If you’re like many Americans, retirement planning may not be high on your ”to-do” list. When life is busy and you’re shouldering the burden of looking out for yourself and your family, setting up a retirement plan can slide down the priority list — especially if you’re hoping it will somehow be easier in a year, two or more.
But if you look at the root causes of inertia behind retirement planning, it's clear how the effects from your behavior can be significant.
Below are some insights to help you get on track and better understand the kinds of behaviors that can get in the way of planning for your financial future.
1. Put simply, it's overwhelming. Saving for retirement can feel open-ended and ambiguous, in large part because it’s difficult to predict just how much you’ll need. Adding to the stress are many hard-to-anticipate variables, including how long you will live and healthcare needs. The good news is there are on-line calculators that can assist you in determining what your future needs may entail.
2. We can’t see our “future selves.” Researchers have found that people struggle to identify with their future selves, according to a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research. It’s not just young people who have difficulty imagining how long they'll live in retirement — older Americans also often underestimate how long their retirement nest egg will have to last. Increased life expectancy means we may live 20 or 30 years — or even longer — in retirement. The good news is that companies like Prudential Retirement now offer interactive games like an Aging App to help people better understand how the decisions they make today could influence their futures.
3. We procrastinate planning for retirement. Research shows that for many people, procrastination plays a big role in hindering retirement planning. On average, we spend two hours a day procrastinating. In our busy lives, it’s often easier to daydream about our future than it is to spend time planning for it. The good news is that if you haven’t begun saving for retirement, it’s never too late to begin. Try taking a small step forward and consider setting aside 1 percent of your paycheck for a retirement account. Or, if you already have a retirement account but you're saving very little, increase your contribution by 1 percent.
4. Budgetary pressures. Families have other future needs to plan for, such as their kids’ college education or saving for a down payment for a home. Add in the immediate need to cover day-to-day expenses, and it always feels like it’s “the wrong time” to save for retirement. The good news is that there is a great deal of information available online to help with retirement planning. Take time to educate yourself and become familiar with the various tools that are available.
The push to make retirement planning easier
“It turns out that many financial companies and employers are acknowledging the psychological barriers that can get in the way of retirement planning,” says Harry Dalessio, head of full service solutions at Prudential Retirement. “Today, many employers have products and solutions to assist with student loan debt and that help employees set aside money for emergencies. Financial counselors are now available in many companies to discuss approaches to help get employees on the right path,” Dalessio said.
In addition, important innovations, such as automatic enrollment, where new employees are automatically enrolled in their company’s retirement plan, have led in many cases to plan participation exceeding 90 percent. Also, simplified products such as target date funds are making it easier for investors to benefit from savings products that are appropriate for each worker’s age and goals. Finally, innovations, such as the ability to use mobile devices and gamification tools, make it even easier to stay engaged.
“Even with these innovations, there is still ample opportunity to think bigger, and make retirement planning more accessible to employees,” says Dalessio.
The bottom line is that it’s easy to underestimate the importance of retirement planning. The good news is that with more tools and innovation, people may be better able to achieve the financial future they hope for as they grow older.