I ran across an interesting TEDx video on the Center for Retirement Research’s Squared Away Blog. Kevin Bracker, a finance professor at Pittsburg state university in Kansas was talking about “The Retirement Gap”. While the video is from 2019, it does have some really good takeaways for retirement planning.
Statistically, we know that people are living longer. The challenge is that we’re not financially preparing to live longer. The financial shortfall between how much we need for retirement and how much we have has been labeled “the retirement gap”.
The retirement gap is global and it’s growing, especially in the United States. So why do we have a retirement gap? There are two primary reasons. First, we don’t save enough. There are people close to retirement who do not have enough saved. Bracker says 40% of the population doesn’t have a retirement account and the majority of individuals do not have enough in savings to last them a year. Second, Social Security, which is supposed to be our retirement safety net, doesn’t have enough funding.
Whether you believe Social Security is funded enough is a topic for another day. The bottom-line is that individuals need to prepare for retirement. Social Security wasn’t designed to cover 100% of our retirement expenses. Here are five things that could help individuals bridge their retirement gap:
- Save more. I realize this is very difficult to do in general. Even more so when people are facing unemployment or taking a job that pays less than the last job. Toughness aside, are there ways we can set a little bit aside? I’ve mentioned before that we have monthly budget meetings and ask ourselves, “Is there something we can cut from our regular expenses?” Sometimes we amaze ourselves with what we can live without.
- Understand the tax code. I’m not saying don’t pay your fair share. But there are ways to legitimately reduce your tax burden. One thing I immediately think about are 401(k) plans where you can save pre-tax. According to the Investment Company Institute, 50% of all employees have access to a 401(k) plan. And over half of those plans include an employer match. As a HR professional, I’m amazed when people don’t take advantage of this benefit. It’s a way to automatically save, pre-tax, and get a savings match from your employer.
- Become financially literate. In addition to taking advantage of the savings opportunities from your employer, it’s possible to invest on your own. I think it’s important if you’re going to invest to understand key financial terms. For example, knowing how inflation impacts the market. Also, individuals should know how to read an organization’s financials to determine whether or not to invest in them.
- Think about professional help. Most of us are not full-time market fund managers. At some point, we might want to consider the services of a financial advisor. Keep in mind these services are not free. Individuals should know how to select the services of a financial advisor and what their fee structures are. A financial advisor can be a huge benefit but it’s important to have trust in their abilities.
- Play the long game. It can be frustrating to save and not see immediate results. Or not see big results. Those small increments can and will add up if we play the long game. I’m reminded of the saying, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” It definitely applies here. Retirement planning happens over time. In small increments. It happens when we’re patient.
Toward the end of the retirement gap video, Bracker talks about creating some systemic changes like “opt out” 401(k) plans versus “opt in” and automatic savings increases but I think most of us aren’t in a position to implement those changes. The five actions above are things we can do now.
I know for some people these financial strategies aren’t anything new. It is a good reminder to stay focused and look for opportunities to do more. After all, we want to enjoy those extra years ahead.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Fort Lauderdale, FL