The Cash Wedge – Managing market volatility

If you want to withdraw income from your portfolio, how much do you take out and when?

With the stock market up or down at any given time, how can you predict how the market will perform and how much you can take out?

This is where your cash wedge comes in – to help manage market volatility.

What is a cash wedge? How can it help you manage your portfolio?

Read on!

The Cash Wedge – A history lesson for any time

You might already know from a popular investing book entitled The Four Pillars of Investing (by William Bernstein), there are some fundamental investing concepts to understand to be a successful investor. I’ve leveraged those concepts for today’s post.

  • Pillar 1 – Investing Theory and Risk. Whether you invest in stocks, bonds, real estate or more speculative plays like Bitcoin, you should know that you’re mainly rewarded with returns for your exposure to just one thing— risk. This means the risk you take on, for the potential of higher returns, is related. That said, you should have a plan to weather any stock market or specific investing risk in the near-term if you ever need money from your portfolio in the coming years.

Source: The Four Pillars of Investing

  • Pillar 2 – Investing History and Returns. By investing history, what we mean is, from time to time the stock market and investors that invest in it go just bonkers. Yet, we see time and time again from investing history largely “this too shall pass”. So, over time, while any stock market returns might seem hard-pressed in the near-term, we see long-term equity returns trend upwards – if you hold on.

The Cash Wedge

Source: Google

The Cash Wedge

Source: Google

  • Pillar 3 – Investing Psychology and Your Returns. Knowing risk and return are related, understanding that stock markets are unpredictable and volatile usually over a period of weeks and usually months, yet largely predictable and stable when we look at multi-year investing history, it therefore makes sense that investing success will probably come down to your long-range behaviour. That includes when you decide to invest and when you decide to drawdown your portfolio.
  • Pillar 4 – Be Wary of the Entire Investing Industry. Banks will bank. Businesses will thrive when they make money. I believe the more you understand these basic concepts the better off as a consumer and investor you will be. The financial industry overall is part of a massive marketing machine designed to make money. This means, as a consumer and investor, you must be wary of the entire industry and their incentives. For sure, there are some great companies doing great things, delivering some value-added products and services for consumers, but never discount any of their motives. This makes your decision to invest in any financial product or pay for any financial service of utmost importance to your financial health.

The Cash Wedge – An approach for any time

Now that you understand the framing of where I am coming from, when it comes to holding cash, employing some sort of cash wedge in your asset accumulation years or your asset decumulation years can be a powerful tool when it comes to wealth creation or wealth preservation. 

Let’s explore.

The cash wedge to support asset accumulation

You might not really think about it this way, but any cash set aside for near-term expenses while you are saving for retirement and building your wealth is really a cash wedge. It’s as hedge against known or unknown risks. 

We read above that market volatility can be both an investor’s friend and foe.

If you are in your asset accumulation years, you should consider market volatility and any market declines a dear friend. Lower equity prices can be a great chance to buy your stocks on sale – at lower prices! Think of it this way: would you rather celebrate a sale at the grocery store or higher prices?? I know my answer!

For investors that have some cash set aside, when markets decline, you can rejoice and put that “dry powder” to work. I’ve learned to train my investing brain to invest when my favourite stocks or ETFs decline in value. It is my hope by reading my site you’ve learned to do the same over time.

Further reading:

How I invest in dividend paying stocks is always found here.

Why I invest in low-cost ETFs – along with dozens of articles about ETFs can be found here. 

By keeping cash / your cash wedge in any asset accumulation years, you’ve essentially got money ready to deploy in a liquid, highly accessible way to pounce on any stock market declines. Buying your equities when they go on sale is a GREAT way to fatten your investment portfolio for the future.

The cash wedge to support asset decumulation

For investors building wealth, while tanking markets are favourable for owning more stocks at lower prices, the inverse is true for folks decumulating their portfolios in semi-retirement or retirement. For anyone drawing down their portfolio, a bad set of market returns can be a admirable foe to fight. Any portfolio down in value, without a cash wedge, may also be a double-whammy if you consider inflation:

  1. You are forced to withdraw from your portfolio when asset values are down, and/or
  2. You are forced to withdraw from your portfolio when inflation could be higher – eating into any purchasing power.

