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Conversation ‘Starters’ | National Association of Plan Advisors

This weekend is, of course, Father’s Day—but my dad’s decision to retire was driven more by time than timing.

Like many of his generation, once he got to 65, it was time to “retire.” He didn’t have a pension (fortunately for him, my mother did), though he had Social Security, and savings in a 403(b) plan that he contributed to later in life—reluctantly—once he saw Mom’s modest savings in her 403(b) accounts grow.

My dad was a man of (very) few words—at least spoken words. Conversations with him generally required… effort. Oh, he’d respond to direct questions, but his answers tended to be short and—well, direct. Again, like many of his generation of him, mostly he was content to let my mother be the conversationalist in family settings.

So, when Dad turned to me one weekend afternoon for some input on his retirement planning—well, I was surprised. Not that it didn’t warrant a discussion, mind you—but it was not something we had ever discussed—and more’s the pity. That said, I dived into the financials, played through some spreadsheet projections, and—at the end of what I hoped was an educational and enlightening discussion of his options and trade-offs, their upsides and potential downsides—when I was sure that I had been able to unwind and demystify the maze and presented him with a straightforward presentation of alternatives, there was this long pause—and then, he turned to me and, as politely as he could, said, “I just want to know how much money I’ll have to live on every month.”

That, of course, was also the mindset of many in my dad’s generation—not how much we’ll need, but how much we’ll actually have. Ultimately, of course—certainly at the brink of retirement, that’s the reality of living in retirement.

Now, the 32na annual Retirement Confidence Survey, published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Greenwald Research, finds that nearly three quarters (73%) of American workers feel confident in their ability to live comfortably in retirement—indeed, 28% feel look and confident (although nearly 6 in 10 say that preparing for retirement makes them feel stressed). While that assessment predated the recent market tumult (and there has been some correlation between the markets and retirement confidence over the years), much less the sustained inflation “bite,”[i] Americans’ confidence in retirement has proven to be pretty resilient—and this despite the persistent finding that many haven’t taken the time to do even a single estimate of their projected needs[ii]—and, at least traditionally, that included measures as unscientific as “guessing.”

Now, as it turned out, my analysis of my dad’s situation (stripped of all the fancy “upside potential” possibilities) affirmed his retirement decision—or at least it didn’t put him off it. I’ve wondered from time to time since what he would have done if it hadn’t. My guess is that, like many Americans confronted with those same realities, he’d have “adjusted.” To this day, I feel really lucky that he did not have to (if mostly because my mom’s planning compensated for his lack thereof).

If it’s a conversation you haven’t (yet) had with your parents—or kids—perhaps it’s time you did.


[i] Though, a third of workers and half of retirees who feel less confident cite inflation and the cost of living as the reason for their declining retirement confidence.

[ii] However, and while it’s far from optimal, the most recent RCS did find that more than half (58 percent) ages 55 or older have tried to calculate how much money they will need to have saved so that they can live comfortably in retirement.

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