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One millennial’s advice to peers on saving for retirement: Don’t live by FOMO

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If you’ve saved a lot for retirement, do you have any regrets about what you may have given up to achieve your financial security?

Last week, a reader, who is not a millennial, asked what if you get to retirement age and can’t enjoy your money because you’re infirm. It’s a question I’m sure is behind why many young adults delay retirement saving.

“I recently turned 50, have what I believe to be a reasonably decent amount saved for retirement but also face some significant insecurity regarding my current (well-paying) gig,” Steve wrote. “I am consequently struggling with wanting to be ‘the ant’ and save enough for retirement but also worry about getting to my 60s and regretting not having done more when I was younger and had the money.”

Steve wanted to know if he was alone in his concern.

He isn’t.

“Being in the medical field, I would often see ‘younger patients’ (less than 60) with diseases that limited their travel and/or lifespans,” Kim Zuber wrote. “However, I never thought that would be me or anyone I knew. When the dietician at my dialysis unit went for an endoscopy for reflux and was diagnosed with stomach cancer and died on his 60th birthday, it really hit home. He was careful with his diet, exercised and had NO medical history. My best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 56 that killed her a year later. Again, no history and no reason to suspect anything. She was never able to take her ‘dream vacation’ to Italy and stay in a chalet. [She was waiting until retirement.] Now she is gone and never was able to see Italy. We have always been ‘ants’ and saved and put off spending money. When my husband was offered an early buyout, we took it. He retired at 50, I retired at 59. While we must be careful with money, we have all the time in the world. We have had a chance to travel and enjoy friends.”

Most people said they have no regrets making retirement saving a priority.

“I retired after over 30 years with the federal government,” wrote Bunnee Butterfield of Edmonds, Wash.

Butterfield said she and her husband have enjoyed traveling extensively the past few years. “Our financial adviser has a philosophy that encourages us to do things now that we probably will no longer do in another 10 years.”

Leeann, 62, wrote: “I am divorced with three grown kids. My ‘living large’ has been travel and service. I committed early to saving for retirement in a systematic and consistent way. I plan to work until my mortgage is paid off at 66. I have a long-term care policy and about $1.2 million in pretax accounts. Spending the money to travel is a bit outside my comfort zone; but I’m sticking to my financial strategy. My only regret: I wish that my husband and I had traveled before we had children. But we were consumed with starting our careers.”

Ellen Rittenhouse of Kent, Minn., wrote, “After retiring from my professional job nearly 15 years ago and from my second job (home business) six years ago I define the ant/grasshopper dilemma differently. In my younger years, there wasn’t time or money to do the fun things I desired such as extensive travel. Now into the fourth quarter of my life I’m finding that ‘lifelong learning’ is a concept that I can do wherever I may be. I have the time to explore the many advances in new fields of interest.”

Now for that advice from a pretty wise millennial, who participated in my online chat last week: “I am at the upper age range for the millennial generation. Growing up I observed the relationship my parents and sister had with money. Dad and sis weren’t good, but mom was. She was also smart to have me sit with her and watch/help her as she went through the bill-paying process: watching and mailing checks, balancing the checkbook, filing paid and unpaid bills to know what was done. It, along with the general middle-class upbringing, helped prepare me when I struck out on my own. I have a stable job, multiple retirement accounts (401(k), Roth IRA, pension), and am still learning what my future could hold as I help my parents through their retirement process with Social Security and Medicare. My advice to my generation: Don’t live by FOMO (fear of missing out). Be brave enough to say no now so you can say yes to bigger opportunities later. And even if/as your career grows and you make more money, keep living cheaply and smartly as before to keep perspective.”

I’m so proud of this young person.

Retirement rants and raves
I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement.

Did you retire early and if so, how did you do it?

Is retirement everything you hoped for?

Are you scared you’ll run out of money?

Your sharing might help others. So send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

Lucas from Springfield, Va., had a rant. He and his wife are both 57. “I retired at 56 from my career as a government employee with a $1.06 million Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) account and a $300,000 IRA. My home is mortgaged at $300,000, and I have no other bill or outstanding loans. We have about $100,000 in savings, which we use in combination with my wife’s salary to supplement our $7,200 monthly expenses. I receive an annuity of $4,000, which includes a $1,500 Social Security supplement until I turn 62. My biggest rant is the lack of guidance on a withdrawal strategy to sustain retirement.”

The couple are concerned about how to tap their savings so that it lasts.

“We are deluged with advice on how to save, but are on our own when it comes to planning how to spend our savings,” he wrote.

If you are working with a competent financial planner he or she should be discussing how to draw down on your savings.

There is a lot of debate and advice about withdrawal rates in retirement.

Columnist Barry Ritholtz, who founded Ritholtz Wealth Management, talked to Nobel laureate William Sharpe about the challenge of figuring out retirement spending. Read: Tackling ‘nastiest, hardest problem in finance’: Using savings in retirement

For practical advice on this issue read:

Wise withdrawal strategies

6 Withdrawal Rate Rules to Make Your Savings Last

New retiree withdrawal rate: Goodbye 4%, hello age divided by 20

Retirement blogs

I believe that wealth happens intentionally and that means for me reading as much as I can about all things financial, especially retirement.

In this section of the newsletter, I’ll feature postings from various retirement blogs.

Since we are discussing withdrawal rates in retirement read this post from Vanguard: Withdrawal strategies for retirees

“When thinking about how much to spend from a portfolio, many investors want to apply the income-only withdrawal strategy and never intend to touch their principal,” wrote Tony Giordano, a senior financial adviser in Vanguard Personal Advisor Services. “In today’s low-yield environment, that approach isn’t possible for most investors. The average investor won’t generate enough income to cover living expenses. We would suggest taking a total return approach to retirement spending. With this approach, after considering your goals, time horizon, income, and expenses, you establish a percentage that you’ll need from your portfolio. Most people have heard of the 4 percent spending rule. That’s a good starting point, but you’ll want to base your number on your individual situation and available resources.

If you have a favorite retirement blog or you see a posting you found helpful let me know. Send your suggestions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state and in the subject line put “Retirement blog.”

Newsletter comments policy
Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict.)

Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more Color of Money columns, go here.

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