Saving for retirement can be stressful, and it takes away money you could use to do things you enjoy today. But in the long run, it's worth it because this is the money that's going to put a roof over your head and pay your medical bills in retirement. Yet, despite the obvious importance of saving for retirement, more than one in five Americans still have no retirement savings at all, according to Northwestern Mutual.
What's even more disturbing are the ways that some Americans are planning to make up for their lack of savings. A recent Stash survey polled Americans about various retirement "strategies" and found that some people are banking on the following five terrible approaches to carry them through retirement.
1. Winning the lottery
Surprisingly, 40% of Americans surveyed and 59% of millennials said winning the lottery is a reasonable way to retire. But there are some major problems with this strategy. First, there are the sheer odds of winning. You have a 1 in 292,201,338 chance of winning the Powerball and the odds of winning Mega Millions are 1 in 302,575,350.
The average American spends $223.04 on the lottery each year, according to LendEDU. There's about a 99.999999997% chance that you're flushing that money down the toilet. But if you invest it instead, the odds of growing your money over time are much better. If you invested $223.04 every year for 40 years, your total contributions would amount to $8,923, but it would have grown to $44,535 with a 7% annual rate of return.
There's also the fact that lottery winners are significantly more likely to go bankrupt within three to five years of hitting the jackpot. If you don't know how to manage your money properly, there's a good chance you end up spending all your winnings long before you get to retirement age.
2. Working a part-time job in retirement
This is not a bad plan if you're nearing retirement age and your existing savings aren't enough to make ends meet. But it's not a good reason to avoid saving for retirement while you're young. Nearly 40% of Americans end up retiring earlier than expected, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. If you have to retire before you're financially ready, you could run out of money to cover your basic living expenses.
There are several possible reasons why people are forced into early retirement. Your health could take a turn for the worse, leaving you unable to work, or your spouse's health could suffer and you may need to provide them with full-time care. You could lose your job and be unable to find a new one. The bottom line is, you never know what's going to happen and you shouldn't plan to work part-time late into your retirement.
3. Finding cheaper living abroad
Again, this strategy might work, but be realistic about why you want to live abroad. Is it truly to cut your living expenses, or do you plan to travel all over the world? Will you stay there most of the time or will you make regular trips home to visit friends and family? A lot of travel could make living abroad much more expensive than remaining where you are. You also need to consider where you'd like to live abroad since many countries aren't significantly cheaper than the U.S.
This plan could also get derailed by unexpected events. If you were to become ill or a family member gets sick and you're caring for them, it may be preferable to be closer to home. Retiring abroad is not a viable option for everyone and even if you're planning on it today, things could change by then.
4. Depending on children
You raised your children and provided for them all their lives. Perhaps, out of the goodness of their hearts, they'll return the favor by caring for you in your old age should you need financial support. But they shouldn't have to pay the price for your lack of planning and diligence.
Your adult children are also trying to save for their own financial goals, including retirement, a house down payment, or their children's college education. By asking them to support you, you could be jeopardizing their future financial security. Not to mention, when you're living on someone else's dime, you have less say in how money is spent. Your kids may be generous enough to put a roof over your head if you're broke in retirement, but they probably won't be willing to foot the bill for the trip around the world you're dreaming of.
5. Finding a rich spouse
If you're lucky enough to find a rich spouse then this might work, but there's no guarantee it will happen. The odds may not be as bad as winning the lottery, but it depends on what you consider "rich." Plus, there's no promise you'll remain married through the end of your lives, and if you get divorced, you're back where you started if not worse off.
How to create a retirement plan that actually works
You could get lucky and one of the above plans may end up working out, but you shouldn't count on that. Instead, create a real retirement plan based on your lifestyle and goals. Start by estimating your life expectancy and subtracting your estimated retirement age to figure out a ballpark figure for the length of your retirement. You may need to plan for a longer life than you think. One in three 65-year-olds retiring today will live past 90 and one in seven will live past 95, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Next, total up your estimated monthly living expenses in retirement and multiply it by 12 to get your estimated annual expenses. Multiply this by the number of years of your retirement, adding in an annual 3% in inflation. A retirement calculator can do this and will ask for your estimated annual rate of return. Use 5% to 6% to be conservative, though it's possible your investments could grow more quickly.
Finally, subtract the money you expect to receive from Social Security, a pension, or an employer 401(k) match. If you don't know how much to expect from Social Security, create a my Social Security account which tells you how much you can expect based on your current work record, if you begin Social Security at different ages. The amount left over after subtracting your income from other sources is the amount you need to save on your own. Your retirement calculator should give you some idea of how much you need to save per month to hit your goal. Try to save at least this much, but if you can't, just save as much as you can right now and try to increase your savings by 1% of your salary each year.
In theory, all of the above retirement plans could work, but the likelihood is small. You're better off sticking with the tried-and-true method of creating a personalized plan and saving as much as you can each month.