What do you want first, the good news or the bad news? OK, first the good: we’re living longer than ever before. About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, says the Social Security Administration — and one out of 10 will live past age 95.
Wait, 95? That’s good news, I think — if I can keep my marbles that long. But now the bad news: Where’s the money going to come from to last that long?
This is a huge problem for tens of millions of Americans.
Some scary stats: The National Institute on Retirement Security says nearly 40 million households today have no retirement savings at all. And those who do have something saved, don’t have much. Federal Reserve data shows that the median retirement account balance in the U.S. in 2013 was just $59,000 (median means half have more than that, and half have less). That figure is likely higher today, thanks to the stock market’s strong performance since 2013, but even so: Most Americans are woefully unprepared for retirement.
This situation got even worse recently when Fidelity Investments said that a 65-year-old couple retiring this year will need $280,000 to cover health care and medical expenses throughout retirement. That’s up 2% from a year ago and 75% from 2002. The Boston-based investment giant says men will need $133,000 to cover health care costs in retirement, while women, because they generally live longer, will need $147,000.
So what to do? Sorry to be the giver of bad news, but you can start by acknowledging that you’ll probably have to retire later. In fact, cautions Don Chomas, senior portfolio manager and senior vice president for UBS Financial Services in Bethesda, Md., you might not be able to retire at all. “It may not be an option,” he says.
That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but you can mitigate a future cash crunch by making some lifestyle changes now.
Chomas offers the usual tips: Start saving aggressively as soon as possible, as in today.
“The sooner you develop the habit of spending less,” Chomas says, “the stronger this habit will become. Spending less is probably the single best way to stretch your retirement assets.”
So instead of dropping 10 bucks or more on lunch each day, consider small sacrifices, like bringing lunch from home. And do you really need that $4 latte? Little things, compounded by time, can turn into big ones.
And since you may live a lot longer, Chomas says you might consider being more aggressive with your investments. “Often we can tolerate slightly higher volatility and expect more growth if we have a longer time horizon,” he says. As usual, this depends on things like your age, tolerance for risk and so forth.
A focus on growth is also important given that inflation appears to picking up. Prices rising say, only 2% or 3% a year might not sound like a big deal, but over a long time frame — 20, 30 years of retirement — it will erode your purchasing power significantly. Example: Let’s say you had $100 in 1997. Today you’d need nearly $153 just to stay even (see for yourself with this inflation calculator). As Chomas points out, “Inflation, while currently on the low side, is still the silent enemy to many retirees.” Thus to maintain today’s standard of living, you’ll have to grow assets at the same or preferably faster, rate. Over the long run, this suggests exposure to equities.
But what about the conventional wisdom that as you approach retirement, you should dial back your exposure to equities, and increase your bond holdings? Those longer lifespans undercut this thinking, and then there’s this: over 20-year rolling periods, stocks (as measured by the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.20% ) almost never lose money. This suggests that the risk isn’t being in stocks when you’re older — but not being in them.
Again, everyone’s individual situation is unique, and you should discuss yours with an adviser.