Everyone Talks About Retirement But Few Will Ever Retire

The frequent talk about retirement, particularly in the financial media, stands in stark contrast to the Main Street reality that few will ever retire. I suppose we’ve all been conditioned to live at peace with the bipolar marriage of the “TV version” of life, alongside of a very different reality. Maybe few of us even question it anymore. But the statistical reality is that few will ever retire, at least not comfortably.

That isn’t to say that they won’t try. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people “retire” on little more than a monthly Social Security benefit. But except for the few who can live on next to nothing, the rest have to find some sort of income supplement. We even have a cliché for it – becoming a greeter at Walmart.

How has this happened, and how can we avoid the same fate?

The Grim Statistics Showing Few Will Ever Retire

We’re often treated to those happy retirement numbers – usually provided by investment brokerage firms – showing that the “average person” has $279,453 (or $311,912, or $257,858 – choose your figure) in their retirement plan. There’s almost always some sort of disclaimer that the number, as high as it is, is way too low for people to comfortably retire. It’s a call by the brokerage firm for their clients to invest even more money with them.

I’m not exactly sure where they come up with those numbers. Perhaps they’re using data from their own clients. Maybe they’re using averages, rather than the median.

For example, if you have 20 clients, of which 19 have $10,000 in their accounts, and one has $5 million, the total is $5,190,000. If you divide that by 20 clients, then the “average” client account is $259,500. Mathematically speaking, it’s correct – but it’s also a complete distortion, since 19 of the clients have only minimal balances.

That’s what “averages” do to numbers. A more accurate measure is median – half above, half below. It gives a more realistic picture of what the typical person is doing. If we use median in the example above, the number will fall to something just a bit higher than $10,000.

But there’s a pronounced disconnect between the optimistic retirement numbers provided by brokerage firms, and those from independent third parties – who aren’t selling a product. Not surprisingly, the third-party sources paint a more dismal picture.

Retirement Statistics from More Objective Sources

A 2015 study from the National Institute on Retirement Security reports disturbing statistics on the national retirement front.

The reports shows the following:

  1. Nearly 40 million working-age households (45 percent) do not own any retirement account assets.
  2. Households that do own retirement accounts have more than 2.4 times the annual income of households that do not own a retirement account.
  3. When all households are included, the median retirement account balance is $2,500 for all working-age households and $14,500 for near-retirement households. (Notice the use of median, rather than average?)
  4. 62 percent of working households age 55-64 have retirement savings less than one times their annual income. (Even if you have two or three times annual income, it still won’t be enough to retire comfortably.)
  5. Even after counting households’ entire net worth, two-thirds (66 percent) of working families fall short of conservative retirement savings targets for their age and income based on working until age 67.

Let’s zero in on item #2, because it’s symbolic of our time. It confirms that retirement saving is done primarily by higher income people. That makes sense, since higher income people have more money to devote to a deferred financial goal, like retirement.

The chart below confirms this point:

Everyone Talks About Retirement But Few Will Ever Retire
Everyone Talks About Retirement But Few Will Ever Retire

(Source: Economic Policy Institute (EPI) – The State of American Retirement)

Note that the EPI findings show retirement savings of $274,000 among the wealthiest 10% of households, compared to just $5,000 for the bottom half of the nation.

What this means is that it will be primarily people in the top 10% who will have remotely enough money to comfortably retire. The bottom 90% will face some degree of struggle during the retirement years.

If you don’t have enough money to retire, you’re among the vast majority.

Those with Both Social Security and a Pension Will Fare Better, But…

If you will be able to count on both Social Security and a generous pension income, you won’t be as reliant on a large retirement portfolio. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll retire in comfort.

The first obstacle will be inflation. Social Security comes with a cost-of-living increase, based on the government’s own Consumer Price Index (CPI). So do many government pensions. But corporate pensions – which are no longer common – typically don’t include a cost-of-living adjustment.

However, a cost-of-living adjustment is hardly a cure-all.

The government has made it a practice to under-report the real rate of inflation. Even if you get a cost-of-living increase each year, you may still be falling behind.

