Retirement’s Dirty Little ‘Secret’

Tuesday, 23 Oct 2012 07:36 AM

By Andrew Packer

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“It’s really counter-intuitive if you think about it, but if you want to be rich, you have to live poor. And if you want to be poor, live rich.”

That’s what I found myself saying to a friend a few weeks back as we drank coffee one Saturday morning on my porch.

And now that I’ve had time to think about it after the caffeine rush, the more it makes sense. Those who spend all their money on frivolities and knickknacks now will have to keep working for the rest of their lives. Those who live more within their means, save money and invest it carefully, will be rich (or at least not broke).

Now, to outward appearances, the poor person will appear rich. And the rich person will appear poor. To some extent, this mirrors the findings in various studies and books, such as "The Millionaire Next Door."

So want to retire rich? Here’s the secret: live “poor.”

Okay, so it’s not that much of a secret. But here’s another one: The entire concept of retirement has been largely shaped by the government, not by individuals.

Indeed, the concept of retirement, in the annals of human history, is a blip on the radar. In the United States, this really came about with the Social Security Act in 1935, only 77 years ago.

In fact, retirement is so new as a concept that we’ve already changed how we think about it substantially. The first private-sector retirement programs (at least in the United States) came in the form of defined pension benefits.

But that’s rapidly changed. Why? For the most part, the legacy costs of paying pensions to the prior work force are having a profound impact on the current profitability of companies.

For instance, back in June of this year, General Motors made a move to cut back on its pension obligations by offering lump-sum payouts for 118,000 former employees still collecting a paycheck from the company. But with a current headcount of 210,000, it’s clear that every current GM employee is also working on behalf of six months’ pension for a former employee.

No wonder many companies shifted from a defined pension program to investment programs like 401(k)s instead.

The idea of retirement, and how it gets funded, will continue to change with every generation.

I don’t know what the future of retirement will be. But I do know that as the baby boomers enter retirement and continue to live for decades, retirement benefits from the government will have to go down and taxes to pay for it will likely go up.

I also know that, as an individual, your best bet is to start saving as much money as you can now. Invest it in companies that dominate their industry. Employ some short-term strategies where you can to increase your income.

And, if you count on anyone besides yourself for your retirement, chances are you’ll never have the retirement you want — if you get the chance to retire at all.

© 2014 Moneynews. All rights reserved.

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