(#1 is bad enough but when combined with #2 it can be disastrous.)

What we are really talking about here is sequence risk or sequence of returns risk. That’s really a way to say there is a risk that comes from the order in which your investment returns occur in any retirement drawdown. During the accumulation phase, regardless of whether a portfolio experiences poor or strong returns early on, the market value will be the same in the end assuming you stay invested. In your asset decumulation years, timing is everything. If the market is down and you must drawdown your retirement assets the longevity of your portfolio might be in question.

Check out this great, detailed post on managing sequence of returns risk in retirement including a case study. 

In asset decumulation, the sequence of investment returns is a major concern for those individuals who have just retired. Consider this: if the initial returns are positive, it’s clear sailing ahead for the retiree: capital can grow and gains can be taken as withdrawals as planned. But an investor who experiences a series of negative early returns in retirement must confront at least two issues if not three: capital must be sold for income needs, the smaller capital account that remains will compound less, and depending on inflation, you have less aforementioned purchasing power.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. If you develop a cash wedge for your retirement needs you can better navigate market volatility, in a very simple way. This cash wedge won’t cost much although there could be some opportunity costs. Yet the cash wedge will help you preserve some wealth during any market downturn, and help you stick to the long-term plan you’ve been building all along.

The Cash Wedge – Building it now or later

Whether you decide to build your cash wedge now (to help you in your asset accumulation years), or later, as you enter semi-retirement or retirement, I believe it’s an important approach to navigate uncertain market waters that will always persist.

Whether you are saving for retirement or in retirement, consider adding a cash wedge approach to your portfolio arsenal.

In your asset accumulation years, it could simply be a few thousand bucks (or more!) in a high-interest savings account. (Hint: see EQ Bank promotions and deals on my Deals page!)

In your asset decumulation years, a typical construction could be:

  • Year 1 – a year or so of expenses in cash and/or in a combination of cash and a money market fund that is highly accessible. This is the bucket where you draw your retirement income from or tap as needed in any bad market cycle. 
  • Years 2 and 3 – this is a portion of your retirement portfolio that is allocated into a guaranteed short-term investment, such as a 1-2 year Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC), some bonds or some fixed-income funds. On maturity when using GICs, these investments are used to replenish the retirement income bucket you’ll withdraw from (i.e., Year 1).
  • Years 4+ – the rest of your portfolio is left to grow, as a diversified equity portfolio, providing growth for future years and to fund the early-year buckets. Hopefully by years 4 or even 5, the equity markets have rebounded a bit. 

Check out this post about various Cash Wedge construction approaches here. 

Cash Wedge and Opening the Investment Taps

What is my cash wedge approach?

I’m likely to keep about (or just slightly more?) than a years’ worth of expenses in cash as I enter semi-retirement in a few years. Semi-retirement means I will still work. Many readers have asked me after reading this post when to start building their cash wedge. Well, as you can appreciate in this post I believe you should have a cash wedge as an investor – ideally – at all times!

However, owning your cash wedge becomes critical at the time of retirement. So, if you’re planning to retire in the coming 2-3 years, you should consider building your cash wedge now.

The Cash Wedge – Managing market volatility summary

As a prudent investor at any age, thankfully, there’s an option to manage market volatility in your asset building years or asset drawdown years: use the cash wedge.

The beauty of the cash wedge is that unlike other strategies, it is easy to implement, it costs next to nothing, it avoids any deep thought or any flawed decision-making about market timing, you certainly don’t need to pay fees to a financial advisor for it, and most importantly a cash wedge helps you with your other investment goals.

So much to love!

This is a good reminder to all of us that the perfect portfolio only exists in hindsight. Every retiree is going to face some sort of unique market conditions, spending needs, tax and withdrawal circumstances that are special to them. Therefore, the best way to hedge any sequence of returns risk is to have a flexible financial plan that allows for the occasional course correction. Consider this flexible spending approach to help you adjust to the realities of what the stock market and/or life could toss your way!

Use a Variable Percentage Withdrawal approach for retirement spending. 