For example, if the real rate of inflation is 5%, but the government reports a CPI increase of 2%, the purchasing power of your income will actually decline by 3%. Over 10 years, it will decline by a third. That $3,000 per month benefit you’ll receive in 10 years, will only be worth $2,000 in today’s purchasing power.

The other problem with pensions is chronic underfunding, particularly among state and local governments. It’s been estimated that state and local government pensions are underfunded by between $1.2 Trillion and $4.1 Trillion, depending on what rate of return is used to calculate the likely funding pool.

Unless this funding issue is resolved soon – and there seems to be little incentive for local governments to fix anything – there’s more than a slight chance that your government pension will be cut at some point in the future. That won’t be an issue with federal pensions, since the US government can always print money to pay its bills. Local governments don’t have that luxury.

We Shouldn’t be Taking Retirement for Granted

It’s often said that Social Security is the “third rail” of American politics – touch it, and you die. This is a railroad reference. The “third rail” refers to the two rails that support the train, and the third that carries the electrical current that powers it. We all know what happens when you touch live wires.

From a political perspective, this saying explains why politicians are terrified of even speaking of Social Security or pension reform, let alone actually enacting it. To do so would almost certainly mean the end of a political career.

While this saying has always been specific to Social Security, I think the broader implication is retirement itself. Since Social Security is the foundation of most people’s retirement, threatening to eliminate it or even cut it, directly threatens people’s ability to retire.

In modern industrial societies, retirement is no longer seen as a privilege, but a right.

For the first 50 – 60 years after World War II, retirement was a right for all intents and purposes. But the situation has changed radically in the 21st century. What we’ve seen in the past 15 to 20 years is a gradual unraveling of the post-World War II state of retirement. We’ve gone from retirees living in relative comfort and security, to the majority now being plagued with many of the same financial issues they had to deal with throughout their working lives.

With retirement fundamentally changing, we have to adjust both our expectations and our strategies.

Expectations and Strategies for a New and Very Different “Retirement”

Let’s start with expectations. We’re probably already past the time of thinking that we’ll be able to retire to blessed nothingness. That may be true for the top 5% or 10% of the population, who are already either wealthy or nearly so.

If you count yourself among the 90% to 95% of the rest of us, you should begin thinking of the retirement years as more of a time to downshift, rather than checking out completely.

That’s not a minor adjustment in thinking either. If you adopt that belief set, it will make it possible for you to properly adjust to the reality of what life will look like once you do enter the retirement years.

Lifestyle Expectations/Adjustments

Have you noticed how most retirement strategies start out with the question how much money will you need to live comfortably? The new retirement reality requires turning that question inside out. The more relevant question is how little do I need to live comfortably?

Learning to live beneath your means, whatever those means are, is the ultimate financial plan. Most of the people I’ve known over the years who retired with limited resources – and managed to live comfortably – were able to master this concept. Critical to this strategy is reaching the retirement years in a debt-free position. It may be even more important than the size of your retirement portfolio.

Also, give serious consideration to renting, rather than owning your home. This can provide at least three benefits:

  1. By selling your home, you free up the equity to use as retirement savings.
  2. By renting, you will no longer be required to pay for expensive repairs and maintenance.
  3. You increase your mobility by renting. You will be free to follow your children, pursue income opportunities, or even move for medical reasons. Yes, you can move when you’re a homeowner, but it’s just a lot easier as a renter.

Still another consideration on the own-versus-rent question is tax deductibility of homeownership. Once your income drops in the retirement years, the tax benefit will be less generous. You’ll be paying the expenses of homeownership on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Reduce Your Workload, But Don’t be in a Hurry to Stop Working

Rather than making a clean break from work at 62, or 65, or 67, plan to continue working at something for as long as you are able. There are too many reasons why this is a sound strategy.

The first is that most people no longer work in the types of occupations that used to force people into retirement. There are relatively few farmers, factory workers, and people working in hazardous occupations. The great majority of people today work in offices or in other occupations that are not physically hazardous. You can probably find work, at a reduced level, in some capacity that is not physically taxing. For most people, there’s no physical need to retire in their 60s.

