It’s Time to Change the Way We Think About Retirement

Last week, the Washington Post published something so depressing that I couldn’t WAIT to get my hands on some wine: Millennials may need to double how much they save for retirement.

The story comes on the heels of an article in MONEY saying much the same thing in December: “Millennials will need to save 25% of pay for 40 years to get the same result that was available to boomers saving half that much.”

Although I’ve known these numbers for a while now, seeing them finally reported in the media drives home the fact that my generation – excuse my French – is fucked.

Why? Because according to asset managers, investment groups and Wall Street analysts, the stock market isn’t expected to return much more than 4% in 2017 – and potentially for the next 20 years.

Meanwhile, the price of everything around us (i.e. housing, child care, healthcare, college tuition) skyrockets.

It’s enough to drive a personal finance gal like me crazy! In fact, if you have any good news, please send it my way asap, as I probably need it 😉

But in all seriousness, what is our generation to do? MONEY reports that most young workers are only saving 6% of their salaries for retirement. Jacking that up to 20 or 25% – even with the employer match – would be difficult (if not impossible) for many millennials. Far too many must choose between paying off student loans, saving for retirement, saving for a home, or paying for child care. On top of it, I know several people working for companies that don’t even offer 401k matching. How are they supposed to save a quarter of their salaries?

Compared to millennials, our parents’ generation had it quite good. In addition to the stock market (of which they enjoyed 6-8% returns), they could also rely on pensions, social security, and significant jumps in home equities to retire. Us? We can only count on the market, and barely.

In order for us to retire comfortably, we need to sink serious cash into our 401ks or find more creative ways to save, like starting a business, making smart investments, or investing in rental properties (hint: think college towns). In other words, we need to rely on our intellect and luck, and the odds are stacked against us.

Sorry y’all. I’m not telling you this so you can be depressed like me (although blogging does help me cope). I’m telling you so that no matter how much or how little you make, now more than ever, you’re paying yourself first. It’s the foundation of any good/sound financial plan, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is.

A More Optimistic Future

Earlier in this article, I said that our generation is fucked. However, I don’t reeeeally believe that. (Unless you’re 30 and have literally nothing saved yet for retirement. Then you should be worried). While we certainly have our work cut out for us, most of us are still young enough to improve our 401k contributions or figure something else out.

In addition, I have a lot of faith in our country’s ability to improve and innovate. Although the creators of the 401k model have expressed regrets about the way it turned out, their hearts were in the right place. They assumed people would begin contributing in their early 20’s and see 7% annual returns. They never intended for 401ks to replace company pensions. Or charge fees that can eat away at people’s savings.

To help solve these problems, one idea being tossed around – which I fully support – is automatic 401k enrollment. This would mean that a certain percentage of your salary is automatically set aside for your retirement, starting in your 20’s. Backers recommend automatic employee contributions of 6%; however I believe it should be more like 10.

Another idea (and I’m not sure if this is being tossed around yet) is for the government to mandate that companies make a minimum employer match. That way, it would be illegal for companies to match anything less than, say, 6%, although they could certainly offer higher matching to attract talent and stay competitive.

Meanwhile, state governments are exploring solutions too. According to the Wall Street Journal, eight states (including Illinois) have plans to set up retirement savings plans for those who don’t already have them. The plans will “offer guaranteed returns” as well as “provide incentives for small businesses to create accounts for people who don’t have them.”

But for now, until real change and progress is made, the best thing any of us can do is to pay ourselves first. As the old saying goes, “it takes money to make money,” and you can’t make any money (i.e. maximize the power of compound interest) if you’re not saving.

So go ahead, increase your retirement contribution. Your future self will thank you.

–P.S. Cheap Wine and Coffee now has a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest page. For anyone wanting more conversation than the blog allows, I post on Facebook and Twitter daily and hope you’ll join me! 🙂

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One thought on “It’s Time to Change the Way We Think About Retirement

  1. Pingback: Personal Finance Shouldn’t Be Scary – Cheap Wine and Coffee

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