A friend passed along an “opinion” piece from the NY Times by Teresa Ghilarducci an economic professor at the New School. The title is Our Ridiculous Approach to Retirement. There were a couple of what I’ll call brave points in terms of pointing out serious drawbacks to the 401k plan, human defects that make investing difficult for many people and even a suggestion with a little detail about what should be done instead. You may or may not agree with what Professor Ghilarducci believes we should do but she does offer an idea.
Unfortunately some of the points that appear to be building blocks to her conclusions are so inside the box (so to speak) as to have no value. It would be nice to think that people of influence would advance the conversation before trying to solve the problem, kind of like a doctor curing the wrong malady because they assume the wrong symptoms.
She notes that “to maintain living standards into old age we need roughly 20 times our annual income in financial wealth. If you earn $100,000 at retirement, you need about $2 million beyond what you will receive from Social Security.” I guess my beef here is the extent to which this rule of thumb reinforces people living at or above their means. I would have hoped that thought leaders would advance the conversation to the point where they talk about spending less, saving more, not focusing on replacing income but instead becoming financially literate enough to build a reasonable budgetary framework for a financially suitable lifestyle.
Part of the solution must be orienting to the correct situation. A $100,000 lifestyle has no relevance when the person who has had a $100,000 lifestyle turns 68, wants to retire and only has $700,000. To be clear, that is a decent chunk of money to accumulate but even with a combined $48,000 social security benefit it will not generate $52,000 in a sustainable fashion to get to $100,000.
The other point that stuck in my craw was the point made about it possibly being difficult to work longer as many people like to suggest. It can be difficult for all sorts of people to keep their jobs in this economy not just someone on the verge of retiring who then realizes they need to stay on another year or two or whatever the case may be.
Necessity can be the mother of innovative ideas and for many folks it may need to be. If you would like or need a certain income then what are you willing to do to make it happen. Over the years I have tried to share many anecdotes as I’ve heard about them to convey the extent to which people have figured out something that was right for them like operating backhoe or teaching hazmat classes.
The point of this post is that chances are you reading this blog and others are probably influential in your various social circles on this sort of thing. I believe that people need education which will hopefully lead to thinking outside of old-line constructs to have a better chance of a successful financial plan and there is a good chance that quite a few people you know will listen to what you think.