Can I Retire?

Too many Americans have their heads in the sand in the face of obvious savings deficits. Barring a miracle, a winning lottery ticket or a big inheritance, they’re going to be forced to dramatically cut back their lifestyles after retirement. – Laurie Nordquist, director of Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement Trust

This interesting but scary article discusses a recent survey about retirement planning among middle-class Americans. The gist of the article is simple: many middle-class Americans have no clue how much they really need to retire like they want, and they have saved only a small fraction of that amount. As a result, many won’t be able to actually stop working.

The reasons for the retirement shortfall are numerous. For some, it’s hard to save for retirement because it requires cutting back on their lifestyle now. Maybe there aren’t any good places to cut back. Some choose to stay home because their spouse earns enough to support them right now, even though working would go a long way toward closing their savings gap. But according to the survey, financial ignorance is one of the main problems. Many people simply haven’t done the math to figure out how much they’ll need to retire and how much to set aside each month to get there.

Need help? CNN has a nice retirement planning calculator that can give you a rough idea of where you’ll be with your current savings plan. Obviously, it would be more helpful to meet with an actual financial planner, especially if you aren’t comfortable with financial matters. But the online calculators are a place to start.

I don’t plan to retire from Southwest for a few more decades, but I believe in retirement planning and started saving for retirement the minute I started working full-time. Southwest helps tremendously with a generous 401k match and profitsharing that functions as a second retirement account. But we still have to make the difficult choice to sock away lots of money each month, money that we could use for any number of short-term needs like groceries, gas, medical bills, or house repairs and improvements. I avoid the temptation by funding my 401k automatically. The money goes straight from Southwest to my retirement account so I never see it. If we continue this approach throughout my career, and God doesn’t throw us any surprises that derail our plans, I am confident we’ll have enough to retire comfortably. Like about 80 percent of people my age, I have no confidence that Social Security will be available for us and don’t even consider it in my planning. If it still exists, it will be gravy.