(MoneyWatch) I write about the strategies, research and other ideas that will help you plan for a healthy and prosperous retirement. For some people, the appeal to logic is enough to motivate them to take action to improve their situation. But for many people, vivid images and stories provide the necessary motivation to get started.
So to help you get fired up to take the time and effort to plan properly, I'd like to ask you this question: What type of retirement planner are you? Do you plan like Mr. Spock or Homer Simpson? Let's take a look and find out.
What would Mr. Spock do?
Being the logical species that he is, Spock would make careful plans that would increase the odds that he'll live long and prosper. He would be carefully setting money aside in his 3001(k) plan, sponsored by his employer, Starfleet Command. He would have used his fingertip computer to calculate how much he should be saving to generate a lifetime retirement income. He'd know that the best way to accumulate savings for retirement is to invest in broad-based, galaxy-wide index funds with the lowest possible expenses.
He'd also know that the best time to draw down his government-provided benefit from the United Federation Security system would be to wait until age 80, even though many people start United Federation Security benefits at age 70, the earliest possible age with the lowest possible benefit. (Note to readers: The earliest age to start Social Security for our earth-based Social Security system is 62, which produces the lowest possible benefit. Most likely, you'll be better offat least until age 66 and even better, to age 70.)
Spock would also have read up on the various methods he could use toso that he'd have a paycheck until age 140 -- not an unrealistic age for a Vulcan who takes care of his health.
Spock would also most likely realize that at some point in his career at Starfleet Command, he'd need to move on to some other type of employment. Because he's accumulated a lifetime of skills and experience, he'd be keeping his radar out to pick up on other types of work that he'd enjoy and where he could be of service to the galaxy. He'd plan for an extended period of time after his Star Fleet employment to explore his vast number of interests, some of which would produce enough income to meet his needs until he was no longer able to work and must fully retire. A few centuries earlier, humans called this an "encore career," "practice retirement" or "adulthood 2.0."
Because Mr. Spock has, he'd face the future with confidence. He wouldn't lose any sleep worrying that he'd need to live on a rocky moon in a remote part of the galaxy, just to make ends meet.
What would Homer Simpson do?
"I'm outta here! Take this job and shove it! Now let's go to Moe's Bar to have some beer, then we'll go eat some donuts. I've got $10,000 coming to me because my Uncle Louie just kicked the bucket. That should be enough to fund my retirement."
Poor, misguided Homer.
Unfortunately, various surveys show that about half of all Americans retire without calculating how much money they really need to generate a retirement income that will last for the rest of their lives. In fact, many just guess at the answer, and they guess way too low.
To add to these challenges, many older Americans have contracted "lifestyle syndrome." Due to their poor nutrition and exercise habits, and the prevalence of smoking and substance abuse, they've dramatically increased the odds of contracting expensive and debilitating diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer and dementia or Alzheimer's. There's a good possibility that our medical and long-term care support systems will be strained beyond capacity.
While Homer would be oblivious to the retirement risks he faces, his ever faithful wife Marge would be very fearful and would lose sleep worrying about the future. She'd fret that at some point, she and Homer would run out of money and that they'd need to move in with Bart when he's grown up. They couldn't live with Bart's sisters Lisa and Maggie, who both moved to Europe to pursue their careers and get away from their dysfunctional family.
By now, you get the point. So will you plan your future like Mr. Spock or Homer Simpson?