Roughly half of Americans think retirement will cost at least $500,000, according to a survey from American Advisors Group, and of those people, 25% believe it will cost $1 million or more. Yet the median amount baby boomers have saved in their retirement accounts is just $152,000, according to a survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.
In other words, even though most people know retirement will be incredibly expensive, many of them aren't taking steps to prepare for it.
Saving for the future isn't the most exciting thing to do with your money, but it's necessary if you want to be able to retire comfortably. And while it's not always easy to save, you may be unintentionally making it more difficult than it needs to be.
This factor could be hurting your saving efforts
There are many factors affecting your ability to save. Paying down debt, overspending on daily necessities, and other everyday costs can all make it harder to set aside money for the future. But there's one common yet surprising thing that could be hurting your saving efforts: Social media.
More than a third of Americans think social media is a bad influence on the way they manage their money, according to a recent survey from Charles Schwab. Furthermore, 34% of people across all generations say they spend money based on what they see on social media, and 35% of adults admit to spending more than they can afford in order to spend time with friends.
While there has always been the temptation to "keep up with the Joneses," social media has made it easier than ever to glimpse into other people's lives. But of course, social media has the ability to make people appear wealthier, happier, and more successful than they really are. Someone may be quick to post pictures of that luxurious vacation in the Caribbean, but they likely won't share about the credit card debt they racked up to afford it.
Social media has also been scientifically linked to depression and loneliness, with one study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology claiming that spending more than 30 minutes per day on social media platforms can negatively affect your well-being.
If you're spending money based on what you see online, social media can hurt more than just your mental and emotional well-being -- it can also hurt your wallet. Saving for the future may not be glamorous or social media-worthy, but spending more than you should to impress your friends will only come back to hurt you.
How to tell if you're on track financially
It's easy to compare yourself to others online, but because social media doesn't paint the entire picture, it's impossible to tell whether you're really in good shape financially based on what your friends or other people your age are posting. If your online friends are going on pricey vacations, eating at high-end restaurants, or moving into expensive new houses, you may feel as if you're falling behind because you can't afford those luxuries. However, there are more important benchmarks for financial success than being able to afford extravagant experiences and things.
One of those benchmarks is a solid emergency fund. Roughly 40% of U.S. households can't cover an unexpected $400 expense, according to a study from the Federal Reserve Bank, and not having three to six months' worth of savings set aside in an emergency fund can affect other areas of your finances when an unexpected expense does inevitably pop up. Because if you can't cover that expense upfront, you'll be forced to rack up credit card debt, take out a loan, or dip into your retirement savings -- all of which have long-term consequences.
Another way to gauge whether you're financially healthy is to see if you're on the right path to retire comfortably. If you don't already know your retirement number -- or the amount of money you'll need to save by the time you retire -- that's a good place to start. Plug your information into a retirement calculator to see what you should aim to save by retirement age, as well as how much you should be saving now to reach that goal. If you're not saving enough, it's easier to boost your savings now while you still have time to save, rather than waiting until you're just a year or two away from retirement when there's not much you can do to catch up.
Once you reach these benchmarks, you'll be in a much better place financially -- even if you still can't afford certain luxuries you see on social media. It's not nearly as fun to brag about a well-funded emergency fund or 401(k) as it is to show off beautiful beach pictures, but the former is far more important to building a secure financial future.