You’ve no doubt heard many times that we have a retirement crisis in part because people are spending more than they are saving. A survey by GoBankingRates.com found that 42 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement. About 14 percent of the survey participants said they haven’t saved anything.
“If they don’t boost their savings, they’ll likely retire broke because that’s not enough to cover a year’s worth of expenses,” writes GoBankingRates.com columnist Cameron Huddleston. “On average, adults 65 and older spend almost $46,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
But there’s more to this story. There’s a growing population of retirees who have saved well and they are holding on to their money — maybe too long.
Research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute calls it “slow decumulation of assets.”
It comes as no surprise that retirees with less money quickly spend down what they have once they stop working. However, the more a retiree has, the less he or she spends.
“Within the first 18 years of retirement, individuals with less than $200,000 in non-housing assets immediately before retirement had spent down (at the median) about one-quarter of their assets; those with between $200,000 and $500,000 immediately before retirement had spent down 27.2 percent,” writes Sudipto Banerjee in the EBRI research report released this month. “Retirees with at least $500,000 immediately before retirement had spent down only 11.8 percent within the first 20 years of retirement at the median.”
Forbes contributor Howard Gleckman calls this trend that EBRI reported on “A Tale Of Two Retirements.”
About one-third of all sampled retirees actually increased their assets during the first 18 years after retirement, Banerjee said.
“Retirees face several risks — uncertain life span, uncertain medical expenses, uncertain market returns — that might cause many to spend their retirement assets more slowly,” Banerjee writes in the research brief. “In addition, throughout their working lives, many people develop a saving habit. Is it possible to suddenly change or reverse such a habit? How easily can people adjust to decreasing account balances after they have focused on increasing their balances for most of their lives?”
I can tell you, it will definitely be a challenge for me to spend down what I have spent decades building up. I’m not sure I can change how I’m hard-wired to save.
“Underspending in retirement certainly isn’t as bad as running out of money,” one researcher told Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. “Still, scrimping needlessly cheats you of the enjoyment you deserve after a lifetime of saving.”
You can’t let your frugality cheat you out of a fulfilling retirement.
“Find ways to spend that tend to make for a happier retirement — and thus may make you more amenable to parting with your dough,” writes Walter Updegrave.
“Start by focusing less on spending per se and more on having a happier retirement,” Updegrave writes. “You don’t want to make spending feel like an obligation. After all, the point of saving during your career is to make for a more comfortable and rewarding retirement, not to create an unpleasant chore. So instead of obsessing about not spending enough, think instead of things you can do have a more enjoyable post-career life.”
The EBRI report says another reason people may be reluctant to spend their retirement savings is they don’t know how.
“This slow asset decumulation rate could be lack of financial sophistication, or in other words, people don’t know what is a safe rate for spending down their assets,” he writes. “So, they are erring on the side of caution.”
If you’ve been a lifelong penny pincher, you may find it hard to let go of your retirement savings. But don’t let your fear rob you of having some fun. Of course, you want to be prudent but live it up some.
Think about this. You may want to leave some money to your children or other heirs but do you really want them to be a bigger beneficiary of your hard work and frugality than you?
So, come to think about it, maybe I should get another pair of shoes. I need to practice feeling good about spending before I retire.
Are you retired and suffering from “spendaphobia?” Tell me about your fears and how you overcome them. Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state.
Retirement rants and raves
I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise.
If you haven’t retired, what concerns you financially? You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”
In last week’s retirement newsletter, I asked: Were you surprised at your retirement tax bill?
Martin L. Buchanan from Laramie, Wyo., wrote, “I’ve done our taxes myself for decades but made a significant error last year and overstated the taxable amount of our Social Security benefits. The IRS found the error and sent us a letter with a correction in our favor.”
He had some suggestions based on his experience this tax season.
“People should always use the work sheet and not, for example, think that they know 85 percent of their benefit is taxable. Having gone through the work sheet a couple of times, and despite having written both tax calculators and Social Security benefit calculators as a computer programmer, I was baffled by it and also didn’t find any good explanation on the web or in the tax instructions.”
Michael R. Ben of Hilo, Hawaii, wrote, “I wasn’t surprised by the taxes on retirement income, as I had read up on this before retiring.”
Thomas R. Newman of Wisconsin said he hadn’t given much thought to how taking required distributions from his retirement account would boost his income and thus his income taxes.
“My late wife and I managed to save several hundred thousand dollars for retirement, both in 401(k)/IRA and in tax paid accounts,” he wrote. “Now have Social Security income and a modest pension. SURPRISE! Now past 70 1/2, have to draw out of IRA. That is taxed, so what I thought I had is radically diminished. And then to top it off, that income causes my Social Security benefits to be taxed. I am at a loss to calculate what was my thought to be substantial retirement savings really worth.”
“Retirees must manage their Social Security and other retirement income well if they hope to avoid the ‘tax torpedo,'” Ilana Polyak wrote for CNBC. “The tax torpedo is a name given to the unexpected way that Social Security can get taxed, depending on how much other income you have.”
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.)
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