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Which Side of the Retirement Savings Statistics Are You On?

Key Points
  • According to recent statistics, most Americans are alarmingly unprepared for retirement.

  • No matter where you are on the retirement savings spectrum, there are some basic things that you can—and should—do to put yourself on the positive side of the stats.

  • National Retirement Security Week is a good time to refocus, recommit and take a positive attitude toward retirement savings.

Dear Readers,

Have you heard of National Retirement Security Week? If not, it's definitely worth your attention. This specially designated week, established in 2006 and celebrated this year from October 21 to 27, is a national effort to raise people's awareness about the importance of saving for retirement.

If you read my columns regularly, you know that helping people prepare for retirement is one of my personal passions. So I'd like to use this national focus as a reason to yet again encourage everyone to take planning and saving for retirement seriously. Because, to me, the situation is very serious.

Statistically, we're living longer and retirement can now last for decades. And with so few employers offering pensions these days, most of us have to be self-reliant when it comes to living well in retirement. But are we really prepared? According to a number of recent studies, most Americans are sadly missing the mark.

Which side of the stats are you on?

A 2018 Employee Benefits Institute (EBRI) study estimates that just over half of Americans age 34 to 65 won't run short of money in their retirement years. They're the fortunate ones. Unfortunately, on the flipside, that means just under half will run short of money. Even more alarming, a 2016 report by the Economic Policy Institute found that nearly half of American families have no retirement savings at all.

So what will they do? Again, it's not a pretty picture. A 2017 Gallup survey reports that 43 percent of people age 50 to 64 expect to rely on Social Security in retirement, yet the current average benefit is just $1,400 a month. Could you live on that?

All of this says to me that many people will find themselves living far less than golden years if they don't start planning and saving right now. So how do you make sure you don't become a negative statistic?

What you can do at any—and every—age

While there are lots of 'rules of thumb' for saving, every retirement scenario is unique. And there are special concerns for every situation.

If you're young and just starting out, you need to get serious about how much you need to save even though retirement seems far in the future. If you're juggling career and kids, you still need to make retirement a priority. Women, with longer life spans and often a smaller paycheck and shorter time spent in the work force, need to make an extra effort when it comes to retirement savings. And to anyone who is starting late, you need to put yourself on the fast track.

But no matter where you are on the retirement savings spectrum, there are some basic things that you can—and should—do to put yourself on the positive side of the stats. They aren't new or earthshaking; rather, they're tried and true—and effective.

  • Participate in an employer plan like a 401(k) as soon as you're eligible and contribute the maximum you can afford. In 2018, you can contribute up to $18,500 with a $6,000 catch-up for age 50+. At the very least, contribute enough to capture the maximum employer match.
  • Open an IRA, either traditional or Roth (if you’re eligible), and contribute the maximum each year (currently $5,500 with a $1,000 catch-up).
  • Save even more by making saving a line item in your budget.
  • Put all your savings contributions on automatic.

And be realistic about how much you'll need to live comfortably in retirement. Don't just assume you'll be content with less. What will you need to spend for essentials? How much extra would you like to have? Where will your money come from? These are essential questions. The younger you are now, the more difficult it may be to predict, but having at least a ballpark figure will give you something to aim for. Start with your current salary. Will you be able to generate that same figure in retirement? Not if you don't seriously save while you're working.

It's not about what you give up now, but what you want later

Perhaps most importantly, have a positive attitude. Many people think of saving as having to give up something now. But what if, instead, you consider the money you set aside for retirement as the down payment on something you want even more in the future? It's kind of like saving for a car or a trip, only with a longer-lasting reward.

To stay positive, visualize where you'd like to be when you retire. Then check in with yourself—and your savings—regularly. The best motivation is seeing the numbers grow.

National Retirement Security Week is a great time to get energized. If you haven't started, get going. If you've fallen behind, recommit. If you're on target, give yourself some credit. And if you have close friends or family who are behind in their savings, give them some encouragement. Again, having a comfortable retirement is pretty much up to each one of us. But wherever you are now, with awareness and the right attitude, I believe you can achieve it.

 

Have a personal finance question? Email us at askcarrie@schwab.com. Carrie cannot respond to questions directly, but your topic may be considered for a future article. For Schwab account questions and general inquiries, contact Schwab.

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The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal or investment planning advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consult with a qualified tax advisor, CPA, financial planner or investment manager. 

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