I was recently scolded in an email I received from a reader. She said, among other things: "Why are you writing articles as if worries don't prey on all of us? Don't you think people are smart enough to know their own situations?" She referred, of course, to the many articles I've written on retirement issues where I've pointed out how precarious many people's futures are. Some examples:
- Prepare for a Gruesome Retirement
- You Won't Retire -- Because You Can't
- Will You Retire by Choice -- or Force?
I suppose her point may be well taken -- at least in regard to one segment of society. While too many people have not saved and invested nearly enough for retirement and therefore (in my opinion) need a wake-up call or a kick in the pants, there are still plenty of people who have been living financially responsible lives.
For the savvy
Let's stop and consider this latter segment for a few minutes. Perhaps you're a part of it. I suspect I am. You worry about your financial future. You regularly sock away as much of your income as you can, buying the best stocks and mutual funds you can find and aiming to hang on for years, if not decades. When you see statistics such as "More than half of all workers have saved less than $25,000," you gasp in alarm, imagining these poor people panhandling for spare change in their golden years. You also feel a slight smug satisfaction, knowing that you're apparently doing much better than average.
What advice can I offer such people? Well, here are a few thoughts:
- Stop and smell the roses! If you do little else than work hard and focus on your finances, you're short-changing yourself. Those irresponsible ne'er-do-wells who haven't begun saving for retirement may be losing out on future financial security, but they're probably doing so with at least a slight benefit: They're likely having more fun. You don't have to go to their extreme by being a financial trainwreck, but you might enhance your life a little by giving yourself a nice vacation each year to somewhere you've always wanted to go. Or you might buy a big treat every few years, such as a big-screen TV.
- If spending money like that really just makes you wince too much, scrap the idea. Instead, make sure you're including fun in your life in other ways. Perhaps take up some inexpensive hobbies, such as starting a weekly board game night with friends. Or give yourself a $250 annual budget for gardening and see what you can make of your backyard.
- Part of me applauds massive savers, reasoning that it can't hurt to have saved and invested too much -- the worst that will happen is that you'll be extra-comfy in old age, or you'll be able to bequeath or donate a lot of money to appreciative recipients. But another part of me suspects that it is possible to save way more than you'll need. If you have $50,000 so far and you save and invest $8,000 each year, earning the historical market average of 10%, you'll end up with roughly $1.5 million in 25 years. I learned in our Rule Your Retirement newsletter that between 4% and 5% is a reasonable annual withdrawal rate in retirement, so if you withdraw 4.5% of that $1.5 million, you'll have some $67,000 to spend in your first year of retirement. That's not too shabby an income. Plus, it will likely be augmented by some kind of Social Security income. Do you need to work like a dog with no indulgences to accumulate $3 million upon which to retire? Perhaps not!
- If you're doing all you can reasonably do in regard to saving and investing, then relax a bit. Stop fretting about it. Don't let yourself get stressed out by the next alarming article I write -- odds are, it's not targeting you.
- Remember that life is short. I've seen plenty of hardworking people with good intentions go through life denying themselves this and that, and in the end, it turned out to not be so worthwhile. You can lose most of your eyesight overnight, for instance. Have you seen all the things you want to see in life yet? You could end up in a wheelchair tomorrow. Have you walked along the Great Wall of China yet, or climbed the temples of Angkor? Will you have regrets that you can prevent with a little well-thought-out spending today? Have you noticed that your young children are growing up rather quickly?
Saving and playing are both important
Don't get me wrong. It is critical to save and invest for retirement, and to do so with significant sums, starting at as young an age as possible. (We'd love to help you with that -- try our Rule Your Retirement newsletter for free and see how.) But you don't have to spend lots and lots of your time doing so. Free up some time for more fun. One way to simplify your financial life is through carefully selected mutual funds.
The Cohen & Steers Realty Shares Fund
You can have your cake and eat it, too -- save, invest, and enjoy life.
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of no company mentioned herein. Her favorite discussion boards include Book Club, The Eclectic Library, Television Banter, and Card & Board Games. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.