Saving Too Much For Retirement?

I recently came across an old article from the New York Times that offers us a view of retirement planning that we don’t often hear…are we saving too much?

According to them, the financial industry, with its ostensibly objective online calculators, overstates how much money someone will need in retirement. Some, in fact, contend that financial firms have a pointed interest in persuading people to save much more than they need because the companies earn fees on managing that money.

The more realistic amount could be as little as half the typical recommendation made by Fidelity, Vanguard or any number of other financial institutions.

For a middle-income couple, that could mean trading $400,000 in retirement money for about $3,000 a year more during prime working years to spend on education or home improvement. For a middle-class household, that’s a lot of money, said Laurence J. Kotlikoff, a Boston University economics professor, who is on the forefront of this research into spending and savings, and is selling his own retirement calculator.

Andrew Behla is a case in point of someone who is not saving enough. Mr. Behla, a Los Angeles graphic designer and consultant, is at age 38 just starting to think about retirement. He and his wife, Michele Krolik, a payroll manager, together have just $70,000 squirreled away for their old age.

I think we will have to save a lot more, he said, a point on which the economists and the financial planning industry would agree. Even so, the couple recently bought a house and put extra money they had into improving it, figuring that over their lifetimes it will add handily to their net worth.

But other people like Beverly Alexander, 49, an energy consultant in Marin County, Calif., might be able to slow down. Her financial planner has her retirement finances mapped out to age 105 (her parents are still alive in their 90s), a plan that gives Ms. Alexander, a former utility executive, the freedom to quit her corporate job and live on her consulting income.

One reason I could retire, she said, was that I saved and I always lived below my means.

The findings of the economists are being met as most challenges to orthodoxy are: with stony silence or extreme umbrage.

I count myself as deeply skeptical, said Christopher Jones, the chief investment officer at Financial Engines, a financial planning software company.

The big financial services companies refused to comment on the research but they did say that their use of simple rules of thumb keeps the process of retirement planning less complicated, and thus, less daunting.

After the recent events in the market, we might be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks they have saved too much for retirement.

Nevertheless, I think the key factor in the entire article was the quote from M. Alexander who simply stated the most basic tenet of financial success… “I saved and always lived below my means” .

I don’t think that we need a “professor” to tell us that!

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