I’m sure you guys remember the last time I did a mailbag. It was all sorts of awesome, and you probably had to sit down and fan yourself because it gave you the vapors. Actually, now that I think about it, you guys have to do that after most every post. Anyway, I hate to break it to you, but those questions weren’t real questions from real people. I pulled them out of my ass. Oh, quit pretending to be surprised.

Good news everybody! This time, a real life person has asked me for some financial planning advice, and has given me permission to share their details online, minus any personal information. So what I’m going to do is outline her situation and what I’d recommend she do. Then, once I’m done, you guys can give your opinion in the comments section. Or not. See if I care.

Age: 76

Net Worth: $250k cash, $100k house

Approximate monthly expenses: $2500

Pension income: ~$800 per month

Risk tolerance: Low. “I don’t want to lose any money.” That’s a direct quote.

Other notes: Would like to leave an inheritance for her children.

Option 1: GICs

It becomes clear pretty quickly that Agnes here (not her real name, but lets go with that) has gotten some bad luck by needing to invest now during this low interest rate environment. Have you all seen how craptacular GIC rates are lately? The best 5 year rate I could find is from ICICI bank, (which, frankly, sounds a little like a made up institution) which is paying out 2.85%. Yawn.

I just checked 3 year GIC rates, and ICICI also leads the pack with a 2.35% rate. She’ll be getting a 0.5% to lock up her money for an extra 2 years. That’s not much of a premium to increase the term by 66%.

Obviously, if she goes this route, she’ll have to start eating away at her principle. Let’s assume we put $100k in a 5 year GIC and $100k in a 3 year GIC, leaving $50k in cash so she can withdraw without a penalty.

$100k @ 2.35% = $2,350

$100k @ 2.85% = $2,850

Total = $5,200 or $433.33 per month

Total shortfall: $2500-$800-$433.33 = $1,266.67 per month

Principle lost every year: $15,200

Our test subject is going to bleed cash pretty quickly if we do this option. After 3 years, she’ll have just $205k of her $250k nest egg left. This is probably not an ideal outcome.

Option 2: Bonds

Scenario 2 involves taking a bit more risk, and investing the portfolio entirely in Canadian bonds. Let’s assume a simple scenario and invest her in the following:

XBB (Canadian government and corporate bond index (50%) current yield: 3.2%

XCB (Canadian corporate bond index (25%) current yield: 3.9%

XLB (Canadian long term bond index) 3.7%

Total average yield: 3.5%

Option 2 gives us a little better yield, her $250,000 would spin off $8,750 per year. This decreases the annual shortfall to $11,650. Instead of taking 3 years to burn through $45k of her savings, this decreases the burn rate enough that it’ll take 4 years to burn through pretty much the same amount. That’s progress.

Option 3: Annuity/GIC combo

The best quote I could find online for an annuity for a 75 year old woman (keep in mind our subject is 76, and should be able to do slightly better) was $678.06 for a $100k investment.

Let’s assume she puts the other $100k in a 3 year GIC (2.35%) and keeps $50k in cash.

Annuity payment: $8,136.72

GIC payment: $2,350

Total: $10,486.72

Total shortfall: $9.913.28

This option works out the best for monthly cash flow, and cuts our burn rate to less than $10k a year. As is the case with annuities, she does pretty well with this option if she lives to 95. If she only makes it to 79, not so much.

Option 4: Annuity and Bonds

Finally, we have the option that’s perhaps the most risky – buying both an annuity and spreading the rest into our bond portfolio.

Bonds: $150k at 3.5% = $5,250/yearly

Annuity: $8,136.72

Total: $13,386.72

Total shortfall: $7013.28

Option 4 leaves us with the smallest shortfall yet, our test subject will only be bleeding $7,000 per year. This is good, except she’ll slowly have to sell off her bonds in order to live. Even though bonds have somewhat stable prices, many people think that bonds are massively overvalued right now. 2 out of 3 of the bond funds we picked are relatively short term in nature, but market sentiment can send them down.

Yes, if rates go up, they will be constantly replacing their old bonds with new ones that have a better coupon rate. This is good for Grandma Agnes. Except, like I mentioned earlier, the fund will undoubtedly be losing value at the same time. This is bad. She specifically stated she didn’t want to take on risk, and I don’t want to be responsible for causing some sort of heart attack when someone takes her on Google and shows her how her bond funds are doing.

Where does that leave us? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not sure I want to be trying to explain to a 76 year old woman (who knows sweet bugger all about finance) about how giving $100k of her cash to an insurance company is a good idea. If she puts the money in GICs she’ll constantly fall short each month, but she’ll have the security of knowing that money is at the bank. Then, if she makes it another 5 years, hopefully interest rates have risen enough by then that she can actually get closer to living off the interest.

It’s your turn. What should Agnes do? You know where the comment section is.

Tell everyone, yo!