For your grandfather’s generation and even your father’s generation, Social Security and company pensions were reliable retirement plans — so long as you were willing to be a cog in the American industrial machine for 40 some-odd years.
These days, phones are more powerful than the computers used to land men on the moon, and the American industrial machine is increasingly run by robots. This means that career aspirations and opportunities have evolved well beyond the factory floor. It also means a social safety net that served 3 generations pretty well is pretty badly frayed.
If you just started melting melting down your wife’s jewelry, stop. While you shouldn’t necessarily count on a traditional retirement, a future in which you keep working in some form or another isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Here’s how to prepare for it …
Don’t Expect Any Pensions
Back when people used to watch Leave it to Beaver un-ironically, the dream was to get a steady job with a good company, work hard, keep your head down, and retire with a pension that met your income needs for the rest of your life. It wasn’t sexy, but it was fairly reliable.
Pensions, unfortunately, are on a sharp decline. As of 2011 only 14 percent of private employers offered ANY kind of pension, and most of those were only offered in conjunction with a 401(k) plan. In other words, you can’t count on your employer paying your retirement bills any more. Stupid employer.
Expect Social Security (Just Not A Lot Of It)
You thought that your parents were the last ones to benefit from free government cash, but Social Security is actually in much better shape than most people think. According to the 2013 Trustees Report on Social Security, you can expect to receive at least 70% of your current projected benefit, even if nothing about the program is fixed.
Using the Social Security Administration’s quick calculator, a 35-year-old earning $70,000 per year can expect a monthly benefit of $2,240 per month at age 67, or $26,880 per year. Helpful for sure, but it ain’t gonna pay for that vacation house on Mars.
Plan On Getting Super Old
The 2010 US Census found that there were 1.9 million US citizens over the age of 90, more than double the amount of nonagenarians that were alive in 1990. So, the good news is that you’re going to live a long time. The bad news is you have to pay for that living during that time. If you read the previous section, you know your Social Security ain’t gonna cover all those Depends (super fit super old people are probably a few generations away — sorry), you’ll probably need to find some supplemental income. But the other good news is that Walmart is bringing back its greeters.
Do Work You Don’t Hate
The first, and patronizingly simple answer to the need for more money later in life is: Don’t do something you desperately want to stop doing. Meaningful work in pursuit of a mission you believe in a good idea for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which because it will also make “retirement” less attractive. If you have no option but to hate your job, see below.
Take The Free Money While You Can
Speaking of patronizingly simple answers, if your employer is offering a 401(k) match, take advantage of that. Contribute enough to get the full match and stop thinking that you’re somehow sacrificing more worthwhile in the near term. This is free money that the IRS can’t take away from you, and nothing is more worthwhile than screwing the IRS.
Increase Your Savings on a Regular Basis
If you’ve ever run one of those “How much do I need to save for retirement?” calculators, you’ve probably gotten a ridiculous number, laughed to yourself, and thrown your computer in the trash. Remember, you don’t need to get there all at once. Start with what you can and then set a calendar reminder to increase your contribution by 1 percent every 6 months. You’ll barely notice the change each time, but those increases will add up quickly. You may not be able to throw briefcases of cash from a blimp like you planned to for your 70th birthday, but you’ll be in much better financial shape than all the other Walmart greeters.
Matt Becker is a professional financial planner, runs the website Mom And Dad Money, and, like you, is trying to scrape together a few bucks for his wife and 2 kids.