Google the word "schizophrenia," and one of the first definitions you'll find describes it as a mental disorder that makes it difficult for people to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences and to think logically. By using one of the latest surveys on retirement, one from The Hartford titled Age of Opportunity," you'll see how easy it is to apply this definition to Americans' view on certain retirement issues.
The feature page of this survey says that most people report feeling "hopeful" and "peaceful" about retirement. The survey also notes that both pre-retirees and retirees relish the idea of spending more time with their family and friends. These are all good results that I'm happy to see reported.
But the survey also reveals some disturbing responses that show that people really haven't faced up to the serious issues facing them in their retirement years. For example, 80 percent of pre-retirees and 75 percent of retirees report that they only want to live as long as they're healthy. So what happens when they become unhealthy but are still living -- do you hand them a gun?
Meanwhile, just 3 percent of pre-retirees and 4 percent of retirees say they want to live as long as their money lasts. Put these two results together and it seems that people are perfectly fine being healthy and broke, which is the path many retirees are already on given their meager retirement savings and the fact that many are drawing down on their savings too rapidly.
When it comes to long-term care, 48 percent of retirees and 63 percent of pre-retirees say their spouse is the person most likely to care for them if they become chronically ill. However, only 11 percent of pre-retirees and 10 percent of retirees say that caring for a spouse or family members is a top concern impacting their retirement. So respondents think it's OK for their spouse to take care of them, but they're not worried about taking care of their spouse. Hmmmm. Given the threat of long-term care, this view is particularly short-sighted: It overlooks the emotional and financial toll imposed on care-giving spouses. A much better approach would be to actively plan for the threat of long-term care expenses.
And then there's the notion that you'll work to age 80 to obtain a comfortable retirement, as reported by a recent survey by Wells Fargo. Yeah, that's the ticket ...
Don't get me wrong -- I'm encouraged by the optimistic responses presented by the Hartford survey. And I don't mean to diminish the seriousness of the mental disorder represented by real schizophrenia.
I'm just trying to make the point that planning for the rewards and risks for a period lasting 20, 30, or 40 years is an ambitious task, and you'll need to spend some time thinking through the issues in order to make sure you're truly prepared for retirement. My wife and I spend endless hours discussing the pros and cons of important life decisions, including those affecting our retirement years. In particular, we talk about what we'll do, whether we enjoy continuing to work, how much money we need, strategies to maintain our health, and what we'll do if one of us needs long term care. The process invariably uncovers flaws in our thinking, but eventually we arrive at solutions that are most likely to stand the test of time.