The Floor-Leverage Rule for Retirement

26 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2011

See all articles by Jason S. Scott

Jason S. Scott

Financial Engines, Inc.

John G. Watson

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Date Written: November 18, 2011


Financial planners assume that retirees have a strong preference for consistent, predictable spending. Their widely used rule of thumb, the 4% rule, was developed to identify the maximum spending level that could be maintained throughout retirement. In stark contrast, the standard advice from financial economist may result in large fluctuations in spending. We reconcile these disparate views by augmenting the utility maximization framework of financial economists with the strong preference for consistent spending identified by financial planners. The resulting optimal strategies allocate a significant portion of retirement wealth to a floor portfolio invested in high-grade bonds to guarantee the current level of spending. All remaining wealth, the surplus portfolio, is invested in a leveraged equity position. If equities perform well, spending increases and money is transferred from the surplus portfolio to the floor portfolio. Surprisingly, we find that an 85% floor allocation and a 3x leveraged surplus portfolio is near-optimal across a wide range of retirement case studies. We refer to this general strategy as the Floor-Leverage rule for retirement.

Keywords: Retirement, spending, investing, ratchet, consumption, floor, leverage

JEL Classification: D11, D91, G11, H31, J26

Suggested Citation

Scott, Jason S. and Watson, John G., The Floor-Leverage Rule for Retirement (November 18, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Jason S. Scott (Contact Author)

Financial Engines, Inc. ( email )

1050 Enterprise Way, 3rd Floor
Sunnyvale, CA 94089
United States

John G. Watson

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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