In December, 2012, a landmark study was launched to determine a national retirement peace of mind.1 It included more than 6,000 respondents age 45 and older. It found that average Americans have a lot of challenges and a lot of expectations for their retirement years.
Traditionally, many Americans have viewed retirement as a time of leisure. Today, more and more of us expect to work during our retirement years. Seven out of ten of those surveyed in the study said that their ideal plan for balancing work and leisure in retirement would be to include some work.
The reasons are not purely economic. Many Americans see retirement as a time for renewal and accomplishment. When asked if they would seek the same kind of work in retirement or pursue a different career, half of those surveyed said they would seek a different line of work.
A desire for more money and economic security was the most important reason for working in retirement according to a majority of the survey participants, but 48 percent said a desire for stimulation and satisfaction was their top reason for continuing to work during retirement.
When asked about their most important financial goal, 88 percent said they would like to save enough money to have financial peace of mind, versus 12% who said they would like to accumulate as much wealth as possible.
The study also sought information on the greatest concerns facing those nearing retirement. Not surprisingly, in today’s complex economic and social climate, they found many complications that could make the task of retirement planning even more challenging.
- Health problems: Americans are expected to live longer than ever before. When asked what concerned them about living a long life, 72% of those surveyed said they feared serious health problems, making it the top retirement worry. This compares with 47% who said they worried they would run out of the money the need to live a comfortable retirement.
1 Americans Perspectives on New Retirement Realities and the Longevity Bonus, a 2013 Merrill Lynch Retirement Study, conducted in partnership with Age Wave.” © 2013 Bank of America; All rights reserved
There is good reason for concern. The study found that the top reason for early retirement given by those already retired was due to personal health problems. Fully 57% of study participants who had already retired reported they retired earlier than they had planned.
- Caring for family members: More and more Americans today are left caring for others in their families: adult children, grandchildren, parents or in-laws, siblings. These Americans are often referred to as the “Sandwich Generation”, finding their own needs for saving and retirement security squeezed by the needs of others they love.
Among study participants aged 45 or older with children, over half said they expected to have to continue to provide support to adult children. More than a third expected to have to support grandchildren. Fewer said they expected to have to support parents (16%) or their siblings (10%).
The types of support they expected to provide included financial support (cash or loans), housing (sharing a home or helping pay for housing), education and healthcare. The study also found a relationship between income and expectations for providing support: participants with higher incomes were two times more likely to say they expected to provide support to their adult children, grandchildren and parents than those with lower incomes.
Do You Have “Retirement Peace of Mind?”
The study tried to determine how close participants were to achieving retirement peace of mind by asking them to respond to these survey questions:
Do You Desire “Retirement Peace of Mind?”
The study found that participants had an average score of 5.3, based on a scale of 1 to 10, or slightly above average. Scores varied, though, by gender, the amount of savings, and if the participant worked with a financial advisor.
- Men were more likely than women to have retirement peace of mind. The average score for male participants was 5.6 while female participants averaged 5.0.
- Participants with $500,000 or more in investable savings averaged a score of 7.5 while those with under $250,000 in investable savings averaged 4.8.
- Participants who worked with a financial advisor at the time of the study had an average score of 6.3, while those who did not work with a financial advisor had a score of 4.7.
How Can You Improve Your Retirement Peace of Mind?
The results of the national study suggest several steps you can take today to improve your peace of mind during retirement:
- What is your most important financial goal? Are you like the 88 percent who said they would like to save enough money to have financial peace of mind? Or, are you more like the 12% who said they would like to accumulate as much wealth as possible? The answer may help determine your retirement savings and investment strategy.
- Do you intend to work during retirement? Will you stay in the same line of work, or start a new career… maybe even a business of your own? If you do intend to work, it could affect the Social Security benefits for which you qualify. You will want to research the impact carefully.
- What will you do for personal satisfaction? While a desire for more income and security was the top reason for working in retirement, almost half of the study participants said they intended to do so for personal stimulation and satisfaction. What will you do for stimulation and satisfaction? Do you wish to travel? Start a new career? Volunteer in your community? Whatever your choices, look carefully to see how they may affect your retirement savings goals. Do you need to save money to start a business? To complete a college education? To travel?
- Are you prepared for any personal healthcare issues that could arise? Problems with personal health lead more people to retire earlier than planned more than any other cause. Do you understand your medical care and long-term care options? Does your employer offer extended healthcare benefits to retirees or will you be required to provide your own? Is disability insurance appropriate for your situation?
- Do you have any other family obligations to consider? More and more retirees today find they must continue to provide financial support for their adult children, grandchildren, parents or siblings. Are you supporting family members today? Do you intend to support family members during retirement? How is supporting family today affecting your ability to save for retirement? Are there other strategies you should consider? Is life insurance something you should consider to help care for survivors or heirs?
- Would you benefit from professional financial advice? Participants in the nation-wide study reported overall higher levels of retirement peace of mind when they worked with a financial advisor. Would discussing your retirement goals and challenges with a professional help you? Whatever your expectations for retirement, like all important things in life, it pays to have a plan to achieve them and to regularly measure your progress towards your goals.