If you’ve read any of our posts (or talked to us), you probably realize that we like numbers. Personally, I blame childhood time spent with the PBS show Square One… and especially episodes with the Mathnet segment.
Flying fighters seemed to to feed the numerical beast, so to speak, as we lived and died by numbers, ranges, and probabilities. However, money (or wealth), although normally quantified by some numerical representation, has to be seen through a different lens… not as an end in itself, but as a tool to help you pursue what’s really important to you. That may be travel, or time with kids, or volunteering at the nursing home, or tutoring, or buying a car, or giving gifts, or whatever… the point is, the number is only worth something when it’s put in the unique context of your life.
The Fidelity piece is a dangerous example of oversimplifying a complex puzzle that must take into account the passions and values of the saver — not just income. Blanket statements (and guidance) don’t typically work well in financial scenarios. “There’s no free lunch” may be an exception…
Yet a ton of online calculators, radio hosts, finance gurus, podcasts, and books look at the retirement number — the amount you should have saved up by retirement — through the lens of income or salary replacement. And don’t get me wrong — that’s a fine starting point for some. The problems start mounting when you think about the fact that you’re starting off chasing a moving target given the fact income may change drastically over the course of your working years. Initially, however, you may be paralyzed to the point of inaction just at the thought of being behind the savings curve or never reaching the income replacement goal.
That, in my opinion, is the real danger of chasing a retirement number… doing nothing because you feel powerless to catch up to some metric that may not even be appropriate for you.
When our very own Ben Grisamore was working alongside Veteran entrepreneurs in the Veterans in Residence program, he introduced us to Brantley Pace, the co-founder of tripcents, an app that helps people save and book for travel by setting budgets and savings goals based on info that the user provides. I love this concept because it introduces a simple savings goal that’s designed to achieve a funding level based on how you like to travel, where you like to travel, and so forth. Bottom line: It’s a personalized goal-based savings plan toward a financial goal (funding a vacation) that also removes the tedious aspects from travel planning.
I mention tripcents because when you expand the scope of how the app works, you essentially solve the retirement conundrum. It starts with defining who you are, what’s important to you, and what you want your retirement years to look like (specifically, how you’re going to use money as a tool to express your values during your post-working years). You then can create small, achievable savings goals to help you reach hurdles throughout the seasons of your life. Am I dangerously close to oversimplifying the retirement problem? Absolutely. But I stand by the claim that you will feel empowered, excited, and enabled to save for retirement if you first think about you. From there, you can take action knowing that you have a realistic and achievable end-state in mind… not just an ever-changing number.
Numbers are important. You need to save. But along the way, if you haven’t thought about why you’re saving or what all this money is going to do for you, then you’re just chasing the retirement number for the sake of chasing it. And you may be missing out on enjoying the here-and-now as you scramble to catch up to the Jones’ or stressing over the next “how much you need to save” article.
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