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Rundles wrapup: Save like mad and more reflections on retirement

One would be wise to save like a squirrel for retirement planning


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Retirement has been on my mind a lot lately, mostly because, as I write, I’m on the eve of my 65th birthday, have my Medicare card and coverage in place, am trying to delay taking Social Security until I qualify for a higher monthly payout, am finding job applications rejected due to my age (obliquely), and I’m constantly being asked why I don’t just retire by well-meaning but obviously ignorant people, mostly younger, who just assume that retirement is a piece of cake.

Oh, and I misspent my earning years over the last 40 years – apparently like most Americans – and I am, generally speaking, unprepared for retirement, at least a comfortable one.

And, of course, I am receiving a ton of mail from financial advisers and firms who want to manage my retirement funds. These solicitations – and much of the plethora of advertisements I see on television for managing retirement funds – strike me as too little, too late.

Most of the people featured in them are 50+ or even 60+, and it just seems to me that the people who should be the subject of retirement management solicitations are those in their 20s, 30s and 40s. We older folks have made our beds, as they say; it’s the younger people whose covers are awry.

The sad truth is that Americans in general, and young people (millennials) in particular, are not saving nearly enough for retirement, if at all, and this comes at a time when life expectancy is on the rise, so retirement will undoubtedly be long. I understand this – I was young once, and it seemed as if retirement was something that would take care of itself, someday.

Besides, I had all the usual immediate needs: buying a house, having fun, taking trips, eating out, driving nice cars, saving for my children’s college, etc. There was every reason to live in the now.

What I didn’t expect was that one day I was footloose and 30, and in the blink of an eye I am 65. I remember thinking throughout my 30s and 40s, even 50s, that I had plenty of time. What an idiot! The last 35 years went by faster than my 11th grade calculus class. 

Ah, but yes I was young once, so I know a little about deaf ears, or at least the speed of sound rushing through them. There were my elders offering sage advice, as I am now, and it went in one ear and out the other. I understand not listening.

But I am going to offer some pearls of wisdom nonetheless in the hope that my juniors, or some of them, might pay at least some attention.

You’ll be old and near retirement before you know it. Unless you hit the lottery, or were lucky enough to have hit the genetic lottery, even those who saved will face problems when it comes to retirement funding.

Be a squirrel. Save like mad, or as mad as you can.

Participate in company 401ks as much as possible, and try and pay attention to the progress of the 401k, and be sure to roll it over when you switch jobs.

Get an Individual Retirement Fund and a Roth IRA, put away as much as you can handle (even if it’s a little) and monitor them – for fees and investment strategies – on a regular basis. Invest: get a good financial advisor now, buy stocks and bonds and, again, monitor, monitor, monitor.

Buy investment/rental properties. Skip a night out from time to time and put that money away. Make your own coffee, and stash your Starbucks spending away. Keep your car another year or two. Keep a tight rein on your credit cards, and make more than the minimum payment.

Social Security, if it’s even there, will be a drop in the bucket; plan accordingly. Pay off your house; resist the temptation of refinancing, taking out cash for whatever, and continually extending the mortgage term back to 30 years. You’ll need the equity.

The truth is that you don’t have to live like a hermit or a miser. Just wisely.

It’s not how much you put away, per se, it’s a matter of getting in the habit of stashing something, anything. Take the time to plan, and think about it – work on it – more than once a year. If your financial adviser gives you short shrift, find a better one.

I can imagine that even the most studious of squirrels is stretching his acorns as the winter draws to a close.

As much as I resisted it way back when, I should have been more squirrely.

Read more about retirement.

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Jeff Rundles

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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