The second reason is Social Security. You can nearly double your monthly Social Security benefit by retiring at 70 rather than at 62. Given that people are living much longer in retirement than in the past, maximizing Social Security income for the later years may be strategically necessary.

Choosing the Right Work May Be Better than Retiring

I’m of the opinion that most people are hell-bent to retire because they hate the work that they do. I’m a freelance blog writer and I LOVE what I do. I may slow down, but I have no plans of ever fully retiring.

I’ve also known a lot of self-employed people, and very few of them ever retire. That’s because they similarly love what they do.

When you love what you do, there’s no need to retire. Retirement is mostly an exit strategy for people who hate what they do, or don’t particularly like to do.

Changing what you do in the retirement years could be a game changer. Think about what it is you’d really like to do, and then pursue it. You’ll similarly find that you have no desire to retire.

The retirement years are actually the best time to make that kind of move. After all, if you have at least some retirement income, and the major expenses of life are behind you, you can survive on a lot less income. A Social Security check, moderate distributions from retirement savings, and income from a part-time occupation can give you a comfortable life.

That can open up a lot of opportunities. Here are some suggestions:

  • Continue your current occupation on a part-time or seasonal basis.
  • Move into an occupation that you’d really like to be in.
  • Start a side business of your choice, doing something you like to do.

Even if you never fully retire, you will still be stepping out of your current occupation, and doing something that you like. It’s also likely that you will have more time for family, hobbies and even travel. All that is possible with a less formal work arrangement.

Don’t Give Up on Saving for Retirement

Probably the single biggest reason why people have no retirement savings is because they never got started. Others did build retirement savings, but life events got in the way, and either reduced their ability to save, or forced them to drain their accounts early.

If you don’t have much in retirement savings, whatever the reason, don’t give up starting or continuing to build a portfolio now. Anything you can do to put away will improve your situation.

This is where the financial media has been counterproductive. By convincing people that they need seven-figure or high six-figure retirement portfolios, the majority of people – with no hope of accumulating that kind of money – either give up, or fail to even try.

Don’t fall for it. And don’t succumb to that it’s too late for me excuse either. There’s plenty that you can do to save for retirement, even late in the game.

At a minimum, a small amount of retirement savings can serve as a large retirement emergency fund. In that way, it can help to even out your finances from one year to the next. You continue working into the retirement years, putting money into savings, and then drawing some out when there’s an emergency expense, or you hit on a temporary income drought.

The Self-Employment/Retirement Savings Connection

One of the reasons that I advocate so heavily for self-employment, particularly in regard to retirement topics, is that it offers a number of different ways to fast forward retirement savings. (OK, it’s also because I actually do love being self-employed myself.) There are several retirement plans for the self-employed where you can contribute up to 100% of your income. That will enable you to save a lot of money quickly.

Two examples are the SIMPLE IRA and the Solo 401(k) plans. With even a small amount of self-employment income, you can save a lot of money for your retirement in just a few years.

It’s even more important if you don’t have a retirement plan at work. And if you can maintain some form of self-employment in your 60s and early 70s, you can continue contributing to your plan until you reach the point where you finally will fully retire for good.

I realize that none of this solves anyone’s retirement “problem”. But maybe that’s the point – who decided that retirement is even a human necessity? Shouldn’t the real goal be to create and lead a comfortable and compelling life, regardless of age?

( Photo by Keith Williamson )

20 Responses to Everyone Talks About Retirement But Few Will Ever Retire

  1. The article you wrote is basically me. This is almost the exact course that I am on. I knew after 25 years of law enforcement that I was mentally done. I didn’t fit in anymore with all the new way of doing things. I came up the old school way. The way I was taught was not the way younger guys and women are taught now.

    I started my own business as soon as I left. I have never had any intention of retiring. I picked something I can do well into my 80’s if I want or lord willing am still alive.

    No debt is key. I own my own home. Own my own cars. Have no loans of any kind. That has saved me all these year’s since.
    I have run my business the same way.

