How Much Is Enough to Retire and What If there Isn’t Enough?

RetirementFor one family in their middle forties, their current upper-middle class life of financial success is a result of a 13-year struggle. The husband was downsized from his job in 2006 in the aftermath of the Great Recession. He found employment, only to be laid off two more times before finally landing a position in 2019 (“Will you have enough money to retire?”).

The couple has battled to keep their finances together. Although the wife continued to be employed, they had to slash spending in many areas so that they could continue to save for their daughter’s college education. No vacations, low contributions to their 401(k) plan, and lowered expectations for retirement were some of the adjustments.

Their boomer parents have recently spent a month in Australia, but that’s not likely to occur for this generation of the family. As members of Generation X, a group in age from about 39-54, they are in classic American mid-life, with mortgage payments and college debt, all while trying to save for retirement. The Great Recession hit this generation harder than others, just as they were establishing themselves.

Only 65% of people between ages 40 and 61 owned their own home in 2016, according to a recent study by the Employee Benefits Research Institute. When today’s boomers were in that age range, 75% owned homes. In addition, few Gen Xers have a retirement plan.

It is true that all Americans were hurt by the recession, but those furthest away from retirement seem to have found it most debilitating. What can this generation do to re-tool for retirement?

Scrutinize finances. Face the financial facts head-on: get a clear picture of how much you bring in every month after taxes and deductions and how much you spend each month.

Cut out any excess. Are you paying twice for the same streaming service or making auto renew payments for things you don’t use? Even small amounts add up over time.

Deal with debt. Credit card debt at a high rate, like 17%, needs to be paid off as soon as possible. At mid-life, credit card debt can wreck retirement. Target the highest rate debt first. It’s tempting to pay off little accounts first, but the highest rate debt is the most expensive.

Look hard at big ticket items. Skip the new car and opt for a staycation. Downsize to cut housing costs if that is a realistic option.

Treat retirement savings as sacred. Take advantage of any matching contributions from employers. If you are self-employed, set up an IRA or a solo 401(k) plan. Don’t tap these accounts, no matter what.

Stay employable. The single most effective way to protect retirement is to continue working. That requires staying current in your industry and making yourself necessary. Take advantage of training opportunities or develop new skills outside of the workplace.

Reference: Consumer Reports (Aug. 29, 2019) “Will you have enough money to retire?”

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