As Bob Dylan, our recent surprise Nobel Laureate once said famously in song… “the times, they are a ‘changin…”
There was a time when working hard and following the rules almost certainly guaranteed a comfortable retirement, but that very American dream of a blissful retirement, free of financial worries, appears to be slipping away for more and more Americans—especially those who “don’t follow the rules.” What I mean by “rules” are simple things such as making a budget, managing expenses, consistent saving and investing, keeping track of your job-related benefits, and sticking to your plan.
Do I have enough for retirement?
Today, most U.S. households are heading for a worse lifestyle and quality of life in retirement than they enjoyed while they were working, despite bringing in reasonably good paychecks, and this is—woefully—because they simply aren’t saving enough. Thirty-five percent of U.S. households in their prime earning years have nothing saved in a retirement account and no access to a traditional pension plan, according to an analysis from the Federal Reserve.
Among households that do have some savings, the typical amount is $73,200; that’s about 15 months of the median household’s income. The only group that doesn’t have to worry as much are the richest 10% of households that have more than $400,000 in retirement accounts.
The low retirement balances mean the majority of households — 52% — are at risk of having to cut their spending after entering retirement.
Make a retirement plan and stick to it.
So, for most Americans, things don’t look that good, which is a pity because I believe the American Dream is still achievable by most Americans if they just get their basic financial planning in order and stick diligently to a plan. And let me add this: I’ve been a practicing financial advisor for 35 years, and I have seen many success stories—people with modest jobs and paychecks who, through wise financial planning early in life, conservative spending, and prudent investing are now millionaires.
These people are positioned to live a rich lifestyle in retirement, free of financial worry, with tremendous peace of mind, and more money in the bank than they’ll likely need. That’s what I want for all of you. So, you see, the problem isn’t that Americans aren’t making enough; it’s that they aren’t being diligent enough about retirement savings.
In light of our recent election, let me also say that this retirement anxiety stretches across political affiliations. Nearly equal percentages of Democrats and Republicans say they’re not managing their retirement planning very well.
It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility.
That said, the fault doesn’t wholly lie with American taxpayers. This looming retirement crisis is also the result of a system that has increasingly put workers in charge of saving for and managing their own retirements. Data shows that the top 10% of U.S. households made more than $162,000 last year—up 6% from a decade earlier, after adjusting for inflation. For middle-class Americans, incomes have barely stayed ahead of inflation, while lower-income households are now making less than they were a decade ago.
With traditional pensions plans increasingly becoming extinct, it’s even more important for Americans to save on their own. Meanwhile, Social Security—the last line of defense for many people’s retirement plans—is barely going to be enough to support you as you age.
To help close the gap, states are trying their own measures. California recently passed a law requiring employers to automatically enroll their workers in a state-run retirement savings program by deducting money from each paycheck, and early results are very encouraging.
The bottom line is the onus still lies on you. Making these important changes in your financial life can make all this retirement pain avoidable.