    One thing I differ on is I don’t believe in the stock market period. 401K and all that other stuff I feel is useless. We don’t have a sound financial sytem. With inflation and the yearly loss of purchasing power it encourages spending not saving.
    Once we went off the gold standard in the early 70’s it rendered all currency useless overnight. Not worth the paper it’s printed on.
    Are money is not pegged to anything. That’s why we have all the crazy bubbles. I’ve been buying gold and silver for 20 years now. That’s really all I trust.

    All the money people put into these plans either ends up taken by taxes or the purchasing power is half of what it was when you started.

    These are all things I believe are started by so called finacial planners to extract fees from there customers. That’s how they make ther’re money.
    These models are based on an 8 percent return on average of the course of 30, 40 years. That’s hoping nothing ever happens to you. You never have a crisis in your life. Never get sick, injured or loose a job. Never have a financial emergency. It’s not realistic.

    Never has been. Of course are brainwashed country has bought into this lie hook line and sinker. The financial industry has done an expert job of selling this stuff.

    That’s why most end up the way they do. Broke or struggling in ther’re older age. Even if they do everything right.

    When my mother got sick and had to go into assisted living she lost her house and everything in it was sold or thrown in a dumpster.
    That’s what she got for a lietime of working and doing things the way were told by the so called experts.

  2. I get what you’re saying Tim. Inflation is the silent money killer. You can have money, but it’s not worth what it seems, and becomes worth less each year. But people still need to save for retirement, however they do it. I don’t disagree on gold and silver, but I think spreading your money across different investments is the best approach. We can’t know what the future holds, and that’s why it’s so hard to invest. But we need savings nonetheless, life is much better with it than without it.

  3. As you can tell I have such little respect for the financial industry. I’m not the best guy to comment.

  4. I get where you’re coming from Tim. Your mom’s situation is hardly unique. It will become increasingly common as costs continue to rise above people’s means. My mom is in a retirement home, and I’m wondering what the long-term prospects for that will be.

  5. HI Kevin. I haven’t been able to comment much lately, as I’ve been up to my eyeballs in work. I have to say that I agree with both you and Tim. Yes, people do need to save, and I suppose a 401k or some other “plan” is better than nothing. And it is, and we use one. But, I also agree with Tim when he says he doesn’t trust our financial industry, and neither do I. I don’t know when it became necessary to tie our future selves, i.e, retirement selves, to the highly unpredictable stock market. How in God’s name can anyone save when it gets taken away with every latest crash.

    Tim, I saw my mother and several other relatives die old, sick, and broke. My mother’s case was especially sad, but she made very bad decisions her entire life. However, other family played by the “rules” and still ended up broke with illness, foreclosures, etc. It must have been difficult for both you and your mother. I don’t want to elaborate and highjack Kevin’s blog, but I do hear what you’re saying and agree.

    Kevin, I know you understand, and I think the hardest part has been trying to wrap our heads around this new way of life that we all have to face. A life with no retirement as we have known it and face a life of some kind of paid work. I’m in better shape than many being self-employed with a small business, but it’s still so disheartening. I value your advice a lot, Kevin, and truly do appreciate all the research and work you do here. I’m always reading the links you add, and it’s helpful to know we’re all in this together. I’ll be in Vermont forever paying sky-high taxes, but I guess that’s not a bad place to be. 🙂

  6. Hi Bev – Busy with work is usually a good sign! I actually don’t disagree with Tim at all. But I do feel that you’re better off preparing for retirement in some way, by salting away money.

    But you’ve no doubt noticed that I never advocate people thinking they can live off their investments. That world exists only for the very rich any more. But what I do like to promote is creating a ***good life*** for yourself during the retirement years, regardless of your financial situation. That includes doing work that you like (that doesn’t kill you), keeping healthy, staying out of debt, and having some money put away. I fully agree that retirement savings won’t be the escape hatch they’re held up to be, not for at least 90% of the population. Most retirement strategies, IMHO, totally ignore the healthcare costs, which is the “X” factor no one but the wealthy can plan around. Health problems are a major reason people end up broke late in life.

