that the survivor would have to have his spouse died in that year to support the same per-adult living standard. It's on the to-do list to adjust those life insurance premiums, but of course different companies, rates, etc. They have not been adjusted in awhile and term life seems to always get cheaper I guess.

To make sense of her life insurance, you'd look at her income among other things. Does she have a pension with no survivor benefit for example?

dan royer's picture

There's also the setting in Retirement accounts under the Smooth Withdraw tab that allows you to indicate the percentage of retirement assets to be spent. If you set that to 75% or 50% or whatever, it will leave money in those accounts when you die. Your net worth (see net worth report) will be higher when you die and thus you'll have a lower living standard when you are alive.

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