As the adage goes, “a life without regrets is a life not lived,” but it is also “better to regret what you have done than what you haven’t.” The three biggest regrets of retired baby boomers center on the things they have not done and teach the next generation to make more informed choices.
1. Not Saving for Retirement Earlier
A rare absolute rule of finance is that people should start saving for retirement as early as possible, with the best time to start being in one’s twenties. Life expectancies are growing and show no signs of slowing down, so more money is needed to be stretched out for a longer period of time. Starting to save and invest as soon as one enters the full-time workforce can make a dramatic difference in the amount of money that accumulates by the time a person is ready to retire.
Many baby boomers failed to start saving on time and properly because they did not understand just how much money would be needed for their retirement. Some also did not know that receiving social security benefits or taking money out of retirement accounts before it is needed can have tax consequences that can substantially lower savings. Finally, many people tend to forget to adjust for inflation when considering whether they are satisfied with the rate of return on their investments.
2.Not Working Less and Traveling More
A study of 2,000 baby boomers commissioned by British Airways revealed that one out of five boomers regrets not doing more traveling around the world. The survey data also indicate that only 9% of American workers get more than nine vacations days per year and that only 37% of Americans took all of their vacation days in 2015, suggesting that working too much may be an issue whose scope extends far beyond just the baby boomer generation.
A 10-year research project conducted by Karl Pillemer, Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, into the lives of 1,200 people aged 65 and older also revealed that lack of travel during one’s youth is a common regret. He writes, “To sum up what I learned in a sentence: When your traveling days are over, you will wish you had taken one more trip.”
3. Not Working More
It might sound surprising given the decades of work they’ve done, but more than two-thirds of middle-income baby boomer retirees wish they had worked longer, and not for expected reasons. One might assume that people would want to continue working to keep earning their salaries, but for many baby boomers, wanting to keep working is about the work. People who are passionate about their careers and enjoy their work want to keep doing it. For this reason, many baby boomers return to the workforce on a part-time basis or as consultants. A number of baby boomers also enjoy working during their later years because they find that it keeps them mentally sharp, physically fit, and gives them a sense of purpose.
Life is full of unexpected situations that may have required you to pull from your retirement savings to cover pressing, unanticipated expenses. Although such situations can present challenges to the integrity of your retirement fund, there are several things you can do to reinvigorate your savings.
First, identify what caused the drain in your retirement savings. This step may seem obvious, but it’s important to take time to evaluate the factors that led to your emergent situation so that you can take steps to avoid them again in the future. With time and careful consideration, you can prepare for future unexpected situations.
Generally, it is advisable to save cash reserves to cover expenses for anywhere between three and six months. If you’re a homeowner, you should be able to cover six to 12 months. In addition, you should keep the amounts of the deductibles for your homeowners, flood, car, and health insurance. As an added precaution, set aside 1 percent of your home’s value each year for repairs.
Next, cut expenses and prioritize retirement. Because people spend the majority of their careers thinking that retirement is far away, other more immediate expenses often take priority over saving for a seemingly distant eventuality. However, dipping into retirement savings to cover an emergency signals that spending less on lower priority expenses may be necessary in order to recoup your losses. To help you accomplish this, refer back to the first step and evaluate what expenses you can minimize or maybe live without (at least for a while). Finding tax preferential vehicles such as municipal bonds, MLPs, and real estate in addition to the retirement accounts you already hold can help you get back on track as well.
Start saving small amounts to develop good saving habits and begin replenishing your retirement fund. Easing into monthly saving can help you get your retirement savings back on track without presenting you with a harsh burden. Starting by saving just 1 percent of your annual income in a company retirement plan helps you form a habit of saving. The 1 percent amount is small enough that it won’t be missed but big enough to keep the need to save for retirement fresh in your mind. It also helps you to save more as time goes on. By increasing the amount you save by an addition 1 percent of your income every other month, you will quickly be on your way to substantially rebuilding your retirement savings.
Eventually, you should increase your contributions to company retirement funds to the maximum amounts allowed by your 401(k)s and IRAs. Taking advantage of matching employer contributions will also be beneficial. If you are aged 50 or above, you can also potentially take advantage of up to $1,000 in catch-up IRA contributions and up to $6,000 for catch-up 401(k) contributions.
Pursue an extra job or income-generating side project to help fill in the gap.
