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How my family uses ESPlanner

I'm not sure if this is quite the right forum but I published a blog article describing how I filled out the values in ESPlanner for my family and how I then interpreted the results. I primarily wrote the article as a reference for myself so in the future I understand what I did and why. But I was also hoping to compare notes with others.


I haven't seen anything like the before. Thanks for sharing it.


You wrote:

The painful part is anytime I want to change anything. Couldn’t they just let me enter a change right into the table dialogs? Please?
Another problem is that the implications and functionality of certain entries are extremely difficult to figure out and I pretty much never find the help dialogs an actual help. In most case I just have to play around with different values in the entry to figure out what the heck it’s actually doing.

What do you mean by "table dialogs?" What does "implications and functionality of certain entries" mean?


By Table Dialogs I mean dialogs like entering future income or special expenses which are essentially tables with columns. I often want to edit what I've entered but generally that isn't possible. For example, let's say I have 3 different special expenses that each repeat 5 times. I then realize I screwed up the math on one of them so I now have 5 entries out of the 3*5=15 that are wrong. Today all I can do is delete those 5 entries and then re-enter the data. I would much rather be able to just click on the entry directly in the table and change the value.

By "implications and functionality of certain entries" I literally mean - what does this particular dialog entry do? For example, when I was entering my 401(K) information I use a Roth 401(K) but I have an employer match. I couldn't figure out if the match would be modeled as a traditional 401(K) or as a Roth(K). I had to play around with things to find out. Or, for example, in the Retirement Accounts dialog I have never figured out what "Employer Accounts" actually means. If I turn on 'view->guide' it says

"Retirement Account Assets
Retirement account assets refer to current balances in 401k, 403b, SRA, regular IRA, Roth IRA, Keogh and other tax-favored accounts."

Which doesn't help me at all.

Those are two examples off the top of my head but there used to be a lot more. The way I figured most of them out was just by trial and error because the guide and manual typically weren't very useful.

I really need a reference manual that walks through every single option and explains what it does.




OK, thanks.

Please feel free to make suggestions on the Planning page


I STRONGLY second this request!


FYI, with respect to managing records on that table, you can modify the description directly on the grid. You can also RIGHT click to match records to delete. If there's a mistake, you can easily re-enter the last group of records - It doesn't reset.

But, it's clearly time for a redesign.

Which request is being strongly seconded?





Your blog entry is interesting. Thanks for posting. I would be more interested though in how you made decisions based on Esplanner than the details of how you operate it. (I was going to say that it looks like a software manual, but then I see that you are an IT guy, so it figures.) Looks like you have used ESP so far to validate your existing long-range plan. Since my own use has been very different, let me explain it a little bit.

I began to use ESP six years before I retired, a stage at which decisions have to be made. ESP has been indispensable for this purpose. I wanted to see what the difference would be for retiring at 60, 62 or 65. How would each of those outcomes change if I delayed SS benefits until age 70 vs 62 or FRA of 66? Delaying until 70 was the best since I could afford to cover our living expenses from 62 to 70. What would be the benefit of retiring abroad, which I could model moving to a non-income-tax state at retirement age in ESP? This one produced an enormous increase of 25% in consumption. What about Roth conversion? Here I tested converting various percentages from age 62 to 70. Modeling Roth conversions in ESP is problematic and I didn't feel the results were trustworthy. So, I have decided that question on the heuristic of converting up to the limit of my bracket from 62 to 70.

I tested other scenarios such a annuities, which didn't seem to benefit me much although I am attracted to the option.

Each time I ran a scenario I would review the inputs, assumptions and all the results for errors and anomalies. By now it was a problem to keep track of the results. I asked the support staff to implement a description line that would appear on the first page of the pdf output and they did that. But I had to resort to putting a numbering scheme in that text box and tabulating the results in Excel using a matrix of ESP parameters to differentiate the results. The key result is the annual consumption, which is what I am trying to optimize. I have run dozens of scenarios and at the start of each year I did it again.

I did retire as planned last year at 62 and moved abroad. It's early days yet, but our projections seem to working out. I plan to review at least every year and make adjustments in our lifestyle as necessary. Of course, ESP can't be used to model every question, e.g. the exchange rate risk that those who retire abroad face.


Our use of ESPlanner is quite different largely because we are at very different stages of our lives. In our absolute best case we could be in a position to retire in 15 years and more likely we'll retire in 25 or 30 years. Trying to worry about social security benefits, annuity returns or moving for retirement purposes that far out just isn't (in my opinion) useful. There's too much road between here and there.

So I really use ESPlanner for the purposes I wrote about in the article, which is mostly to make sure we have enough insurance, that our college savings plan for our daughter isn't nuts and that our retirement goals aren't insane.

As we get closer to retirement I suspect we'll do exactly what you did and try out a variety of scenarios to see what their implications are. But for now, all the relevant choices are too far out to be (in my opinion) meaningfully modeled.

As for why the post looks like a software manual, it's actually so that my future self can have productive arguments with my past self. I've been using ESPlanner one and off for several years now and I hope to continue using it many years into the future. This always brings up the endless question of "Why did I set X to Y?" or "How did I derive value Z"? By forcing myself to write out exactly where the numbers came from and why I used them I create a situation where in the future I can meaningfully change the numbers. It also saves a lot of time since I don't have to constantly re-derive everything.