Onus of Retirement Planning is on Us

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Many workers are poorly prepared for retirement. Inadequate savings is a primary culprit.

But the question of why workers don’t save enough was debated by our readers in comments posted to a recent article. The article pertained to a new study showing that life gets in the way of saving, which is derailed by major disruptions such as unemployment or a large, unexpected medical bill.

“This confirms my thinking that the major reason for not saving is spotty employment and a lack of money,” Chuck Miller wrote in his comment posted to “Here’s Why People Don’t Save.” Debi Street agreed: “It is also the quotidian reality of too many people in low-wage, precarious jobs with no surplus to save.”

The research study also tested an alternative explanation for insufficient savings: procrastination. The procrastination theory was not supported by the analysis.

Readers, however, would not let people off the hook so easily. “What’s that old saying? ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail,’ ” said Brian Jarvis. “That planning is certainly impacted by procrastination, which then leads to being … unprepared for life’s disruptions.”

A reader who calls herself Retirement Coffee Shop knows “more than a few people who just disregard the notion of saving for the future. They have lived their lives like there is no tomorrow and spend money on any and everything they want.”

On another matter central to retirement planning – Social Security – readers didn’t criticize. They just offered practical advice.

The article, “Workers Overestimate their Social Security,” described research showing that workers of all ages have a poor grasp of how much they’ll receive in their monthly Social Security checks when they retire.

Specifically, the workers’ estimates were higher than the more precise benefit projections made by the researchers, based on each individual’s earnings history. Not surprisingly, young adults, who have more pressing matters on their minds than retirement, were farthest off the mark.

Several readers made the same suggestion: get the facts. “Go online and look at your SSA statement,” said Lynn. “It lists your FRA [monthly benefit] amount” – at the full retirement age – “as well as estimated amounts at 62 and 70.”

Other practical information came from S. McCabe for baby boomers who want a granular picture of what their retirement finances will look like. “Medicare premiums are deducted from the monthly [Social Security] payment, which can have a significant impact.”

Saving and planning for retirement are not easy for everyone to do. But it’s unavoidable that in our 401(k) system, a lot of the responsibility falls on us.

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report.  Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.


The system that we have in place now, is not useful to most workers. In essence we are asking each worker to set up their own pension plan with no education to help them make good decisions.

    Santo Cuollo

    Agreed. I have an advanced degree and still find it hard to understand it all.

    Ken Pidcock

    What’s more, we’re being asked to set up our own pension plan with no longevity risk pooling. Business journalist Allan Sloan put it succinctly: Forcing people of modest means to depend on the stock market for income to pay bills after they stop working is madness.

david levine

Yes we all know folks who procrastinate and just live in the now and ignore the future. But the bottom line is how do you save when you live paycheck to paycheck.

Please do not tell me how you save yet only earn a modest salary; I applaud your virtue but the rest of us are not that virtuous and I am talking about the majority.

Phil Dawson

So the previous comments indicate that we are lacking in education and lacking in virtue. Those sound like root causes to me. Educate yourself. Find what inspires you to virtue. You will not find solutions in grievance, resentment, or the ostensible benevolence of our government.


My experience is that most workers can attain the knowledge for what it takes to use the system we have in place now to fund their retirement and supplement that with Social Security income.

It’s said that people spend more time planning vacations than they do planning for retirement. All it takes is taking the time to learn a little at a time about investments. It’s not that most workers don’t have the education to help them make good decisions in setting up their own pension plans – it’s a matter of priorities and simply getting started. (This is a marathon; it’s not a sprint.)

The finance industry has everyone convinced that it takes special knowledge to save for retirement and that that special knowledge must be attained ‘tomorrow’ or the retirement goal will never be reached. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As for living paycheck to paycheck, that’s a separate (but related) topic that also needs honest discussion about how important it is to follow the ‘success sequence’ toward a career in a field that is in-demand, marketable, and pays well. The majority don’t do that; instead, they get into fields that fulfill their passions (often at a lower rate of compensation) rather than fulfilling their effort (to quote Mark Cuban).

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