One of the most read articles I’ve ever written for FedSmith was titled, Winning the Lottery is Not a Retirement Plan. It recounted the limited number of options for creating income in retirement. This revised article will show you how winning the lottery just may be the key to a successful retirement – depending on how you define lottery.
There are only a few ways to accumulate money. This is true whether you’re saving for retirement, vacation or your children’s college. Some of the common ways to obtain money are:
- Earn it/save it – Yes, plain, old-fashioned hard work is the way most of us get money. If you don’t earn it, it’s hard to save it, so this combination is the most important thing you can do to put yourself in control of your retirement.But all earnings are not created equal and getting a federal job can be like winning the lottery – the career lottery that is. If you are going to work for a living, wouldn’t a job with the opportunity for growth up a pay scale, sometimes even without a college education, be a good place to look? And the reward at the top of that ladder is a pension for life based on your High-3 salary.
- Marry it – While not as common, or maybe as easy, as working a federal job to get money, marrying someone who already has assets is another option. Also known as winning the matrimonial lottery, this is more like a traditional lottery – a little less in your control and you still have to play to win.
- Inherit it – The equivalent of winning the genetic lottery is to simply be born to (or know) the wealthy and wait for them to…expire. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with this plan.People often want to include their “expected” inheritance in their retirement plan before the will has actually been read – or the person has even passed away, for that matter. Until the funds are actually in your account, you may want to leave them off your balance sheet and out of your retirement income plan.
- Win it – It doesn’t have to be the lottery. It could be poker in Las Vegas, the local raffle or any other game of chance. And counting on winning money to fund your retirement plan is just that – a game of chance. Initially, it requires you to actually buy a ticket, and then it requires a great amount of luck. More luck than most people can muster.
So out of these four ways, which one do you have the most control over? You can’t control the family you’re born into and you don’t have much control over who leaves you money. You can control who you marry and how many lottery tickets you purchase, but the odds are determined by others. Which leaves us with winning the career lottery.
If you’re reading this article, it is likely that you are a federal employee, are married to one, or at the least, know one. Unlike the PowerBall lottery, there are things you can do to control your fate in the career lottery.
- Control your pension – It’s too late to control when you start your federal service, but you determine when you’ll retire. The longer you work, the higher your pension. While salaries are essentially frozen right now (unless you’re in line for a step increase), your annuity still increases each year based on years of service.
- Control your High-3 – Apply for promotions near the end of your career. With over 600,000 federal employees being eligible to retire right now (and many of them taking that route because of threats to change benefits), there should be opportunity for new positions – lots of it – in the next few years. Increasing your High-3 at the end of your career allows you to use the higher number in the calculation of your annuity for all your years – even if you started as a GS 2.
- Control your TSP – Remember the first way to accumulate money. Yes, it’s to save, and the TSP is a great place to do that, particularly if you’re in FERS. Accelerating your contributions, even near the end of your career, can have a dramatic positive impact on your retirement income.
- Control your benefits – Make sure you understand your options when it comes to both Federal Employees Group Life Insurance “FEGLI” and your Federal Employees Health Benefits “FEHB.” How you maximize these benefits can help you pay less for coverage and get more usable benefits for you and your family.
A lot of people have a list of what they are going to do if they win the lottery. As a federal employee, you’ve won the career lottery. What you do with the proceeds is up to you.