Know How Much You Need Once You Retire? No You Don’t

It doesn’t matter who or what you believe is responsible for creating the universe but among many screw ups in the process including famine, pestilence, war, poverty, violence and TikTok, I would suggest one that’s been gnawing at me since I reached “that age.”

You know, that age where you’re pestered with emails and snail mails asking the unanswerable question, “do you have enough money to last through your retirement?” The short answer is another question, how the hell should I know?

I posit I WOULD know if I had enough money to last my retirement if I knew how long I would be retired, meaning how long until I no longer need money, which is the day I actually retire, from life.

My wife and I started preparing for retirement almost as soon as we got married back in 1973. We didn’t actually have much money to save because I worked as a radio DJ in a little town in upstate New York. The station’s finances were so precarious the general manager had to borrow money from his mother to pay us one time.

A few years later came the welcome introduction of Individual Retirement Accounts — IRAs. This was good because little radio stations did not offer pensions or 401 (k)s since they knew there would be a high staffing turnover and mainly because they are notoriously cheap.

We hopped on the IRA train right away and stayed with it. As my career progressed and I worked for bigger companies our retirement savings options grew. By the time I walked out of my last full-time job into retirement in 2016 we were in good shape to weather the rainy days for which we saved.

Unlike weather forecasts using scientific instruments, balloons and satellites to predict when the rain will start and stop, figuring out how long you’ll be around enough to need money is a crap shoot. Oh sure, there are insurance and actuarial tables that attempt to predict a person’s life span based on age, health, lifestyle and genetics but really, would you base your personal planning on those?

“Hmm..well dear, no vacation this year because the insurance table says I’m outta here by May, so I’m gonna spend like crazy till then because I’ll only need money for two more months. Good to know! I’m off to the Lamborghini dealer.”

So you spend six figures on a new Lambo and ha! You’re not dead in two months and now you’re broke. Wellllll…..I guess that means you did NOT have enough money to last your entire retirement. Who knew?

Which brings me back to my original point. It would have been helpful if the generic Creator could have included some sort of countdown meter when putting together the human race.

It would be helpful to know how much time you have for so many things: How long to complete that bucket list, whether or not to renew your library books, deciding you don’t have enough time on the clock to sit through “The English Patient,” urgency to cut off someone telling a long, boring story and yes, how much longer you’re going to need money in the piggy bank to get you through your entire run.

Think of how easy this would make things. You’re feeling good, living life, you check your internal countdown clock, notice your savings is looking a little low and realize, crap, I have to feed the meter! Time to grab an orange apron for that part-time job at Home Depot. You’re back in the game. Hell..there may even be an app for that. It all makes sense to me.

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Ed Garsten

Forbes.com contributor, Integrated Media Consultant, Franco PR, former Head, FCA Digital Media; Former CNN bureau chief/correspondent. Opinions are mine alone.