Many people are asking questions like this: Will I ever be able to retire? What will retirement look like? Will I be living the retirement dream or working after retirement?
- Finally relax
- Finally sleep in and/or take naps during the day
- Finally travel when we want to and not when our co-workers are there to cover us
- Finally take up a hobby we have never had time for
- Finally get caught up on our reading list
- Finally …. (fill in your wish come true)
But, not surprisingly, with the economic ups and downs of recent years, our retirement dreams may be looking more like a nightmare.
Tenuous Retirement Dreams
A study of 2,000 Americans, half of whom are “Baby Boomers” (born between 1946 and 1964) and the other half Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1984), interestingly revealed that in general Gen Xers are much more pessimistic about achieving their retirement goals, despite having more years ahead to achieve them. One could speculate that they lost more in the recent economic collapse because their assets were poised for aggressive growth as opposed to more conservatively held by their Boomer counterparts. As such, it was unfortunately more intense, or aggressive loss as well. Having been burned by the housing bubble or “Great Recession”, they are now fearful of the uncertainty the market holds.
Boomers are a little more optimistic and are feeling a little more prepared for retirement. And, as the middle of the baby boom generation is hitting retirement age, we are beginning to get a picture of baby boomer retirement trends.
What’s Different Today? What Can We Do?
Whether you are a Boomer and Gen Xer, having a financially secure retirement is still a concern. We watched our parents enter their 60s and BAM, they retired. They made it look easy. They had been planning and preparing for that day.
So what’s different today? There are indeed factors which make retirement more difficult today, factors often beyond our control. On the other hand, there are things we can do which can make a real difference. Consider both sides of these dilemmas:
- Life expectancy. Simply put, we are living longer. See the trend chart below.On the other hand, we are living longer! That’s not a bad thing: we have more time to enjoy, perhaps also more time to work.
- We can’t overcome the recession. Or, to be less cynical, we have less time to make up the losses from the Great Recession. We can’t let pride get in the way, we need to seek action to make the best of the situation and get back on our feet.
- Private pensions – what are they? It used to be that companies provided a pension for their employees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in 2011, just one in ten large employers offered a fixed benefit plan. If we are lucky, our employers now offer 401K plans, retirement funds which, in many cases, we are able to manage. What to do: Maximize your contributions, and certainly utilize the entire company match, if available. Don’t leave money on the table!
- When will Social Security run out? It depends on who you ask. Some say that by the year 2037 the amount of social security benefits available will be significantly reduced. We will have depleted the reserves and be dependent upon the benefits coming in from workers currently having social security withheld. The large influx of retirees coupled with the longer life expectancy will put a strain on the social security system. As retirees, we need to have other sources of income set aside to supplement these benefits.
- Low Interest rates impact us because lower risk investments rely on interest for growth. So, our savings may disappear more quickly. Again, we may need to consider other sources of retirement income.
- We are crippled by more debt. Many retirees are entering retirement with a house payment or high credit card debt. This can be deadly when trying to live on a fixed income probably much less than when working. If it all possible, these big debt items should be resolved prior to retirement. There are many resources out there to help, whether it be debt counselors, taking the Dave Ramsey course, or just sticking to your budget and living within your means.
- We need to work longer to get prepared. Many people don’t start thinking about retirement until it is too late. College savings for children, helping with weddings, etc. can all take a hit on your finances. As early as possible, begin an intentional plan for retirement. The sooner you start planning, the sooner you’ll be able to retire.
- Being single and retired can be difficult. With the divorce rate in our country, there are many more people entering retirement as a single person. While many find freedom in being single, it costs more for a single person to support a household than to share overhead. Many have or will lose a spouse before or shortly after retirement. It is important to be prepared for all circumstances so that the surviving spouse is provided for.
Retirement may not be as easy of a transition for us as it was for our parents, but there is still hope. I still consider the glass half-full! We may need to modify our dreams, but don’t stop dreaming.
Instead, consider what factors are within your control. Let’s do everything we can today, in the here and now, to be prepared. Set goals and follow through. Accept those factors beyond your control, but courageously tackle the things you can!