• Stephen Gardner

The Pumpkin Retirement Plan: Cultivate the Best Investments and Prune the Worst

Right now I can’t get on the internet without seeing Donald Trumps orange face and the next amazing pumpkin recipe. The internet has exploded with the color orange! It’s only August and Costco is already selling costumes.


As you and your family make plans for how to carve up your pumpkin, here are some ideas on how growing a pumpkin may give you a winning model to replicate with your investments and retirement dollars.


There is a fantastic book called The Pumpkin Plan by author Mike Michalowicz. Admittedly, the book is for business owners and entrepreneurs, but the story line applies to hard working Americans who want to retirement with confidence and peace of mind. The model can also inspire those already retired to cut their withering, unproductive investments and focus on the ones that are producing.


In order to grow the big pumpkins, farmers must ‘weed out the losers and get rid of the rotten pumpkins that stunt the growth of the healthy ones’ as described in the books summary. This same advice can be applied to planning for retirement. There are thousands of ways to grow and invest money. Most of them are duds, under performers, unreliable or hyped up Wall Street garbage. It’s up to you to figure out which strategy and investment is best as you approach and enter retirement.



For younger people, the focus is how to accumulate while avoiding losses and taxes. For those that are young at heart but older in years, their thinking turns to avoid losses, producing income and leaving a legacy to their family.


“If you haven’t found a strategy that fits you comfortably by retirement, says asset protection specialist Mark Maiewski, then you’re going to get caught up in the ‘how can I grow my money faster’ cycle and end up taking on risks that cause stress and most than likely will incur losses.”


Mark continues, “If you can personally manage your assets because you understand how they work and it gives you peace of mind, then go for it. Too many people don’t want responsibility for their money, yet they still assume all the risk by letting someone else handle it for them. Your plan should involve some level of understanding and participation. A winning plan will avoid losing money.”


A quote from the The Pumpkin Plan book may help, “When they grow larger, identify the stronger, faster growing pumpkins. Then, remove all the less promising pumpkins. Repeat until you have one pumpkin on each vine.”


I recently spoke with a woman in Florida who read my book Smartest Woman in the Room and asked for a conference call with me and her advisor. She was ready to start taking income but the stocks she owned were not providing enough consistency. I shared a few ideas with her advisor about bridge loans, and insurance products that helped him better allocate her money into income producing options. While she wouldn’t need to take a lot to live on, she wanted to eliminate the risk and have confidence her money would grow.

How many times have you heard to diversify as much as possible to avoid risk? I fear this strategy tends to spread people too thin and shatter their focus. Instead, cast a wide net and start to narrow down the best performers on your investment vine and then focus added attention on your winners.


I have found a few winners that my clients have come to love once they were educated on how it would protect and grow their money.


Andrew Carnegie is credited with saying, “The way to become rich is to put all your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket.”


“In retirement it is best to keep it simple, says Chuck Price, wealth manager for Price Financial Group Wealth Management. Less is more. For example: at age 70 you should have less than 30% risk in the market and by age 80, it should be less than 20%. Most of my retired clients have less than 10% exposure to risk.”


Price further explained, “It depends on the fund – but we feel it is important to also be aware of your taxation in retirement. For example, if you have equities in an IRA, you cannot write off a loss and if you have gains, it is ordinary income. We eliminate equities in most IRA accounts unless that is all they have.”


Using the pumpkin plan philosophy as a guide, you would have your money on several vines and then pare your options down over time to the best performers. This may be real estate, bonds, dividend paying stocks, bridge plans, life insurance or hybrid annuity programs, or a specific publicly traded company or your own business.


The major benefit of the pumpkin plan is to be conscious of the vines that are dying or losing your money. These are not reliable and become a cost center on your nest egg instead of a profit center. As you prepare your own plan, consider the need for income versus wealth.


After working with thousands of families over the years and more in depth with my own clients, the closer people get to retirement, the more they start to think in terms of income planning. Most people would prefer to have steady and abundant income than a nest egg to brag about.


Too many Wall Street only advisors set your focus on growth, growth, growth and then the ability to take only 3% of your money annually to live on. This strategy is super beneficial to the advisor but gives a lean income from a nest egg built over one’s lifetime. Heck, an annuity can do better than 3% and without all the risk. In fact, some specialized annuities have averaged earnings of 5-9% without downside risk!


It’s important to have a plan for your retirement dollars. As your money grows and as you come closer to harvest time, take time to understand how investments or lending works and begin to pare down your vine to a few reliable investments sources you can count on to produce income for the rest of your life.


As we get closer to Halloween and Thanksgiving, your life will most likely be inundated with pumpkins. Let them serve as a reminder to plant money in good soil, pare down your allocations to the ones you like and are most confident in and then let those put off income for the rest of your life.


Let me show you some of the best programs I have discovered after many hours of research and personal experience. Let me build you a custom plan based on your goals, time frame and interests. 

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