Who says Congress can’t agree on anything? In September, Republican and Democratic lawmakers joined forces and, in a rare showing of bipartisanship, agreed that saving for retirement is a good thing.
They passed a nonbinding resolution “supporting the goals and ideals of National Save for Retirement Week.” They encouraged “raising public awareness of the various tax-preferred retirement vehicles and increasing personal financial literacy.”
National Save for Retirement Week ended yesterday. I’m not sure how much public awareness was raised, but awareness among financial experts like myself was raised significantly.
Last Wednesday, Wells Fargo and Harris Interactive released a poll with this depressing headline: “Saving for Retirement Not Happening for a Third of Middle Class.”
The poll quizzed more than 1,000 Americans between the ages of 25 and 75 with median household incomes of $63,000 — not rich but not poor, the very definition of middle class.
Among the depressing statistics…
- 34 percent are “not currently contributing anything to a 401(k),” even though contributions are tax-free and are often matched impressively by employers.
- 41 percent of the middle-class between the ages of 50 and 59 aren’t currently saving for retirement at all.
- 31 percent say they won’t have enough money to “survive” after they retire.
- 19 percent “have no retirement savings.”
Of course, if this is how the middle class is faring, those who earn less are surely worse off.
Yet the problem isn’t “awareness.”
In all the polls on retirement I’ve seen over the years, everyone knows they need to save more. Many can’t seem to find even spare change, or they lack the sheer willpower. Even the Wells Fargo-Harris poll reveals, “a majority of middle-class Americans say that they are not sacrificing a lot to save for retirement.”
The most telling section was this one…
When respondents were asked if they would cut spending “tomorrow” in certain areas in order to save for retirement, 56 percent say they would give up treating themselves to indulgences like spa treatments or jewelry, 55 percent say they’d cut eating out at restaurants “as often,” and 51 percent say they would give up a major purchase like a car, a computer or a home renovation. Notably, fewer people (38 percent) report that they would forgo a vacation to save for retirement.
If nearly 4 in 10 middle-class Americans are unwilling to give up a single vacation to retire a tad more comfortably, then no amount of “awareness” campaigns is going to change their minds.
Back in August, Debt.com reported 3 stupid ways we’re ruining retirement, and one of those ways was summed up by this astonishing fact: 22 percent of pet owners would sacrifice their retirement savings to keep their pet.
Now, I own and love animals myself. But I’m also “aware” that I’m going to outlive any dog or cat I own. I need to plan accordingly.
There’s no shortage of solid advice online, and the first-ever National Save for Retirement Week produced some excellent and accessible content — my favorite from Lincoln Financial Group, which assembled its own microsite.
My fear is that most Americans simply didn’t read any of this content. That’s a shame now, and a tragedy in the years ahead.
Howard Dvorkin is a CPA and chairman of Debt.com, an educational resource for those who want to conquer all forms of debt in their lives.