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FairfaxAuthors draw from own experiences in discussing retirement finances

Authors draw from own experiences in discussing retirement finances

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Retired financial planners Marjorie Fox and Eleanor Blayney spent their careers helping clients navigate the sometimes treacherous shoals of retirement.

Their recently published book, “Women Wise,” serves up financial advice for current and future retirees, but especially women, who tend to live longer.

“It wasn’t just for the consumer, but it’s really for the advisers who are introducing certain topics to their clients,” Fox said. “I don’t think this whole thing can be self-taught.”

Future retirees should consider where they plan to live in their later years and acknowledge the reality that their mobility and health may be compromised, the authors wrote.


“You must think ahead,” Fox said. “You cannot assume, if you’re in a single-family home, particularly one with stairs, that you’re going to age in place.”

Fox advised couples to postulate negative outcomes as well as positive ones.

“Plan for a survivor’s scenario as well as the happily lived ever after,” she said.

Fox’s own life got turned upside down in 2016. Her husband, David, fell down a flight of stairs, suffered severe brain trauma and died two weeks later.

Fox had been busy running an investment firm and her husband had handled their retirement preparations.

“I was kind of the absentee pre-retiree,” she said. “I left it to him.”

Fox’s husband made good decisions, but others might not be so lucky. She urged people not to put off retirement planning.

“Fifty is not too early,” she said. “Certainly, 60 is timely and if you wait until 70, I think you’re running the risk of not making the optimal decisions.”

A former McLean resident, Blayney now lives in a senior community in Gig Harbor, Wash. Fox, a former Great Falls resident, now lives in Reston and eventually plans to move into The Mather retirement community in Tysons.

Fox joined the Great Falls Writers Group shortly after her husband died, met a publisher and worked on a book idea that eventually fell through. But Fox was able to carry over that book contract to her collaboration with Blayney, who had the original vision for “Women Wise.”

The book’s detailed table of contents lets readers select topics that resonate with them and go directly to those chapters. The authors included plenty of their own mistakes as cautionary tales.

“We felt it was only fair,” Fox said. “We didn’t want to lecture from the top down.”

The book encourages readers to ask themselves how much money they can spend safely in retirement, given market fluctuations and inflation, and how they can create a paycheck for themselves by drawing upon their investment portfolio and other income sources, such as Social Security.

“What you want is a way to access your accounts that will shelter you from the volatility of the stock market and the bond markets and also will send you just the amount of money that your financial plan tells you that you’re going to need in the coming year,” Fox said.

The co-authors divvied up which chapters they would write. Neither wanted to write the annuities chapter, but Fox drew the short straw.

The authors as financial planners opposed annuities because of their high costs, but changed their minds about certain kinds of annuities while writing the book.

“We think annuities should be about creating a supplemental income stream that will last as long as you do,” Fox said.

Fox sees home-equity conversions, such as federally backed reverse mortgages, as a neglected funding source.

“You don’t want to have to sell stocks in a market like this because something wasn’t in your budget,” she said.

Wade Pfau, professor of retirement income at the American College of Financial Services, met Fox a decade ago when they were participating at financial-planning conferences.

“The main thing that I learned from reading her book was just how to better humanize the process to understand the specific issues facing single women and widows,” he said. “These are important matters that do tend to get overlooked.”

Alexandra Armstrong, chairman emeritus of the financial firm Armstrong, Fleming and Moore Inc. and author of two financial books for women, said “Women Wise” is an excellent resource for advisers working with female retirees.

“I think the fact they revealed their own stories as related to the topic made it interesting,” she said.

One positive trend in the retirement-planning industry is its focus on the whole person, not just technical matters, Fox said. This includes the human “soft side” of retirement, such as asking clients how they plan to spend their time, and what kind of legacy they wish to leave, she said.

Transitions – such as births of children, job losses and death of loved ones – are an integral part of life, and the book dedicates a chapter to helping readers navigate them.

“You’re going to go through a process,” Fox said. “You’re not going to just wake up one morning two weeks after your spouse has died and get on with your life.”

Fox’s future plans? Enjoy friendships, spend more time with her granddaughters who live in California, read books she never had time for before, take up playing piano again and maybe play paddleball.

“I’m feeling a little anxious,” she said. “I don’t want to be left with time on my hands.”

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