It's no secret that Americans are terrible savers.
According to a survey that accompanied Bankrate's November Financial Security Index and questioned people on their top financial priority, saving remains a relatively low priority for a good portion of Americans. The survey showed that 41% of respondents were most concerned with simply remaining current on their expenses and bills. Another 22% listed "paying down debt" as their top priority. "Saving," on the other hand, made up just 17% of responses.
Americans are cheating themselves out of a lot of money
This is a big problem because time is the greatest ally of investors, and the longer Americans wait to invest for their future, the bigger of a disadvantage they'll be at when they eventually retire.
Here's a simple example. Imagine you began with $100,000 and allowed this money to grow over time in the stock market without selling. Assuming the stock market returns an average of 8% per year (a reasonable expectation, considering this is its historical average), here are the ending totals at age 65, based on the age you began investing:
- Age 20: $3,192,045
- Age 30: $1,478,534
- Age 40: $684,848
- Age 50: $317,217
- Age 60: $146,932
That's how important time is. And these figures don't include dividend payments or dividend reinvestments, which could really pump up these returns.
So what's keeping Americans from saving? The answer is a slew of terrible and/or misguided excuses. Here are seven of the worst excuses I've come across in my day.
1. "I'll save more when I have a better job."
This excuse implies that when you're young, you likely won't have a well-paying job or the discipline to actually save money for your future. We know that young adults are statistically bigger risk-takers and poorer savers than older adults, but forgoing savings until later in life is never a good idea, as highlighted by the example above. Waiting even one decade could mean missing out on a million dollars or more. The earlier you can begin investing, the better chance you have of retiring comfortably.
2. "I'm too old to start saving now."
Although the example above shows it's clearly not good to wait to begin saving money and investing for your future, waiting at any age isn't a good idea. It may be too late to turn $100,000 into $1 million if you've only begun investing in your 40s, but waiting even longer to invest with the notion that you're simply too old to start saving is a poor game plan as well.
Remember, investing doesn't end when you retire. Therefore, even if you decide to sprawl out on a Florida beach at age 65, you can still allow time and dividends to work in your favor.
3. "I don't have time to think about retirement right now."
You might think your life is far too busy right now to start thinking about your retirement, but you'll realize later in life that your financial future will turn out to be one of the most important things you'll ever focus on after your family and friends. Putting your retirement on the backburner could negate your chances of retiring comfortably and on your own terms.
Best of all, you might be surprised how little time you need to spend managing your retirement account. When you're younger, it might only take a few hours per year to rebalance your investment portfolio (if necessary), read quarterly reports, and keep abreast of how well your retirement accounts are performing. Comparatively, when we're older we may need to spend considerably more time on our investments, possibly meeting with a financial advisor on a regular basis. In any case, the time spent will be well worth it.
4. "My house is going to support my retirement."
This one makes me bang my head against the wall. While a home may seem like a good investment, historically, a house has been an exceptionally poor creator of wealth. Keep in mind that when I refer to real estate as an income driver, I'm talking about your primary residence -- not additional homes or real estate you may own.
With the exception of the past decade and a half, home prices have just barely outpaced inflation over the long term. According to data from Robert Shiller in Irrational Exuberance, the period from 1890 to 1990 saw average annual housing price appreciation just 0.21% above inflation. Between 1950 and 1997, housing achieved even more breathtaking outperformance of 0.08% per year. Long story short, your home is a place to live, not a sound investment.
No. 5: "I'm too busy supporting my kids."
Family and friends should always come before money, but that doesn't mean you should also risk your own financial future to help your family. A common excuse given by those failing to put enough away for retirement is that they're too busy supporting their adult kids, either with monthly expenses or with large purchases such as a car or first house. Though a nice gesture, this is wholly misguided.
Here's the problem: Your kids can take a loan out against something like a home, a car, or even a college education. Unfortunately, you can't take a loan out against your retirement, nor can you get back the funds being spent to support your kids, which could have compounded many times over. Do yourself a favor and put your financial future first.
No. 6: "I'm not planning to ever retire."
I admit that even I am guilty of this one, because I love what I do. However, not saving because you plan to work forever can come with a few unforeseen problems. For example, you may want to work forever, but who says the company you work for will be there forever? And who's to say your company will necessarily want you around for 20, 30, or 50 years?
Furthermore, our health is unpredictable. While one person may be able to work well into his 90s, health problems could force another into early retirement. Because we don't have the answers to these questions, the best course of action is to plan for retirement, even if you don't truly want to retire.
No. 7: "I don't know where to start."
Lastly, I often hear from people that they haven't started investing because they don't know where to start. In other words, they're intimidated by the sheer number of investment tools available to them, or they haven't taken the time to fully understand them.
The solution may not be the same for everyone, but one good way to start understanding investing and retirement planning is to read 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly. Put together by The Motley Fool's co-founders, Tom and David Gardner, this 13-step outline guides you through the basics of investing for your future. It's invaluable advice -- and best of all, it's free! On top of following these steps, talking to your friends and sharing your knowledge in a community platform will help you and others learn and grow as investors.
No more excuses!
Make no mistake: I've heard far more excuses than the ones listed above. However, these seven are by far the most prevalent. But these excuses can easily be overcome with a little financial discipline and a focus on your financial well-being. Make today the day you set off on the path to financial freedom!
Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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