There is an old saying that goes, “Hope is not an investment strategy.” There may be a new saying looming that goes, “Hope doesn’t cure retirement anxiety.”
“We have been calling it a perfect storm,” says Sherry Hall, founder of Hallmark Financial. “Rising medical expenses, longer life expectancies, and historically low interest rates. The real complexity comes with the reality of looking forward to retiring, getting to finally do what you want to do, and then do the math.”
Once those nearing the end of their working days do the math, the results are not pretty. An Insured Retirement Institute survey shows retirement anxiety is growing among Baby Boomers — those ages 55 to 75. The analysis determined little to no retirement savings has been forcing more Boomers to postpone retirement and many are underestimating the amount of annual retirement income needed while holding unrealistic expectations regarding the impact health and long-term care costs may have on their retirement budgets.
“Most Baby Boomers are too old to accumulate any significant savings before retiring, so they are going to be forced to live out their lives on whatever retirement income they do have,” says Mike Sullivan, a personal finance consultant with Take Charge America. “This does not allow for emergencies such as healthcare and likely will leave them seeking public assistance. It is really not possible to have any real quality of life without savings.”
According to Sullivan, there are thousands of Baby Boomers in Arizona today hoping to qualify for Arizona Long Term Care System (ALTCS) benefits so that the government will pay for their care. Many will not succeed. There is often a two to three year wait, even for HUD subsidized housing, so there are very few options for today’s seniors who have not saved.
“According to Pew Research, about 10,000 Boomers a day turn 65,” says Andrew Sampson, financial advisor at Wilde Wealth Management Group. “This is a key retirement age. About 45 percent of those have $0 saved for retirement. It is probably fair to note that this is a retirement crisis. It does not, however, mean they are out of options. With proper planning and a little sacrifice, retirement can often be salvaged.”
Saving your golden years
So how do you know how much you’ll need to retire?
“The truth is, if you know how much money you need to retire, you’re probably in the majority,” says Sean Campbell, senior wealth advisor at Versant Capital Management. “Most people don’t know what they’ll need to live comfortably. The general rule is that you’ll need to replace 80 percent or more of your income for retirement. That means that if you’re making $100,000 during your most productive working years, you’ll need to have at least $80,000 a year after you retire.”
Campbell says online retirement calculators can be useful in helping to determine how much you should have in the bank before you retire. But that won’t help predict unexpected expenses that get in the way of even the best-laid plans.
“We all may have heard this growing up, or lately on the radio: pay off debt, spend less, save more,” Hall says. “The math works. However, life gets in the way. Consumer debt is an anchor weighing down a huge portion of those in their 40s and 50s, balancing a growing family, kids in camp and college, a car financed with monthly payments that will go on longer than you own the car. So how can all of those demands of a modern family be balanced with the reality of having to replace work income with a portfolio’s cash flow years from now? And by diverting some of your salary into a 401(k) that you won’t get to spend today? Stressed yet? Anxiety is right.”
So is there anything that can be done to reduce the risk of retirement anxiety? Here’s what you can do, broken down by age group.
For those in their 50s
It’s never too late to avoid retirement anxiety and begin with the basics, according to Jim Stark, president and managing partner of JRS Wealth Management Group. Stark says to follow a budget each month, live below your means, avoid debt, have an emergency reserve fund (six months of living expenses), maximize your retirement plan contributions, and plan on working longer (don’t retire too soon).
“There are many reasons why people have difficulty saving and investing for the future,” Campbell says. “In your 50s, you really have to get serious about retirement planning. The best way to combat this issue is to build options into well-thought-out plans. Determine what you want the next stage of your life to look like and then make plans to execute how to get there. In your 50s the IRS allows you to put more tax-advantaged funds in retirement accounts, such as your 401(k). A financial professional can help you though the process if you’re unsure what strategies make sense for you.”
For those in their 40s
“At age 40 there is still a chance to salvage a good retirement. The goals are the same, but every year is a chance to earn on savings so people starting at age 40 have a huge advantage over those starting at 50. Maximize 401(k) contributions and use time to let savings grow and help reach those goals. Unfortunately, this is also the age when many people face children’s education costs and other challenges that conflict with retirement goals.”
Saving in your 40s is a great time to be working towards building your retirement assets, according to Chris Smith, founder of Chris Smith Investments. Discipline and consistency, coupled with a targeted plan is a wonderful way to get to where you need to be.
For those in their 20s or 30s
“It is never too early to begin saving for the future,” Smith says. “Investing regularly through every market cycle is a terrific way to build wealth. The sooner you start, the less you need to save for down the road and the more likely that you will have the funds needed for retirement income.”
“Pay yourself first,” says Bud Heintz, a financial planner with Heintz Wealth Management. “Put at least 10 percent of your income away in retirement accounts. Start with a 401(k), then Roth IRA, then traditional IRA if eligible. Start your investing by buying many stocks to stay diversified. Using an index fund is a good way to start. They will provide the best returns over the long run, which should be your time horizon.”
While Sampson stresses the importance of planning your financial future, there are still many risks associated with retirement and investing.
“Some of these risks include taxes, market volatility, inflation, interest rates, and healthcare,” he says. “There seems to be too many to count. The biggest risk is starting too late or to never start working toward your retirement goals at all. My best advice is to start planning as soon as possible and review your plan at least twice a year.”
And its not a coincidence that Benjamin Franklin wrote, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” You notice, he didn’t mention anything about investments or retirement accounts.
“We are all well aware of life’s uncertainties, and we know that we can’t predict the future,” Campbell says. “So, control what you can and prepare for what you can’t. Start saving now. Max out your company’s 401(k) plan. Contribute to IRAs and health savings accounts. Don’t go in for financial fads, but rather maintain diversified portfolios that can withstand a variety of market conditions. At any age it’s wise to seek help from a reputable financial professional to help you plan for today and into the future. That’s the best way to reduce anxiety and make sure that you are on the right track toward a comfortable retirement.”