    I’m encouraged by the memory of my grandparents, both sets, who lived comfortably throughout their lives, despite the absence of pensions, 401(k)s, or fat bankrolls. They did what they did all their lives – worked, saved and lived close to the ground. Our biggest problem may be heightened expectations. We expect to live better in retirement than during our working lives. The media has us sold on that lifestyle, and many think it’s some sort of birthright. But if we just relax, clear our heads and use common sense, none of us need to experience some sort of “retirement crisis”. I plan to live the life that God has blessed me to live for as long as He’s appointed me to do that.

  7. BTW – Neither you, Bev, or Tim, or anyone else who has an intelligent, detailed comment or story are ever stealing my thunder. I welcome all such opinions, even if they aren’t strictly related to the topic of the article. It’s all about the exchange of ideas. I always learn a lot from your’s and other’s comments. It’s one of the main reasons to have a blog. I also invite you or any other readers to submit your own article on a topic you feel strongly about, as long as it’s at least loosely related to this site.

  8. People are super-excited about this stock market rally – our problems are solved.
    I have a hard time listening to Dave Ramsey for that reason because it’s pretty much been a hockey stick since March 2009. We can’t expect stocks to go up forever.
    The S&P 500 first hit 1576 in March 2000, meandered wildly for 13 years and here we are at 2550 17 years later, a 61.8% return (isn’t that a Fibonacci number). If you average that out, that’s 3.6% per year, not 8% since the beginning of this century. If you started at the market bottom in 2002 or 2009, you’re in better shape, but who around here is a market timer?
    The valuation of companies is crazy! As an example, Netflix just reported revenues this quarter of something like 2.5 billion dollars which is 10 billion/year, but its valuation is 85 billion dollars!! Really??!! Is Apple really an 827 billion dollar company???
    I’m not anti-Trump, but his cheerleading of the stock market is going to come back to bite him.
    My guess is they will finally pass some tax reform package and the market will finally sell off. It’s called Buy the rumor/sell the news.
    And you can’t just invest in anything. If you would have put your money in oil/gas stocks the past few years, you’ve been absolutely crushed. Bottom line – they aren’t making any more of it. If you have a Fidelity account, you can put your money into energy mutual funds. That is my best idea.
    Gold – I never can figure out how or why it trades the way it does. I think it might be a good idea to have some, but sounds like a pain to store.
    Anyway, yes, we should sock money away for retirement, but I’d be very wary of putting a large chunk in the markets right now – wait for the next 20% pull back. Crazy??? Don’t worry – it will happen.

  9. Hi Kevin – I agree on all points. We’re in a stock market mania. It’s hard to separate fact from hype in this market, which in itself is a major warning sign. Right now, with the market in record territory, everyone on the long side (or cheerleading for it) is a star. A rising tide lifts all boats, even leaky ones. I would never bet against this market, but I’d be equally hesitant to jump in with both feet. The market has clearly separated itself from Main Street, but that’s hardly a revelation any more.

    But when I consider the forces driving the market, I’m not convinced it won’t continue for a few more years. It isn’t fundamentals driving this market. It’s a financial phenomenon – very low interest rates, supreme confidence that the Federal Reserve can fix whatever’s broken (or that whatever’s broken doesn’t even need to be fixed), corporate stock buybacks, and the ETF phenomenon (investing in markets rather than in stocks). There’s no sign those dynamics will change anytime soon. The Dow could certainly top 30,000. I’m not saying it will happen, only that it could get there for all the same reasons it’s now touching 23,000.

    I should probably write a post on this topic, actually I’m dying to. But it’s a touchy subject. The stock market, mania that it is now, has a religious following that’s virtually cult-like. If you challenge the fundamental integrity of the bull market, you’re messing with people’s religion. A lot of financial futures are predicated on the idea of double-digit returns forever, and people don’t take kindly to alternative thoughts, regardless of how well-thought out they might be.

  10. I never said it wasn’t a good idea to save. I believe ther’re are much smarter and safer ways to save. Not exposing yourself to crazy bubbles and the whim of every market.

    People who can’t afford to loose and actually need the money should not be involved in the stock market. I saw two guys loose over half ther’re retirement nestegg a year before retiring in 08.

    Gold is not subject to bank closings. ATM shutdowns, withdraw limits. It’s the only thing that will spend if everything crashes and it will.

