Baby boomers who envision retirements filled with cruises to exotic lands should get used to the idea that they'll be lucky to afford a paddleboat at the local park. At least, that's the implication of an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Columnist Jonathan Clements offers three compelling reasons why boomers will struggle to realize their retirement dreams:
- The 22-year trend of low interest rates -- which fueled the stock, bond, and housing markets -- is running out of gas. After all, how much lower can rates go? And then what? The lesson: Don't expect sustained double-digit returns from any of the major asset classes -- at least not for a while.
- Social Security and Medicare will not be able to support the retirement of the boomers. (It must be added that many pension plans aren't looking so hot either. And don't overlook the astronomically rising costs of health care.)
- Most baby boomers haven't saved enough. According to an AARP analysis cited in the Journal, boomers born between 1946-1955 -- those closest to retirement -- have a median net worth of $146,000 (including home equity). That is simply not enough to live on for a decade or two or three.
Clements advice for future retirees: "Hold down investment costs, avoid foolish investments [small "f," I'm sure], and save like a demon."
Sound familar? We've been saying this for years.
Index investing -- i.e., buying funds that seek to mirror the performance of the overall stock market -- is an effective way to keep down costs, while ensuring the diversification of owning pieces of hundreds, or even thousands, of stocks. But even this is no guarantee your investments will grow. Your fortunes are still tied to the stock market -- and thus indirectly, the economy, terrorist attacks, and other IRA-sapping factors that are beyond your control.
One thing is entirely within your control: You can save like a demon. Financial magazines, TV shows, and websites (including the Fool) spend most of their time talking about companies, stocks, yields, and returns. These topics offer the excitement and hope of heaping more money on top of what you already have. Maybe we'd all be better off if more energy was spent on finding ways to reduce spending, get better deals, eliminate waste, and contribute more to our bank and investment accounts.
If you want to make sure your retirement will be full of cruises not paddleboats, become a vigorous saver. Be an aggressive saver. Become addicted to saving. Save like you're possessed. Save like a demon.