The benefits of Variable Percentage Withdrawals (VPW)

Your approach should likely consider holding enough cash (or some fixed-income) in the form of a cash wedge to see you through a prolonged bear market so you avoid becoming a seller of equities at the worst possible time.

Thanks for your readership and I look forward to your comments about the cash wedge!

Further reading:

How much cash should you really keep?

Here are some overlooked retirement income planning considerations.

This is how you can generate retirement income.

My name is Mark Seed and I'm the founder, editor and owner of My Own Advisor. As my own DIY financial advisor, I've surpassed my goal and I'm now investing beyond the 7-figure portfolio to start semi-retirement with. Find out how, what I did, and what you can learn to tailor your own financial independence path. Subscribe and join the newsletter! Follow me on Twitter @myownadvisor.

24 Responses to "The Cash Wedge – Managing market volatility"

  1. Turned off drips several years before retiring as there were now sufficient divs to re-invest/diversify every one or two months.
    Recently sold off my IPL. Didn’t make much money but if I were to include the divs over the years they helped me diversify.
    Now in decumulation phase. Figure out how much money I need in the account for Dec 31st and re-invest the rest within the RIF
    Yearly payout from the RIF/LIF is partially held as cash wedge for ongoing expenses above government programs and the rest invested in nonregistered account which in turn provides divs for monthly expense. Started 2021 with $9.80 per month and am now at approx $100 per month of extra money. Figure that some time next year it will be paying me maybe $200 per month. So my “cash” wedge is paying me rather than just sitting there for me to look at. Yes I do hold some cash as stated but if divs keep increasing every year then things will snowball eventually as the RIF/LIF decumulate.
    Usual tax implications of OAS clawback but that is a “good” problem to have.

    RICARDO

    Reply
    1. Yes, everyone has a different tolerance for risk – to make the cash wedge work.

      As I always say on this site, having any OAS clawback to navigate in retirement is a GREAT problem to have 🙂

      Reply
  2. Yes, a cash wedge always depends on your temperament for risk. If it let’s you sleep better it must be good for you. But in the accumulation years it never made any sense for me to wait for equities to go on sale. We always bought them when we had the money and started collecting dividends. This will grow the portfolio faster that sitting on cash and waiting. Now in retirement we have CPP and OAS to look forward to if we need it. (not yet taking) For now a small pension and dividends more than covers all expenses. We are actually now accumulating extra dividend cash that needs to be deployed. I have a problem seeing cash sitting around idle. I realize that not all retirees are in this situation, but if you can structure your income so that CPP, OAS, and maybe a pension along with dividends cover your basics, you don’t have to sell in down markets. Just wait and resume spending more when the markets return.

    Reply
    1. Yes, everyone has a different tolerance for risk – for sure. I sleep better by keeping some cash, ready to deploy if things go south. They will, eventually! I think a cash wedge is even more important in retirement when your ability to keep earning income is less. Of course, for folks that have millions in dividend stocks or ETFs, part of the portfolio can keep growing. That’s not most Canadians for sure!

      If CPP and/or OAS end up being “gravy” per se then some folks don’t need much of a cash wedge.

      Reply
  3. I have about 15 years to retirement so I’m not thinking about all that at the moment but I can see ourself being more then OK between two rental income that I see it as a fixed income and DB pension for my wife and of course my porfolio with the hybrid index/dividend stocks .
    Growing Income is what we’re seeking and slowly but surely we’re getting there.
    On a side note congrats to FTS and EMA holders we just got a raise 🙂

    Reply
    1. Oh really, I missed that today re: FTS and EMA. Own a 1,000 shares of each!! :)))

      Yes, same, growing income is what I am seeking now – but you know that Gus!
      Mark

      Reply
  4. Reading the post and comments, it appears there are two very different situations people find themselves in: The dividend income is sufficient to meet their annual expenses, or it is not. I think the former situation warrants a minimal amount of available cash, such as an emergency fund, whereas the latter requires enough to cover several years of a major market downturn. My question is, where the dividends fall short of the expenses, when should you convert your equity (stocks or bonds) to cash? If “time in the market” is part of a winning strategy, should you make that conversion as late as possible, by say, having a buffer of two years, and as one year is used up, top up the two-year cash buffer quarterly, or wait until the end of the year? In the latter case, by the end of year-one you would only have one year’s cash until that equity to cash conversion was made, but you would have had the funds in the market longer. Perhaps there’s some equivalent of dollar-cost-averaging on withdrawals that could work for us – then again, on say $40K, it may not be worth worrying about.