Picking up a second job or an extra client or two can help generate additional income that can be set aside for retirement without impacting present-day expenses. If your spouse or partner does not work, having him or her join the workforce can be a great boon. Alternatively, if you are already retired, consider turning a hobby into an income-generating project. Or, apply to a big company, whose employee insurance plan can help cover healthcare costs. However, if you are unable to pursue any of the examples above, even simple things like tutoring or helping neighbors with some yard work can help supplement other income.
Delay retirement and social security to make sure you have more money for later. The best way to improve a retirement portfolio’s longevity is to delay drawing on it. Delaying retirement allows more time to build greater savings and also ensures that saved funds that you have accumulated will last longer into the future because they are being drawn on later in time. If you delay your social security benefits until after retirement age, your benefit grows with each year of delay.
If you’re a homeowner and your home has sizable home equity, consider a reverse mortgage. A reverse mortgage allows people aged 62 and over to receive tax-free cash in a lump sum or fixed payments. Moreover, the mortgage does not need to be paid until the homeowner moves out or dies. However, there are closing costs associated with this type of mortgage, and the homeowner must maintain the home. Although seniors often consider a reverse mortgage to be a last resort, it is a viable option provided that it is obtained from a reputable lender and that the homeowner understands how the mortgage works.
Many economists agree that the personal savings rate in America is too low. Even though it climbed to 5.7% in late 2016, it’s still behind most other developed countries.
For instance, Switzerland households save 13.4% of their income. In Japan, workers have averaged a savings rate of 11.74% from 1970 to 2016.
For those looking to save more, what’s the solution? Obviously, making more money helps, but that may not be entirely possible for everybody.
What anyone can do right now is manage their budget better. Smarter spending equals higher savings—a good step towards ensuring a secure financial future. Here are 4 reasons why considering the impact of spending is just as important as saving.
1. A penny saved is still a penny earned
Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote is simple but profound. Anybody that’s worried about their financial well-being should remember it. Say it out loud, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
Though most are familiar with this quote, it’s not being put into practice the way it should be. According to research from GOBankingRates, one in three Americans don’t have any retirement savings.
Cameron Huddleston, an expert columnist at GOBankingRates, believes this can be fixed. “There are plenty of obstacles Americans claim are in their way when it comes to saving for retirement,” she says. But things likes student loan debt, low wages, and a child’s education “don’t necessarily make it impossible to save for retirement.”
For those on a strained budget, the best way to save more money is to look at how you’re spending. There are many easy ways to save a few or even hundreds of dollars a month, from cutting the cord on cable to bargaining at flea markets.
2. Overspending carries future financial consequences
According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers overspend due to impatience and not thinking about long-term consequences. Examples of this play out every day.
For instance, 30-year olds probably don’t think about how buying a super-expensive TV today could negatively impact their quality of life at 65. That’s just so far away, and that TV can offer immediate pleasure.
This is what motivated the study’s researchers, Daniel M. Bartels and Oleg Urminsky, to look for ways to change this behavior. The two University of Chicago professors found that the solution is more complex than just thinking about one’s future self. While spending money, people must also care about their financial future. If someone doesn’t care, then spending less and saving more becomes less likely.
As Bartels and Urminsky say, “The best way to help consumers avoid overspending is to get them to both care about the future and recognize how their current behaviors affect the future.” Thinking and caring about the future is key to spending wisely today.
3. There is waste everywhere
Think of something like lean management in business. The core idea is to eliminate waste and improve efficiency. People should be applying this philosophy to the way they spend money.
Many may argue that saving is tough because all their income is spent on essentials, but research doesn’t necessarily support that claim. A survey by 24/7 Wall Street found that Americans spend roughly 15% on non-essentials (which means $15 out of every $100 doesn’t necessarily need to be spent).
Some common non-essentials include the following:
Eating out at restaurants
It’s worth noting that things that can be classified as “non-essentials” offer necessary relief from the stresses of life. Yet the fact remains that this is the primary area where wasteful spending occurs. Cut down any wasteful spending here and savings rates rise immediately.
4. Overspending leads to debt
It shouldn’t be a surprise that student loan debt can delay saving for retirement. It’s hard to stash away cash when lenders need those monthly payments.
For those that overspend and get caught in debt, the same idea applies. Habitual overspending makes getting out of debt—and saving—quite difficult.
