I do not plan to layout a template which can be followed step by step to plan for retirement. It would be difficult to do that as individual circumstances vary and so would the solution. My attempt in this post and the next would be to layout my thought process on various factors for retirement planning which can be used to think through and execute a plan.

Risk and return
The starting of risk and return should be risk and not returns. One should not start with a return target of x% and then work out the investment plan. On the contrary, it is important to look at your risk tolerance and how much time you would have to cover losses, if any.

Risk tolerance in turn is a difficult and subjective topic. What is risky for me, may be low risk for you. As a result, risk should be analyzed from a personal perspective. I personally do not follow the typical risk measures of beta and other such academic concepts.

I look at risk as doing something without the knowledge and experience to do it, especially where I do not have a clear view on how much I can lose in the worst case scenario. Lets explore that point further – Lets say I wish to invest for my family in such a way that they are able to get a return of 10-12% over 3-5 year period. It is easy to get around 8% through FDs and other such fixed income instruments. In order to get the extra 2-3% per annum, I need to look at equity to improve the returns.

My own personal experience and the last 10-25 yr data shows that the BSE index has returned between 12-15% per annum over the long term. However at the same time, this average return has been marked by 30% drops and 40% increases too. So in this case I can look at index funds as a possible option as I have a rough idea of the risk and return profile.

Now suppose someone suggests that I should invest in gold or real estate as these are good hedges against inflation. I would hesitate for multiple reasons

– I have never invested personally in these asset classes for investment purpose.
– There is lack of enough long term information and transparency in case of real estate (or atleast I do not have access to it)
– Gold has not provided good long term returns over the last 20 yrs. Now the next 10 yrs could be different and there seem to be a lot of pundits saying so, but I don’t have the data to validate it and hence would stay away from it.

In a nutshell, risk for me is a lack of understanding the investment option in terms of the long term return and the maximum possible loss under various scenarios.

Expected returns
The next aspect of investment planning is returns. Returns are closely tied with the level of knowledge and sophistication one can bring to the process of investing. Let’s look at some scenarios

The know nothing investor – you have no idea of investing and have never invested in the stock market. Your idea of a bull market is the bull or cow you may have seen in a local indian market :). A person who has no idea of even the basics of investing should look at investing in bank FDs and look at 7-8% returns. Such an individual when planning for retirement for self or for parents should not go beyond these FDs. There is however a risk for such an investor too. The risk is inflation. As the investor is barely earning 1-2 % above inflation (or even less), there is serious risk that the investor would not be able to support himself with the excess 1-2% returns over inflation. If the investor draws any more than 3% of the capital per annum for expenses, he or she will run out of money in due course of time

The beginner – you have some idea of investing. You have invested a little bit in mutual funds. You typically watch CNBC and think the anchors are dispensing good advise. Your idea of the stock market is that this place is like a casino where you can make it big or lose money big time. A person at this stage is at the highest risk of losing his or her capital. Half knowledge is always dangerous. A person at this stage needs to decide whether he is ready to invest the time to learn more about investing. If this person is not ready to invest the time and energy to do so, then the best option for such a person is to invest a small portion of his capital every month in a good index fund (via a systematic investment plan) and the rest in bank FDs. If the person is able to keep a 40-60 asset allocation (40% in equities), he or she can expect 10-11% returns over the long term.

The key issue for such an investor is that he or she needs to start saving and investing early in life and reduce the equity allocation to a max of 20% after retirement. I would not recommend an equity exposure (via index funds) of more than 20% of capital for anyone in this group who has crossed retirement.

The sophisticated investor – This kind of investor has been investing for the last 6-7 years. He or she has seen 1-2 bear market and has not been scared by it. He understands the risk involved in investing and has a fair amount of risk management skills. If you parents fall in this bucket, I doubt they would need your help.

If you are planning your own retirement and have 15-20 years to go, then you are in a good position. A 60-70% allocation in equities can be maintained. A 30-40% investment in stocks with the rest in good mutuals or index funds can be built via a systematic investment plan (investing a fixed amount of money each month).

