Retirement planning presents many risks to consider. What if something tragic happens to you and your family is left with large financial obligations? That’s what life insurance is for. What investment vehicles are best for you? That’s why you need to pick a good investment planner. But the biggest issue facing future retirees isn’t a potential early demise or the wrong portfolio mix. The biggest problem is simply saving for retirement.
The idea of retirement is actually a recent phenomenon. Before the Great Depression, only the affluent could afford to stop working. Most folks worked until the day they died or lived with their grown children if unable to continue later in life.
The advent of Social Security, unions and industrial pension programs made retirement possible for the masses. The World War II “Greatest Generation” were wonderful savers, having been toughened by lessons learned living through the Depression and World War. Despite living when pensions were being offered, many shunned reliance on those programs. However, as times changed and Americans started to live longer, the responsibilities of saving for retirement transferred from employers (pensions) to employees (401k/403bs) and the importance of sound saving habits became paramount.
As we trudge along into a new century, we need to remember the lessons of our forbearers. Savings can help you achieve the economic freedom generally associated with retirement. If you save enough and invest wisely, you should be able to live comfortably on your savings when your planned retirement date approaches or you are unable to work. We certainly can’t expect to rely on Social Security any longer. Despite the early promises of Social Security, it has not yielded the security that many seniors expected from a social retirement system.
If saving is the most important part of a good retirement, do we risk reverting back to a pre-Depression era mindset? Many future retirees don’t really know how to save—nor are they even trying. Last week, the Employee Benefit Research Institute released its 20th annual Retirement Confidence Survey. The survey measured the thoughts of working and retired Americans. The study found:
“A growing percentage of workers report they have little saved and invested. Among respondents, 27% say they have less than $1,000 in savings and 54% report that the total value of their household’s savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any defined benefit plans, is less than $25,000.”
Obviously many Americans are not saving enough. Most people (54%) cannot envision a time when they won’t be able to work. The optimism of Americans has nearly blinded them to some harsh realities. As a result, they are not adequately preparing for retirement.
“Many workers continue to be unaware of how much they need to save for retirement. Less than half of workers (46%) have tried to calculate how much money they need to save to retire comfortably. Of those who did, 44% relied on guesswork, rather than a detailed review or professional advice.”
The study also found that a majority of Americans, if saving, haven’t done any planning to figure out what they’ll need to retire in the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed. That’s the equivalent of driving through the Mojave Desert not knowing how much gas you’ll need to get across. Will you have enough? If not, is there a gas station available along the way?
What is the solution to these problems? The first step is to acknowledge them. Social Security will not be enough to live on when the time comes. The second step is to develop a plan to save enough money and invest it wisely. The third step is to execute the plan. If you don’t know where to start, consult a professional or hit the internet. There is a ton of information out there to help.
Save today and you won’t have to worry about your earthly tomorrow. As Ben Franklin said, “For age and want, save while you may; No morning sun lasts a whole day.”