    Reply
    1. Yes, seeing that Bob too although I would think/guess that most folks cannot “live off dividends” or distributions from their portfolio. Those folks would be in the minority of any retiree sample size. I could be wrong…but….

      The cash wedge is very psychological but it is a hedge against an unknown future. Will Bitcoin take over and be just as liquid? Something else eventually? I have no idea. Just like people find comfort in gold or silver in a market downturn I believe some cash on hand to take advantage of opportunities and/or to mitigate risks is prudent.

      Dividend income (as much I as love it and report on my own journey with it) is just one way to invest. It’s not everything. There are many ways to invest and grow wealth – so given that – I suspect one must understand their biases, need for diversification and mitigate risks. What can make you wealthy can also make you poor.

      I plan to have a plan to slowly withdraw the dividends (with capital) over time. I think any investor focused on stock market investing needs to consider a slight catastrophe of sorts whereby the stock market could go very much sideways or down for many years on end with minimal returns. An investor would need to consider: what now? in advance and prepare for it.

      Thoughts?
      Mark

      Reply
  5. In your cash wedge / deaccumulation processes, do you factor in RSP withdrawals?
    There may be a tax advantage, before you turn 71, to withdraw funds at a lower tax rate.
    Once you turn 71, you are compelled to withdraw your RSP funds, and there may be tax bracket issues.
    This may be further complicated by the bump ups for OAS and CPP payments, if you delayed the start of them.

    Reply
    1. Great question. Nope. 🙂

      RRSP withdrawals are not part of our cash wedge. The cash wedge effectively “sits” to be used as needed as a buffer in down markets. In my asset accumulation years, I’ve been using a small cash wedge to pounce when equities are on sale. In retirement, or semi-retirement, I will use my cash wedge to live off of when equities tank and I don’t want to withdraw monies from RRSP in any given year before age 71.

      My goal is over my 50s and 60s, to withdraw from RRSP strategically / slow wind down such that there are no tax bracket issues in my 70s. Essentially, I might not have any RRSP assets at all by my mid-70s. Zero.

      Hope that helps.
      Mark

      Reply
  6. I didn’t make up my mind yet. After so many years, we finally are fully invested. So for now, we are living paycheck to paycheck. But each paycheck actually increases the cash size in our checking account. As long as both of us working, it should be OK. We also have our HELOC not touched at all. I consider it as our emergency fund.

    To prepare for retirement, I think we might need to have half year expenses in cash. We will stop DRIP in RRSP for sure. We also need to transfer group RRSPs to personal accounts and the current plan is using that money to buy dividend growth stock. Once everything is settled, I expect we should be able to survive on dividends and will sell some equities in good years for discretionary expenses if our dividends are not enough for that. I think I probably will always keep at least 2-3 monthes expenses in cash.

    I constantly change my mind when we will retire. The newest decision is in three years. So I want to defer the detailed plan a little bit further.

    Reply
    1. Nice to read how others will approach. I change my mind a bit too 🙂

      We’re going to start our cash wedge savings next year (2022). It will be a goal to start saving up….after TFSAs are maxed in Jan. 1, 2022 but I’m saving for that now.

      Ultimately, it will take 3-4 years to get to our goal but that’s fine, starting soon.

      In the meantime, all DRIPs remain “on” and compounding work will continue. I will continue to keep all DRIPs “on” inside TFSAs for the foreseeable future. Same with RRSPs even in semi-retirement. Likely to sell off some assets in RRSP to start winding down in 2024-2025 as I work part-time. More of the game plan to share!

      Once I know our taxable account via dividends can cover our condo fees and all property taxes (with ease), I know we’ll be in a good place.
      Mark

      Reply
  7. I’m not sold on having a cash wedge at this point and agree if I do decide to have one it would be more for psychological reasons. The markets are going to go up and they are going to go down – I’d rather be fully invested in the market with an appropriate split between equities and fixed income. Hopefully, over my 30 years of retirement having 1 or 2 years of cash invested, I believe, should leave me ahead of the game and not trying to time the market. I will have some cash for current expenses but that plan is to deal with this on a month-to-month basis.

