Retirement: Preparing for An Uncertain Future
- 2005 29 Jul
Things have changed a lot in America in the last generation. There was a time when many people worked for the same company their entire professional lives. And, when retirement came, employees knew the company had money set aside for them in pension plans. There was a degree of loyalty on both sides of the fence.
Those days are a distant memory for most of today’s working Americans. Contemporary employees may hold more than a half dozen jobs between school and retirement. In some cases, they may even change careers that often. Employers today see things differently too. Many treat employees as commodities — much like the chairs in the front office and the soap in the restrooms. They hire based exclusively on their own needs.
Who’s to blame for this state of affairs? I don’t know. Did the chicken come first or was it the egg? Is this new mentality good or bad? Probably a little bit of both. Selfishness and greed are never good. However both employees and employers are more conscience of their options (and competitive forces) today.
So, where does this leave us? It leaves us in a very different world. Today, most employees have to fend for themselves. Studies indicate that the traditional "defined benefits retirement plan" (i.e. pension plans and the like) is a dinosaur of the past. Only twelve percent of employees today have such retirement "guarantees." And of those who do have a "guaranteed" retirement plan, more and more are learning why I choose to put the word "guaranteed" in quotes. There are an increasing number of stories in the news of companies who are unable to meet those obligations.
So, to be painfully blunt: The primary reason to invest for your future is because no one else is going to!!
As I present the No Debt No Sweat! Financial Seminar across the country, I try to drive this point home. Certainly there’s nothing wrong in hiring a competent, honest person to help with your planning, but at the end of the day, you’re the one responsible. I don’t mean to be harsh here, but if you have a retirement account (IRA, 401K, etc.) and you honestly don’t know where your money is invested and how the various funds are balanced and how they’ve performed in the last year — then you’re asleep at the switch! This is the money that’s going to get you through the second part of your life.
Let me share a few foundational suggestions on retirement prep:
1. Think about how long you’re going to live.
No, I’m not trying to play God. Only He knows the days allotted to each of our earthly lives. But it does behoove us to have some awareness of average life spans — and what it costs to support them.
Today people are living longer and longer. If you reach 60 in relatively good health, odds are high that you’ll live another 30 years or more! Nearly 30 percent of men who are now 65 are expected to reach 90. Actuaries tell us that 40 percent of 65 year old women will reach 90.
What seems like old age now is likely to feel like "mature middle age" when you get there.
So, don’t under-prepare for retirement. Make hay while the sun shines. Set aside enough during your working years to allow for a looooooong retirement.
2. How much will I need in my retirement years?
Yeah, I read the same stuff you do. Lots of "advisors" tell us that we’ll need about 70-80 percent of our pre-retirement income after we’ve taken home the gold watch.
I have an academic response to this: Hogwash! Who say’s you’ll only need 70 percent of what you were making before retirement? Maybe you will. Maybe you won’t. Sure, if you had a fabulous pre-retirement income and you have everything paid off, and all the kids and their related expenses are gone, 70 percent of what you’ve been making could be enough.
However many retirees find that they spend more than they had expected. This is especially true if you hope to travel or do mission-related work. Also, grandkids have a nasty habit of expecting birthday and Christmas gifts. And, most insidious of all are medical costs. As we get older it costs more to stay healthy. Lots of retirees are stunned by how much they spend on prescriptions and out-of-pocket doctors’ bills.
3. How long will my money last?
It frightens me when I hear radio show hosts advising people that they can safely withdraw 8- or 10-percent of their savings per year. They base this assumption on the fact that stocks have historically averaged a little over 10-percent annually. While that is true, it doesn’t take a bunch of other variables into consideration.
My study has convinced me that such assumptions are dangerous. Sure, things might go great and you might be able to withdraw 8-percent or more each year—and never run out of money. But I wouldn’t bet my future on it!
Many conservative investment advisors agree that a 4-percent annual withdrawal rate may be far more realistic. Studies indicate that at 4-percent, you may have about an 85-percent chance of not running out of money in a 30 year period. At this rate you would probably be able to adjust for inflation.
This means that if you want an annual retirement income of $40,000, you will need a million dollars in the piggy bank. I know it sounds like a lot of money, but if you start early, stay focused, and follow a good plan, you may find that a million dollar goal is very doable.
Of course, no one can predict the future. Anything could happen. These numbers are really nothing more than educated "guess-timates." So when it comes to the money you and your family are depending on for the second half of your life — tread lightly!
Steve Diggs presents the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar at churches and other venues nationwide. Visit Steve on the Web at www.stevediggs.com or call 615-834-3063. The author of several books, today Steve serves as a minister for the Antioch Church of Christ in Nashville. For 25 years he was President of the Franklin Group, Inc. Steve and Bonnie have four children whom they have home schooled. The family lives in Brentwood, Tennessee.
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