One of my readers asked me to address a situation that is not uncommon. What do you do when you reach mid-life and realize that you are not on track to have enough to retire? Or perhaps you saved well but realize you may need to work longer or change your retirement plans because you have not saved enough. Maybe you are one of the 25%-35% of Americans who have not started to put any money aside for retirement?
I must admit that I did not make a concerted effort to track my spending until I felt the panic that comes from a projection of what I might need for retirement. As a financial advisor and planner, I was not immune to the perception that my retirement was far in my future. After all, I still had many earning years ahead of me and I enjoyed my career. I was setting aside money regularly in my retirement account, living comfortably, and enjoying my passion for travel.
The turning point for me was when I decided to start my own financial planning business. I completed a business plan and pro forma, but up to that point had not done my own personal financial plan. I decided to go through the same financial assessment process as my clients, and it was revealing. Although it was not terrible, at the rate I was going I would not have enough saved to have the life I wanted in retirement. I did not have (and still do not have) huge needs. I do not need millions of dollars. My goals were (and are) to continue my lifestyle, including travel; spend time with my sisters and children and grandchildren; attend events and eat out with my friends; perhaps develop new hobbies; and enjoy the world around me.
My plan told me that I was going to have a far different lifestyle than I imagined. That is when I took a long look at my expenses. I tracked what I was spending and was surprised! There were definite adjustments I could make. As a single person, I was spending far more eating out than I needed. Clothes were another weakness. One category I still struggle to contain is what I gift to others. I am not talking about charities, although I do my share of that. I mean gifts to my family and friends for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.
I set a new goal for saving for my retirement and, with the adjustments to expenses, started on a much healthier trend. However, my need for consistent increases to my saving was one of several reasons that led me to the decision to close my business after two years and return to employment with a regular paycheck. I was terribly disappointed, but I knew what I needed to do. I had to do some heavy saving during the rest of my earning years and could not afford to wait for my business to grow.
One thing that I did not change was my portfolio’s asset allocation, the mix of stocks and bonds and cash. It has been consistent through my earning years. I feel that I know myself when it comes to risk. Oh, I jumped from a perfectly good plane (static line) and loved it, but when it comes to my money, I do not like a lot of volatility. I know the market will take dives (one of which we are experiencing right now), but I can weather those and stay the course. Ups and downs in the stock market are normal. (My blog, The Key to Investing—Know Yourself, may be helpful.)
I am happy to report that my remaining career was very happy and successful. I never returned to self-employment, however I worked for some fantastic firms and developed close client relationships. All through those years, I continued to regularly assess my retirement plan and set aside funds for my retirement. As my income grew so did the percentage I put aside for my retirement.
Do you have a realistic picture of how much you need to save to meet your retirement lifestyle goal? Many different calculators are available to help you figure this out. Choose a free one, such as financialcalculator.org, smartasset.com, dinkytown.net, or finra.org. Among the variables you will enter are your current age, starting age for retirement, current annual income, and current savings. You may not need as much as you envision. On the other hand, you may find that your goal is unreachable. What should you do?
The first step is to assess your spending. Go through the same process that I did many years ago. Find out if there are expenses that you can cut or trim back to make saving for retirement your primary goal.
Then before you assess other options for “catch up”, make sure that you are taking advantage of the options that are currently available. If your employer offers a way to save for retirement, start there. Sometimes employers will even match what you set aside for retirement up to a certain percent. That is free money! Take advantage of it.
Is it possible to increase your income? Perhaps you could add a part-time job and religiously set aside that income for retirement. Is it possible for you to take courses to improve your job knowledge to earn more? Even a career change should not be off the table if it will substantially improve your income and savings.
If you have investments and think you want to improve your return, please be thoughtful about making any changes. I recommend that you take the following steps:
- Reassess your risk tolerance
- Complete a financial plan
- Talk with a financial advisor
This is not the time to put all your saving in crypto-currency or NFTs and take on undue risk! Their volatility is well documented and the last thing you need is to panic and sell in a downturn and take losses. If a projected return for an investment seems too good to be true, it usually is, or the risk associated may not be appropriate. (See my blog, Consumer Beware.)
You may have to postpone your retirement or work part-time. Some people need and want to continue to work for various reasons, some not financial: to get them out of the house or to maintain social contacts, for example. Our parents’ retirement age may have been tied to their pension. My father was required to retire at age 65 by the school district in which he taught. That is not true today, however, thanks to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. A retirement date is not usually set in stone so take advantage of the flexibility.
Have you been through a similar mid-life reassessment? What have you done to get back on track or to start to save? Your story may be like mine, or it may be completely different. Are you willing to share it with others?
I created a page on my website, bevbowers.com, for sharing your ideas and suggestions. Please click on the “Contact” button and submit your story via the form provided. I may have to edit your entry to give everyone a chance to share, but others want and need to learn from your experience. It is not necessary to use your full name. Initials and home state are fine, B.B. from Arizona, for example.
Thanks, and I can’t wait to hear from YOU!
~Beverly J Bowers, CFP®