Book Review: Can I Retire? by Mike Piper

I forget how I got to know Mike Piper. Maybe from his comments on or links to my blog? Maybe from his posts to the Bogleheads investment forum? Mike is the blogger at Oblivious Investor. He writes a "100 pages or less" series of books that aim to make things easy to understand. His latest book, Can I Retire?, is about retirement planning and investing during retirement.

[Links to are affiliate links. Amazon pays me 4% – 6.5% if you make a purchase within 24 hours.]

In the interest of full disclosure, I must say I consider Mike Piper a friend. Although we haven’t met or spoken in person, we’ve exchanged emails. When I wrote my book Explore TIPS, Mike helped review the draft. In Can I Retire?, Mike included my book in the list of suggestions for further reading among books by other well known authors. He also frequently links to and re-tweets my blog posts.

That said, I will still give an objective review to his book.

True to the "100 pages or less" theme, this book comes in exactly 99 pages, not counting appendixes and end notes. In 99 pages, the book covers a wide array of hot topics for investing during retirement: the 4% safe withdrawal rule, the sequence of returns risk, annuitizing a part of the portfolio for a higher payout, asset allocation, asset location, 401k rollover, Roth conversion, withdrawal sequence, and how to find a good financial advisor.

Not only is the book written in easy-to-understand language, it also includes good examples, to doubly make sure readers understand what’s going on. The font (12-point?) is easy on the eyes too. No magnifying glass needed. How Mike managed to put so much solid information into a small book and still made it perfectly understandable is quite amazing.

Managing one’s money in retirement is a big subject. A small book can’t possibly cover it all. What’s not included then? It doesn’t cover estate planning, health insurance, life insurance, or long term care insurance. It basically sidestepped the subject of Social Security by saying it’s complicated and perhaps one should spend a few hundred dollars and consult a financial planner.

I think it would be better to include more materials about Social Security. It is complicated, but for the vast majority of people who don’t have a sizeable investment portfolio, Social Security plays a much bigger role than say managing a taxable account.

If the book must stay under 100 pages, I would suggest sacrificing the chapters on index funds and ETFs, asset location, and other tips for taxable accounts for more materials on Social Security. Not that those aren’t useful knowledge, but they apply to investing in general at any stage, and not only to retirees and near-retirees. For example if a retiree is withdrawing interest for income anyway, tax sheltering bonds isn’t as important as before retirement.

If Social Security still can’t fit, I would even suggest a separate book: Social Security in 100 Pages or Less.

Some say managing a drawdown during retirement is more complicated than investing for retirement when you are young. I disagree. The challenges are just different. When someone transitions from accumulating to decumulating, it’s an unfamiliar game, but one is not necessarily more difficult than the other. You just have to learn the new game before you play it. Can I Retire? does a very good job in explaining what that game is about.

Did I learn anything I didn’t know before I read this book? Not really, but that’s not the point. I didn’t learn anything new because I already follow Mike’s blog posts every day. I didn’t learn anything new because I read the same books he referred to in this book. If my uncle asks me about how he should handle his money when he retires, would I sit down and talk to him for hours or would I buy him Mike’s book for $15? I would buy him the book. It saves so much time for so little money.

Mike is only 26 years old. How does a 26-year-old figure out what a 62-year-old should do? By reading and researching. For more background on how Mike came about writing this book, please read his interview with a journalist/blogger at Portfolioist. Can you read and research and learn the same things? Absolutely. Would it help if you read a short book for some good groundwork before you embark on more heavy reading? Absolutely.

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  1. Mike Piper says

    Thank you for mentioning the book. 🙂

    And thank you just as much for the helpful feedback. One reviewer on Amazon said something very similar regarding adding more info on Social Security and cutting the discussion of index funds/ETFs. I’ll definitely keep that in mind when I do the first annual update.

  2. Portfolioist says

    And thank you for mentioning the interview!
    If Mike can figure out how to explain Social Security in under 100 pages, my hat is off to him!

  3. DT says

    Another suggestion (along the same theme as explaining Social Security for the Retired Investor) is a 100 page book explaining Medicare for the Retired Investor.

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