This kind of investor needs to keep the long term in mind and should avoid a short term approach of performance chasing. The risk of losing capital for an extra 2-3% is fairly high and should be avoided. An investor in this group can expect around 13-15% return in the long run and if he or she starts an investment program early, should be able to retire very comfortably

The expert or the guru – This kind of investor has been investing for more than a decade. He or she has beaten the pants out of the market (in excess of 20%). If you parents are in this group, congratulations !!. They will take care of your retirement 🙂

If you fall in this group, I am not sure why you are reading this post. A person in this group has no reason to think or worry about his or her retirement. Any one who can compound money in excess of 20% can retire a very rich man ( for ex: such a person can convert 100000 to 40 lacs in 20 years). A person in this category can manage money for others and become seriously rich before his or her retirement.

Various instruments
In the above discussion I have discussed about fixed income instruments and equities. You would have noticed a lack of discussion about other assets such as real estate, gold, commodities, options etc. Let me share some thoughts on the various asset classes below

fixed income : One can expect returns in the range of 6-8% and low risk. Typical options are bank FDs, Post office deposits and debt mutual funds. All these options are low to very moderate risk and good for the first two group of investors (the know nothing and the beginner)

Equities : One can expect returns in the range of 12-14 %. Typical options are index funds and mutual funds. This option has moderate to high risk and should be handled with care. A beginner should look at only index funds or some good mutual funds. A sophisticated investor can look at stocks as long as he or she knows what they are doing. A lot of investors and financial planners would like to assume that equities can returns in excess of 20%. However the indian markets over the last 15-20 yrs (a typical retirement planning horizon) have returned around 13-14% and I would not like to assume anything more than that when planning for retirement.

Real estate : This asset class has become a hot favorite in the last few years. However the long term history of real estate across the world and across time horizons is that the returns from this asset class are 1-2% lower than equity. If you are beginner or a know nothing investor, I would really not look at putting money in real estate (other than for primary residence). This is an illiquid asset class with lack of transparency in india. If you are a sophisticated investor, then it may be possible to get a fair return, but then one has to be ready to spend the required time managing it too. I have written about real estate here in the past

Gold, commodities, and options – I have clubbed all these options on purpose. If you are a know nothing or beginner, I would stay away from these assets as far as possible. In these categories I will buy gold when I am buying jewelry for my wife and commodities when I need sugar or wheat for my kitchen :). The only group which should invest in these assets should be the experts. I would even say that sophisticated investors should not look at these assets for long term investing. If you need an ego boost, invest a little bit for fun, but If you are not an expert, you can get you’re a** kicked big time in the market.

If the above post has not put you to sleep already, then the next one will surely do it 🙂 I plan to cover the following topics – asset allocation, admin tasks, portfolio rebalancing and finally putting it all together


  1. S Bali says:

    Real estate bought prior to 1970s has returned 20+ rentals of 5%.
    That bought in 80-90s has returned 12-14% + rental yiels of 3-4%
    The expected returns now are 10-12% + yield of 2-3%.

    Property price index ARE AVAILABLE here:



    Remember the old story of the pigeon which on seeing the cat closes his eyes and assumes that the cat will disappear !

    For a long time I remained a (shortsighted) equity purist tracking only my stock market returns and bucketing real estate, life insurance, emergency cash and fixed deposits, co PPF and SA, etc as seperate and discrete thingas that were below my radar and hence, not worth tracking since I did not have any intellectual inputs and challenges in these classes.

    Thanks to my friend Sanjive Pandiya who showed me the folly and meaningless in this since all money is fungible (transfereble from one type to another seamlessly) and made me focus on WEALTH (net worth growth) and not on the narrow growth of equity portfolio (which averaged 12-30% of my networth over 2 decades Q. what to do when 90% of your money is tied up in a house??).

    THERE ARE VERY FEW PEOPLE IN INDIA WHO HAVE NO REAL ESTATE, AND KEEP 70-90% IN THE STOCK MARKETS, hence this is a critical learning that came to me very late in life.

  2. admin says:

    Hi S bali
    your points are valid and clearly show that you are atleast a sophisticated or an expert investor. An investor of this level has the skills and insight to invest in real estate at the right price and get good returns.
    However there are certain downsides to real estate
    – a certain minimum amount of capital ..you really cannot start off with a small amout of money
    – lack of transparency and legal risks – This market is still fairly unregulated with all kinds of unethical builders cheating the investor. again pricing is only now becoming transparent
    – admin work : there is quite a bit of work to be done to maintain your real estate and get the rentals. ofcourse now one can pay for these services too

    I am not denying that real estate is a decent option , but should be done only a knowledgable investor


Leave a Reply