For many people, retirement seems like the logical end of working life — but it’s easy to feel like you don’t have a handle on getting ready for your Golden Years. If you’re nervous about retiring but haven’t done much about it yet, you’re far from alone.
The Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey released today found that 3 in 10 workers reported that retirement planning makes them “feel mentally or emotionally stressed.”
According to the survey, 61% of workers said that “they and/or their spouse have saved for retirement” and 56% of workers said “that they are currently saving for retirement.”
Yet this seems optimistic. Last year, the Economic Policy Institute found that half of American families had nothing saved for retirement at all — and the median savings for the other families were a tiny $5,000, which would not last more than a couple of years for many middle-class families.
On the whole, Americans have found it difficult to save, with the majority in the U.S. being unable to meet an emergency expense of even $500.
Americans avoid thinking about saving for retirement
Unsurprisingly, considering how stressful retirement planning is, not everyone is doing the calculations.
In terms of who has had a conversation with a professional financial advisor about retirement planning, 23% of workers and 34% of retirees said they had done so. Around 11% percent of workers and 19% of retirees said they had made a “formal, written financial plan for retirement.”
Even if you’re not making gains toward being ready for your Golden Years at the moment, it’s never too late to start.
Calculate how much cash you’ll need to stay afloat
Come up with a number based on what you’re making before you leave the workforce.
Be prepared: the numbers are relatively big. The current conventional wisdom is that, while living on your income, you also need to save enough to have the same amount of money each year of retirement.
“Experts estimate that you will need at least 70% of your preretirement income – lower earners, 90% or more – to maintain your standard of living when you stop working,” according to The United States Department of Labor.
Think beyond the “right now”
Planning for retirement, or any future goal, centers around having compassion for your future self: how you want to live after you stop working, and for the many years afterwards.
For many people, that’s a mind-blowing exercise. This National Institutes of Health study proves it. We’re living longer, and that strains our imagination about what our old age may look like.
“For Americans in the earlier part of the twentieth century, the average length of time spent in retirement was approximately two years ,and consequently, one did not need to worry too much about accumulating a huge nest egg to ensure a comfortable end-of-life period,” the study’s authors wrote.
Now, the average American man spends over 17 years in retirement, and the average woman spends 20 years retired. That’s a long time to be able to sustain a middle-class life without working.
The result: “Two-thirds of Baby Boomers will not be able to maintain their preretirement standard of living in retirement,” the NIH study noted.
Yet we know that people are notoriously bad at picturing their future selves and what they may want.
Save early, save often
The earlier you start saving for retirement, the better — due to the magic of compound interest, which grows your nest egg significantly each year.
You’ll need that advantage, because the average American hopes to spend 22 years in retirement and live off a very precise retirement account: $878,206, according to asset manager Natixis.
Not only is that number precise, it’s pretty large and possibly unreachable: “While participants say they have a goal amount in mind for their retirement savings, many are not on track for meeting self-stated savings targets. Savings rates are low. Competition from college loans, personal debt and other financial obligations prevent many from saving at a rate that will allow them to meet their goals or even participating in their company’s plan,” Natixis wrote.
Some millennials get it. They’ve started putting money away for retirement in their early 20s, or asking their companies to help.
According to Natixis’s 2016 survey, 82% of Americans between ages 18 and 34 believe that employers should have retirement plans for workers. Boomers and Gen Xers tend to consider retirement planning to be more of a personal responsibility.
Different ways to save for retirement
One of the most popular plans for retirement is the classic corporate 401(k), which siphons contributions from employee paychecks into an account that includes holdings of various mutual funds. Such passive saving can feel effortless, but it’s not available everywhere.
A news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that only 66% of workers employed in a private industry had access to retirement benefits in March 2016, compared to 90% of state and local government workers.
There are other options: you can save and invest money yourself through personal retirement accounts, put it into tax-deferred annuities that will pay you a certain amount each year, or buy rental properties that will bring you income later in life.
Can you retire? Do you want to?
If you’re close to retirement age, give your decision to leave the workforce a lot of thought.
A survey of 4,049 retirees, 65 years and older, from global advisory, broking and solutions company Willis Towers Watson found that more than one-quarter of people surveyed said “employer incentives— such as eligibility for retirement and retiree health benefits” were the biggest “motivation” to leave the workforce.
But for people who retired more recently, this wasn’t the case— their job’s environment and “eligibility for Social Security and Medicare play larger roles,” according to the highlights.
“As employer retirement and health care benefits become less generous (and early retirement incentives become rarer), employers wield less direct influence over their employees’ retirement decisions,” the survey highlights said.
Make a financial plan for retirement when you’re ready, but know that the age you start can dictate how much you’ll need to save.
And consider whether you want to retire at all. White-collar professionals frequently retain the capacity to do knowledge work well past retirement age, and they could get bored with a retirement that involves “doing nothing.” Planning for some part-time work or other means of keeping busy could make the difference to a more productive life.
Then, of course, there’s the chance that for financial reasons you’ll have to work past 65 years old — most Americans do.
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