Fiduciary Lawyer Sheryl Garrett on Designing a Retirement Lifestyle

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“Money by itself does not provide security,” said Sheryl Garrett, founder of the Garrett Planning Network, in a recent interview with ThinkAdvisor.

The planning practice innovator, 60, lets take a look at what she calls a “lifestyle design” for her own retirement. It will be on the 30 acres in Arkansas that she owns and resides with her 11-year-old daughter.

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

“People have to prepare for where they’re going and what they want to do in retirement,” she says.

The community setting she envisions for herself may be reminiscent of her great-grandmother’s days, but that sharing mindset is precisely what Garrett hopes for in retirement.

“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-based financial advice by planners who adhere to the fiduciary standard and charge by the 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 when lobbying the Department of Labor for its fiduciary rule. He said she was a financial adviser who came into the business to help people.

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

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

For the past few years, she has been planning her retirement. That plan, however, underwent some changes with the death of Garrett’s wife last fall, leaving her and the couple’s young daughter to be raised alone.

On her sprawling property outside Eureka Springs in the Ozarks, she owns seven buildings — including log cabins that she rents out to tourists — and where she plans to one day build a small retirement home.

An industry activist, Garrett worked with the House Subcommittee on Financial Services and testified before Congress on Social Security reform. She has been named seven times to Investment Advisors’ annual list of the most influential people in financial planning, IA25.

She grew up in Emporia, Kansas, surrounded by “nature,” she says. Now she is “returning to it,” noting the trees, shrubs and garden she plants to produce food during her retreat.

“Access to food is security,” she notes.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Garrett, who was speaking by phone from home. Here are the highlights:

THINKADVISOR: What’s the first thing to keep in mind when considering retirement?

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

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

What is that?

I’m literally designing my retirement lifestyle, and part of that is making sure we live close to each other. In our design, we reflect on what we expect from our retirement.

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

What is the important question for pre-retirees to consider when deciding to move?

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

What 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 ten years?

What is another major design element of your retreat?

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

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

How do you plan for this when you retire?

I am taking the time right now to invest in plants, trees and shrubs to provide a substantial amount of food for enjoyment or need 20 years from now. I hope I will be there. Maybe not. But my daughter will.

Many people in pre-retirement or retirees 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 nuts. They just keep growing!

It’s so exciting when you can reach out and get strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants. And the figs taste like something you’ve never had.

I grew up in Emporia, Kansas. It’s just nature there. I played a lot in nature. And as I grew up, I come back to it.

Do you have a garden?

Yes, but it’s been fallow for about 15 years. I told a guy I wanted him plowed and reinstated.

And I’ll ask the neighbors who have birds if they want [to split the cost of] a fence. They will provide eggs. So we’re going to have layers and game birds or hens, or both.

Can designing one’s retirement be a means of providing additional income to retirees?

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