Sour Dreams for Retirees

Hi, kids. Tonight your parents are going out to the grownup party and I'll be baby-sitting. Once you're in your jammies (8:30 sharp!), we'll read this bedtime story that I brought with me from work, "Can America Afford Tomorrow's Retirees: Results From the EBRI-ERF Retirement Security Projection Model," in collaboration with the Milbank Memorial Fund. (There are copies for both of you, so no need to fight.)

The story is about mommy and daddy and their retirement! Retirement is like recess for grownups. Grownups save their money so that they can go on cruises to Alaska (like your grandma and grandpa) and not have to work so that they can stay home during the daytime and wait for you to call, which you won't do enough. No, not even to ask for a glass of water.

By the year 2030 -- when we all have rocket boots, and plasma TVs are affordable -- there will be an annual shortfall of at least $45 billion between the amount retired Americans will need to cover basic expenses and what they will have. Just think about what you could buy with $45 billion dollars. Wow, that's a lot of Bratz and Gameboys!

Let's read this part together: "The shortfall is currently in the $28 billion to $35 billion range, depending on whether housing equity is liquidated."

Yes, you can color in this graph. There's plenty of space between the line going up that shows what bills mommy and daddy and their friends will have to pay for, and that line way, way below it that shows how far mommy's and daddy's savings will actually go.

Hey, sweeties -- turn those frowns upside down. Your parents have good jobs and put money in their piggy banks to save for their retirement recess. I don't want to ruin the ending for you, but you'll see that if your parents save just 5% more of their paycheck and invest it smartly each year until they retire, they'll be OK. (Let's take a break before you brush your teeth for some fun with math! There are 100 pennies in one dollar. Five percent of that is just five pennies! Easy peasy!)

Mom and dad don't have to pay for everything. Their bosses are helping out a bit right now by putting some money into their retirement pension plans (some are called "401(k)s"). Plus, the president is going to put stuff like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid on his credit card.

On the next page we meet the poor little matchstick girl. She hasn't met her Prince Charming, and the evil stepmother doesn't pay her very much to sweep up the chimney embers and sew ball gowns for the princesses.

Poor matchstick girl. She needs to save a lot more money -- 25% of her paycheck for the next 30 years! -- so she can afford retirement recess and things like nursing-home care and home health-care costs. Even if she sells her one-room gingerbread house, she might not make up for the shortfall in her retirement income.

But let's think about fun things before I turn out the lights and leave the door open exactly 5 1/2 inches. What are you going to do during your retirement recess? With a little planning, you can watch TV (the channels you want) all day long! As long as you save part of your allowance each week, and your parents don't need to borrow money from you, it'll be recess all day, every day!

Next week we'll read from "Sources of Health Insurance and Characteristics of the Uninsured: Analysis of the March 2003 Current Population Survey."

Sweet dreams!

Dayana Yochim has a knack for picking bedtime stories that make children really sleepy. She recommends The Motley Fool's disclosure policy and a warm glass of milk.


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