    Of course it’s my opnion. We are free to do as we see fit.

    I don’t mean to sound like I’m giving a lecture. I’m not. I just have zero belief in the stock market or our financial system period.

    Bev
    Your right on when you say you can still have a decent life and enjoy your retirement even if you don’t have some huge amount of money.
    I model myslef after my parents. They kept things simple. Always had enough. Lived below ther’re means and had a nice life. Until it was taken by old age.
    Your right Kevin. My mother’s plight is very common these days with the elderly. There is no long term prospect for a nusing home.
    My mother’s is 4000 per month. That’s a cheaper one. I have seen them as high as 13,000 per month. Really?

  11. Hi Tim – I recently did some research for nursing homes. Turns out what used to cost $5700 per YEAR in 1970, not costs $6000-$8000 per MONTH. There’s no way we can keep up with that, and that’s what I mean when I say most people will die broke going forward. The fantasy is that we’ll be able to afford all of this, or that “responsible” people should make sure they can. But when numbers get that high it isn’t possible. If the current inflation spiral continues with both healthcare and nursing care, no one by the wealthy will be able to afford to get care. We’ve reached the point of no return, and the experts and the media are telling us it’s all “normal”.

  12. I remember asking my mother what they all did back in the 40’s when somebody needed care like this.

    She said they basically took care of the edlerly themselves. Unless it was sometihng really bad. The doctor would come to the house. If there was nursing needed one came to the house.
    The families fed, bathed and clothed edlely family members that needed care.

    That’s back when only one person worked in the family. The kids helped after school. It was a family effort. It was also a time when families grew up and lived in the same town or city. Nobody ever moved. My parents though middle class and could afford a nicer home never discussed moving. They could have but there home was enough.
    They didn’t have the attitudes we have now. Always more, bigger etc etc

    My mother lived in our family home until two years ago when she could no longer live alone. Whenever I go visit her I am confronted with countless empty faces of fogotten people just sitting there rotting away staring at TV’s all day.

    This is 90 percent of all are fates. Your right, it is not sustainable. So this is our retirement years? Retire? it’s a myth. Unless basically you retire a multi millonare or I hate to say it pass before it gets to that.
    I often wonder why we spend so much time and money trying to combat aging when the end game is being broke, losing your home your money and your dignity in the process.

  13. Tim, I also think that a lot of the problem is that people are being kept alive longer. I don’t remember so many people living into their 80s and certainly not their 90s when I was young. The ones who did were unusually healthy. People had a heart attack or some other ailment in their 60s or 70s and died. There was no 2-3 years in a nursing home. All of these problems, elderly poverty, nursing homes, etc, are because so many are living to the point where they 1) outlive their money, 2) are physically no longer able to work, and 3) end up debilitated in a nursing home. I don’t want to paint with a broad brush, but many of the elderly today look as if they’re barely holding on. It’s often sad to look at them.

    I don’t think it’s all the “miracle of modern medicine” either. An econ professor I had in college pointed out – correctly I believe – that economic systems and general technology have played a bigger role in longevity than healthcare. He cited refrigeration, central heat, ambulances (more rapid first aid), hot and cold running water, and food safety as bigger factors. I agree. It’s not so much that people are living longer – a trip to a 300 year old cemetary will show many living into their 80s and 90s even in the 18th and 19th centuries – but more that more people are living longer lives. A dramatic decline in infant mortality has been the single biggest factor in increasing lifespans. But now we’re dealing with the fallout of millions living longer, and the economic costs. Not to mention the gravy train that healthcare has become.

  14. Hi Kevin. My experience regarding nursing homes fits yours and Tim’s description. My uncle, who was a surrogate father for me, got Alzheimer’s in his early 70’s. My sister and I had to make the decision to put him in a facility for Alzheimer’s patients, but it was essentially a nursing home. His illness came on very sudden and progressed rapidly, but he was there for five years. We were unable to care for him for at home for many reasons. In 1996 the cost was well over $5000/month, excluding medications, and any other extras he may have needed. It was all private pay from his own savings because he had some savings. There was nothing left when he passed away. He worked very hard his whole life, lived well but not high, and even took on the responsibility of us when he didn’t have to. It broke our hearts to see him like this. But essentially everything he saved for himself and my aunt that he wanted to leave to us girls was taken by his care. He was better off than many but this gives credence to your statement about how most of us will die broke.

