Remember story problems from high school math? Try this one, taken from an October 2013 USA Todayarticle:
R -is the amount of money you'll need to retire.
X- is the number of years you'll live.
Y- is your rate of return.
Z- is the rate of inflation.
You have no idea what X, Y, or Z is.
Solve for R.
This is the reality of retirement planning. While there are many after-the-fact aspects that can be quantified by numbers (accumulation values, rates of return, asset allocation percentages, etc.), success can’t be guaranteed by adherence to a mathematical formula. Because there are too many unknown variables.
About three thousand years ago, King Solomon purportedly looked at the world around him and made this timeless declaration: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
To which the hipster millennial responded, “Oh yeah? What about Twitter?”
Of course, even the hipster knows Solomon wasn’t talking about technological change, but the essential elements of life, the fundamental things we must do to stay alive, to interact with others, to care for those we love, to find meaning. Over the centuries, across all cultures, those things don’t change.
“Nudge” is a 2008 best-seller by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein about how well-designed policies by governments and businesses can influence behavior and, according to the book’s subtitle, improve “decisions about health, wealth and happiness,” One of the prominent “nudges” promoted in the book is automatic enrollment in employer-sponsored retirement plans for new hires, for the purpose of increasing long-term saving. In many instances, not only is enrollment automatic, but so are annual increases in contributions.
When automatic enrollment is the default option, Thaler and Sunstein say employees are more likely to save for retirement, simply because most will not take the time to undo the decision. And as automatic saving becomes routine, they adjust their budgets accordingly, because they don’t miss the money they never really had.
Almost every discussion about preparing a will, trust or other estate planning documentation begins with “I know I/we should do this, but…” followed some very logical explanations for why it hasn’t happened yet. And eventually, most of the time, for those that truly need to do it, a legal professional is retained, documents are prepared and signed. A sigh of relief follows, knowing what should have been done a while ago can finally be checked off the list.
And then, all too frequently, the plan is either left incomplete, or lost. Just because the documents have been signed (that’s Step 1), doesn’t mean your estate plan is finished. You still have two steps left.
When the primary focus of a personal financial plan is maximizing accumulation, things that don’t contribute directly to this objective are often given the briefest of discussions, and evaluated in the simplest of contexts.
This is unfortunate, because “simple” approaches to these other issues can be costly. Consider term life insurance.
For at least 50 years, politicians and policy makers have championed a college degree as the surest path to prosperity and upward mobility. This assertion has merit: numerous studies show college graduates have significantly higher lifetime earnings in comparison to their less-credentialed peers. But a single-minded focus on getting a degree may overlook some of the costs embedded in this career track.
To help Americans attend college, the government provides grants and low-interest student loans. The combination of more students seeking a degree, and subsidies to make it affordable drives up the price. According to statistics released November 2017 by the Labor Department, college tuition has increased 400% since 1990, a rate four times higher than the Consumer Price Index.