    Reply
    1. That’s a very fair statement Joel: “I’d rather be fully invested in the market with an appropriate split between equities and fixed income.”

      Do you have a desired % of cash vs. fixed-income vs. equities in your portfolio? I *might* keep 20% of in bonds when I semi-retire but that’s a big IF. It will really depend if I can live off dividends and distributions like I think I might be able to.

      I’m a big believer in the cash wedge myself but I can appreciate not everyone is wired the same!
      Mark

      Reply
      1. I’m at about a 70/30 split with equities at this time. Maybe will approach the 80/20 equities but I’m not sure yet. My plan is just to sell when I need cash for monthly expenses and stay mostly invested. Cheers!

        Reply
  8. For me the cash wedge is hugely psychological. I have a 2 year cash wedge of expenses and rather than trying to figure out a complicated withdrawal plan, it’s just cash for now. I’ll keep the cash bucket stocked with 2 years of expense, it gives me peace of mind and prevents me from making too many potentially risky or ill timed trades.

    Reply
    1. Totally. I mean, the ability to deploy cash as needed or preserve it when really needed when you no longer have a steady income stream (i.e., work) seems HUGE to me. Smart work re: “I’ll keep the cash bucket stocked with 2 years of expense, it gives me peace of mind and prevents me from making too many potentially risky or ill timed trades.”

      Thanks for your comment!
      Mark

      Reply
  9. I’m still on the fence about the size of a cash wedge, or if I’ll have one at all. There is evidence to support that keeping cash on the side is no more successful than being fully invested.

    I do expect my dividends to meet my needs in retirement and I’m confident my investment choices are with companies where the risk of a dividend cut is minimal.

    Still, I like the idea of a maintaining an emergency fund in retirement for something exceptionally out of the blue (but not a full year of expenses). I also consider the prospect of turning off my DRIPs ahead of retirement to build what effectively would be a cash wedge anyway.

    I like to think that I’m open to the idea. For now, I’ve setup the EQ account and we’re using it for some short term savings goals for a couple of renovations. After that I could see steadily building some dry powder for the next, inevitable correction. Time will tell.

    Reply
    1. There is absolutely an opportunity cost when it comes to cash vs. investing. I guess though, what you need to think about, is are you at any risk at all….if you must sell any equities during a prolonged market crash or correction?

      I would have to think some investors feel there is little risk but the reality is, the risk is there.

      So, unless you can exclusively live off dividends or distributions at 2-3% yield indefinitely (most people can’t) then I believe there is a case for cash to be made. Cash and/or a modest cash wedge of cash and fixed income is likely an enabler to many, many retirement plans.

      While turning off DRIPs ahead of retirement (to build cash is an option) you are also short-cutting the growth curve too. Pros and cons!

      Thanks for your comment.
      Mark

      Reply
      1. For me, there is a mathematical right / wrong answer to this, but that is only part of the total equation. As many have touched on there is a psychological factor to having the cash wedge that, for me anyway, would serve to help me resist selling at depressed evaluations – hence why I will ruminate on this repeatedly – LOL.

        Regarding my comment about turning off the DRIP – I think this is more about once I’ve reached my comfort level of total net investments and average monthly dividend income, then I’ll turn off the DRIP, and perhaps I’ll work another few months if the timing of that is after my desired retirement date – or, and wouldn’t this be nice, even before 🙂

        Reply
  10. Certainly, if one has invested for capital growth, and depends upon continued market growth, then a cash wedge is a must, or they much have a large portion of their holdings in fixed assets.
    The alternative is to invest during your accumulation phase, to grow your investment income, and hopefully by the time you are ready to retire, your income will meet most, if not all of your retirement needs. A cash wedge may still be necessary, but it will be much smaller than those relying on capital growth.

    Reply
    1. I suspect so. As a passionate DIY stock investor, maybe something you can write about and share. If you’re an income investor, how much cash should you keep? I know my answer but others may feel differently!
      Mark

      Reply

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