Above the Line

Retirement? What retirement?

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Eavesdrop on any number of conversations, and you’d think that this country’s biggest focus is Friday night. After all, back in the 80’s, the band Loverboy sang about how ‘everybody’s working for the weekend,’ and The Kings sang about how ‘nothing matters but the weekend…from a Tuesday point of view.” But, if you ask most people what they’d do if they won the lottery, they’d respond “retire.” For most people, work is a means to an end – with the end being, in a perfect world, retirement at 35. Ok, maybe 40. There’s a few things to get done first.

But as this new article in the University of Illinois press points out, retirement itself may become a mere myth for many people. Like the farmer of yesteryear who worked to feed his family right up until the day he died, the modern worker may be faced with a very unhappy choice – no retirement at all.

As Professor Kaplan points out, the original intent was for the 401(k) and similar plans to be one of several retirement funds. With the IRA – and later, the Roth IRA – the government added an additional prong. A person contributing the then-maximum $3,000.00 to an IRA over a 40-year career added at least an additional $120,000.00 to their retirement fund. Combine that with the earnings growth, a company pension, Social Security and a 401(k) plan, and retirement should be an enjoyable respite from a long, productive career.

Not so much anymore. With the market tanking, 401(k) plans and IRAs will be taking hits of up to 40%, possibly more. This should serve as a wake-up call for those of you who have given short shrift to your retirement planning process. If your retirement planning consisted of randomly picking three mutual funds offered by your employer’s plan administrator, you may be in for a rude awakening. Social Security can’t be relied upon for anything more than a small portion of your retirement, and if you haven’t saved anything else, you may find yourself working until 70 or later to fund your retirement. In a worst-case scenario, you may not even have a retirement.

Of course, things can and will change. But this is a good primer on why its important to pay attention to what you’re picking – and how it’s currently doing, including making changes if needed – and don’t just pick a stock or fund because a ‘friend’ ‘recommends’ it. That’s a terrible idea, but one that happens all too often.


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