  15. Hi Bev – My father died at 80, and so did a few others I know (or thereabouts). This may sound cold, but I was actually happy for them. As a friend of mine said when her father died at 79, “I’m glad he didn’t live into his 80s, that’s a difficult decade”. None of those who died at that age ended up broke or in a nursing home, but I think it’s because they died before any of that happened.

    We all want to live long, healthy lives, but her comment got me to thinking that extreme longevity isn’t necessarily a good thing. As individuals and as a society we’re seeing the difficulties that so many living so long is creating. As well, as a Bible believing Christian, I don’t see death as the boogeyman we make it out to be. I believe that a lot of retirement planning, at a deep unexplored psychological level, is an attempt to fend off death. Culturally we seem to be spending a lot of money in that direction, but it isn’t leading us to a good outcome. That’s why I think that all we can do is all we can do, and after that we need to accept the reality of the cycle of life. That’s certainly not comforting from a human perspective, but I think we’re at greater peace with life when we accept reality rather than trying to swim against it in a fight we can’t win.

    I’m getting off the deep end here, but I think this is all connected. There’s only so much any of us can do, and I think we get stressed out thinking that we should do more – always more. That certainly doesn’t lead to a happy life.

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  17. Hi,im tony d and was wondering.i spent all my money and 401 k to keep mom home and now i want out of the working world as i know that sounds crazy.7 years of what i needed and still do to take care of my parents has taken a toll on me but thats ok.i had a stroke which also slows me down.i have a small 401 k and a food store pension that would be worth about 1000 dollors at 59 and a half.i think i have 20 grand in the 401 k.90 grand left on my condo as i re-fi to get needed funds for mom.can you give me some ideas when you find time.im willing to pay fees for help.thank you with wishes of good health and peace of mind,tony d!

  18. I really don’t have anything new to add, just seconding what Tim said. At my workplace, investment companies will occasionally come in to pitch their products – and they always give ridiculous numbers that people should be putting away each month. These amounts are completely unrealistic for someone in my income bracket – basically, according to them, after paying my rent (and, yes, I rent I do not own) and bills and buying food, I should be putting the remainder of my salary into a retirement account if I am to have any chance at all of not spending my golden years living off cat food.

    And, yet, if you look at the small print, these companies do not actually guarantee their products – they all state that results are dependent on the market fluctuations. So, in other words, I could live a miserable, miserly life for the next twenty years in the hopes that all the money that I am giving to their companies to invest will ensure my comfortable (or at least not completely awful) retirement but one downswing in the economy would wipe out all the money I’d invested so I would end up with nothing anyway! It’s insane!

    Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying I completely shun traditional retirement funds. Personally, I do put a bit a bit away in an IRA every month– what I can afford reasonably which, of course, is far less than what the financial companies tell me I should be putting away. The rest I’ll have to figure out – but I can tell you it won’t be blindly turning over my financial future to these companies!

  19. Hi Suzy – What you’re describing is typical of the system induced stress we’re all subject to at just about every turn. We’re constantly being told what we should do, must do, will pay the consequences for if we can’t do. It’s mostly a sales pitch to get us to do business with them. Period. Right now the retirement industry is booming, largely because it’s foundation, the stock market, is in a bubble. It’s like we’re under assault to invest more.

    But you can’t do more than you can do. Save what you can, but don’t take an oath of poverty to do it. You still need to live now. As well, look for opportunities to improve your future. As you move forward, you’re retirement prospects will also improve. You might get into an opportunity that makes retirement unnecessary. ‘

    I’m not advocating throwing caution to the wind, but rather of pursuing opportunity, with the full understanding that the future is never guaranteed. That’s true even if you’ve done “all the right things” saving for retirement. Schmexperts love to love to position themselves as though they have all the answers. But guess what? No one does.

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