Trust Attorney Sheryl Garrett on Designing a Retirement Lifestyle

“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, allows a look 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 lives with her 11-year-old daughter.

At the same time, the Certified Financial Planner offers valuable advice to financial advisors to conduct retirement planning with clients.

“People need to prepare for where they are going and what they want to do in retirement,” she emphasizes.

The shared framework she envisions for herself may date back to great-grandmother’s day, but that mindset of sharing is exactly what Garrett hopes for when he retires.

“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 from planners who adhere to the trusted standard and charge per 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 Labor Department’s push for its trustee board. He said she was a financial advisor who went into business to help people.

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

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

For the past few years, she has been designing her retirement. That plan has undergone a change, however, when Garrett’s wife died last fall, leaving her with the couple’s young daughter to raise alone.

On her large property outside Eureka Springs in the Ozarks, she has seven buildings – including log cabins she rents out to tourists – and where she plans 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 on Investment Advisor’s annual list of the most influential people in financial planning, the IA25.

She grew up in Emporia, Kansas, in the middle of “nature,” she says. Now she “circles back to it,” noting the trees, shrubs and garden she plants to produce food in her retirement.

“Access to food is security,” she notes.

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

THINKADVISOR: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about retirement?

SHERYL GARRETT: People need to prepare for where they are going and what they want to do in retirement.

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

What is it?

I am literally designing my retirement lifestyle and part of that is making sure we live close together. In our design, we think about what we want out of retirement.

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

What is a significant issue early retirees need to consider when deciding to relocate?

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

What will happen if you live there in 30 years? What will your house be worth? Do you really want to move to an area that you may have to move from in five or 10 years?

What is another important component of designing your retirement?

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

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

How do you plan for retirement?

I spend time right now investing in plants, trees and shrubs to provide a significant amount of food for pleasure or need in 20 years. Hopefully I’ll be here. Maybe not. But it will be my daughter.

Many early retirees or pensioners have the 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 is 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 nothing you’ve ever had.

I grew up in Emporia, Kansas. It’s just nature out there. I have played a lot in nature. And as I’ve grown up, I circle back to it.

Do you have a garden?

Yes, but it has been fallow for about 15 years. I told one guy I want it plowed and re-established.

And I will ask neighbors who have birds if they want [to split the cost of] a fence. They will deliver eggs. So we must have egg-layers and wild hens or hens, or both.

Could designing their pension be a way to provide retirees with additional income?

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