It’s rather alarming that the average credit card per U.S. household is around $16,000. This indicates consumers are buying things without having the ability to pay in full. Carrying a credit card balance is necessary sometimes when the unexpected arises. But for many, high balances are simply a result of bad money management (overspending).
Also, since credit cards have higher interest rates, this means people are getting burnt by interest payments. That interest money could have been savings instead.
Saving more by spending wisely
In the end, it’s not necessarily about being stingy. It’s about spending more wisely. This means buying things at the lowest possible prices, staying away from unnecessary purchases, keeping credit card balances as low as possible, and more. If more folks start to pay attention to the impact of their spending, they’ll see their savings rise.
An HSBC survey found that only 40 percent of Americans are regularly saving money for their retirement. Additionally, two other surveys from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Employee Benefit and Research Institute (EBRI), reveal that only about 50 percent of those Americans have focused retirement goals and around 40 percent are saving for a realistic, sustainable standard of living.
To many, the biggest obstacle is obtaining accurate advice about the options, risks, and benefits of retirement savings, but that is just one of the problems facing retirees today. There are 5 other major struggles:
No Employer 401(k)
An EBRI analysis of a recent Census Bureau data reported that under 50 percent of employed Americans have access to a retirement plan at work. Of those that do have access to a 401(k), only about 40 percent participate. According to President & CEO of EBRI Dallas Salisbury, this 40 percent are really missing out. “Those who have workplace programs and are participating, they are doing significantly better than those who are not.”
If you have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, we can’t stress enough what a valuable asset that is to your future. For those who don’t have this option, IRAs are a good place to put aside money.
Unforeseen Life Events
Even retirees who are careful about for their futures face unexpected life events such as deaths, life-threatening illnesses, and accidents. When this happens, what we often see is retirees ceasing to contribute to their accounts, or borrowing against their retirement due to costs associated with these unforeseen events. According to the HSBC, 27 percent who face these struggles say they would borrow against their savings, 13 percent were prevented from working due to accident or illness, and 6 percent ceased working to care for a spouse, therefore unable to afford monthly contributions.
Executive VP of retail banking and wealth management at HSBC Bank USA Andy Ireland reportedly stated that though retirement funds are a great nest egg for the future, they can also be a liability when life emergencies happen.
“Retirement savings are vulnerable to being raided to deal with serious financial hardship resulting from unforeseen life events.”
According to data from NerdWallet, the average American household has over $15K of credit card debt and over $130K in total debt. If broken down per year, each household is paying out nearly $7K in interest alone. To compound the debt problem further, the median household income has shown negligible gains while household debt continues to rise.
When retirees are trapped in this cycle of debt, they are often too busy keeping up with credit card, mortgage, and other varying payments to contribute to retirement funds. For those who are buried in debt, there are ways to effectively dig out as detailed in our previous blog post 6 Ways To Improve Your Relationship To Your Money. Though getting out of debt is no small feat, taking little steps right away can lead to a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Underemployment” and Employment Instability
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment has fallen to a 5 percent, but the statistics don’t tell the whole story. “Underemployed” individuals (those who can’t find full-time employment) are actually at 10 percent. Since the financial recession in 2008, many Americans are struggling to reach financial stability, often living hand-to-mouth and unable to save.
According to an article on MarketWatch:
“Those who once enjoyed a modicum of financial stability have settled into a new normal of ongoing financial vulnerability, while the struggles of those who were financially insecure before the recession have only deepened.The number of households below the poverty line has barely budged and millions of low- and moderate-income people live paycheck to paycheck.”
GoBankingRates research revealed that 1 in 3 Americans have a startling zero dollars saved up for retirement. In other words, one of the biggest obstacles to a robust retirement fund is the retiree.
Many retirees consider thinking about setting up retirement funds as an obstacle. This thinking is most likely lack of education according the GoBankingRates’ Kristen Bonner. Finding and obtaining that education can be a difficult challenge, especially for Americans who are already facing all the other obstacles we’ve just detailed. The daunting task of navigating the options of retirement can seem impossible; but employing a trustworthy retirement advisor greatly decreases the stress.
When attempting to get better at ensuring you will have a better quality of life in retirement age, obstacles can come in many forms, but the most detrimental is the belief that getting information about your options is impossible. If a retiree can first ask for help from a reliable source, preparation to combat the other obstacles can begin.