We're all concerned about retirement, and you may even spend a lot of time thinking about what your retirement might look like. But even if you're setting money aside, do you know what you're preparing for? What does retirement actually look like these days?
The three statistics will give you some insight -- and the picture is not at all reassuring. That's why I'll also offer some advice to help you avoid becoming a bad retirement statistic.
1. Asset levels are low
In a recent survey, the Employee Benefits Research Institute found that 20% of married retirees who lived to age 85 and beyond had no non-housing assets left at death. Over 12% had no assets left at all!
This statistic underscores the very real risk of outliving your savings. Of course, a long life is a good problem to have, but it can become a struggle if you run out of money. While it's difficult to estimate how much money you might need to retire on (more on that in a moment), the fact is that too many people end up with no money when they need it most.
What can you do about it? If you're saving, then don't stop -- and try to save more if you can. If you aren't saving for retirement, then it's time to start.
As an investor, make sure you're taking on enough risk so that your portfolio can grow for the long run (without taking on so much that you can't sleep at night). This generally means allocating more funds to equities, rather than bonds. Even as you approach retirement age, don't be afraid of risk: One historical study found that allocating 60% of a portfolio to equities in retirement was the best way to avoid outliving your money.
All this is to say: Save as much as you can and invest with enough risk to get you through the long haul.
2. Retirees' healthcare costs are sky-high
A Fidelity study found that the average couple will spend $240,000 in healthcare expenses through their golden years.
That number might be enough to make your heart skip a beat. What's worse, these numbers don't include the additional costs of long-term care -- a service that 70% of retirees will take advantage of at some point or another.
Planning for a quarter-million dollars in healthcare expenses might seem like a daunting task, but at least this statistic gives you a number to shoot for. Again, a statistic like this underscores the importance of setting money aside. You might be in great health as a retiree, but the last thing you want to worry about is whether you can afford the routine care that most older people need.
These numbers also raise a secondary point: the importance of maintaining your health. Eating right, exercising, quitting smoking, and reducing stress levels are all good ideas. Think of them as additional deposits into your retirement savings. The more you can do to minimize those healthcare costs later on, the better.
3. You're probably unprepared for long-term care
We all know that long-term care is expensive, but did you know that long-term care insurance premiums rose almost 9% last year?
Long-term care might just be the retirement budgeting line item that you're most tempted to ignore. No one wants to think about needing it, and the costs you could incur range so widely that it might seem impossible to get a grasp on it.
However, it's an issue you overlook at your own peril. Not only are the actual prices of long-term care rising fast -- home care services go for an average of $45,000 per year, and nursing-home care costs nearly twice that -- but insurance premiums are skyrocketing as insurers attempt to get a handle on increasing longevity and ever costlier claims.
So what can you do? Not everyone has the money to "self-insure" against the risk of needing long-term care. That makes long-term care insurance an imperfect but viable option. Much like credit, long-term care insurance is easiest to get when you're relatively young and healthy, so if you're considering it, be sure to start shopping sooner rather than later.
While rising premiums are unavoidable, you can still plan ahead for what is likely to become an increasingly important part of your budget. With premiums rising faster than the cost of care itself, however, you must take the time to run the numbers and see if it makes more sense to set your own money aside instead. Your decision should be based on your health, your current age, and your willingness to shoulder the risk of insuring yourself. With so much riding on your ability to save, invest, and plan for your retirement, the additional issue of long-term care might be unwelcome, but it is important.
These statistics all underscore an important piece of common wisdom: Your retirement increasingly depends on you. The best way to ensure a happy retirement is to focus on the basics of saving, investing, and taking good care of yourself. There's a lot of uncertainty out there, but by doing what you need to every day, you can help keep it at bay.