I was speaking with a friend of mine last week, a partner in a US law firm. She described to me the cutthroat corporate culture of the firm.
“You eat what you kill” is what she said.
Whoa, I thought. That’s pretty strong language.
Mulling it over later that day, it occurred to me that she was simply saying that when we work we trade our time and our energy for food – or money. And logically speaking, if you want (or need) more money, you need to put more time and more energy into your work.
Now let’s say your family grows, or you want to eat more, buy a bigger house, go on vacation, or generally upgrade your life. You need to chase another zebra. Or a bigger zebra.
Which is why the lawyers in this firm keep elbowing each other (and then some) to go after the bigger, fatter, more meaty and lucrative cases.
And they’re going to keep on doing that – trading time and energy for money – until, they don’t need money anymore.
Which happens when you’ve saved up enough money to eat and pay your bills without working – like when you retire, when you have enough passive income to cover your expenses, or when you no longer have any bills to pay.
Let’s go back a moment to our eat-what-you-kill analogy and take a look at the lions hunting in the African savanna.
Lions have a pretty socialist system. The lionesses go out to hunt for a zebra or a wildebeest and they bring home the spoils for the entire pride. Males and females. Strong and weak. Young and old.
People do something similar, but different. During our working years, we contribute part of our income to National Insurance or Social Security, as well as contributions to our pension and retirement plans, so that we’ll have income in retirement. When we’re older and weaker. And don’t want to or can’t work full time anymore.
The problem for too many people, however, is that their retirement contributions have been relatively small, or they started late, or they pulled money out of their pensions plans mid-career. So the retirement income they can expect will not be sufficient to cover all their expenses.
And since our societies don’t usually run like lion-prides, there’s a risk that they’re going to be more like a tiger: a solitary hunter which, when he gets too old or too weak to hunt for himself, becomes (spoiler alert) somebody else’s dinner.
Or a burden on their kids.
Or living in poverty.
The US government estimates that 12% of women and 7% of men over the age of 65 live in poverty.
So what can you do in your earning years, to save enough money for your retirement?
1. Figure out where you are today. Just like when you get in the car and put your location into your GPS or Waze, you need to know where you’re starting from. This enables you to calculate the best route to get to your destination.
In money terms, where you are today is your Net Worth. It’s the difference between what you own and what you owe, your assets and your liabilities.
If you want some help calculating your Net Worth, grab my free downloadable excel spreadsheet here: http://debbiesassen.com/downloadnetworth
2. Calculate your retirement needs. Getting this number right is as much art as science since so many things in our lives shift with time. And that’s especially true the younger you are and the further away you are from retirement.
Nevertheless, you need to calculate your “number” so you can figure out if you’re even on the right track.
I suggest the following very quick and very dirty calculations.
a. Take your current monthly expenses (you do know them, right? If not, it’s time to start tracking!) and multiply that number by twelve. These are your annual expenses.
b. Take your annual expenses and multiply by twelve.
Now let’s do that again.
c. Take your annual expenses and multiply by twenty-five.
Here are some hypothetical numbers:
This gives you a range for your retirement needs, where the difference between the two numbers is based on assumptions about guaranteed sources of income.
There’s nothing golden about these numbers. They’re quick and dirty and they’re designed to give you an indication of where you’re holding.
If your retirement nest egg is below your range, you need to continue growing your net worth.
Like lots folks, you might also decide to sell your current home and downsize when the kids move out. This is a common way people supplement their nest eggs.
If you want to explore a deeper and more sophisticated calculation of your retirement needs, feel free to try one of the many retirement calculators available online, like the Ultimate Retirement Calculator.
3. If your Net Worth needs a boost, start saving and investing.
We inherently believe that we’re going to have more money tomorrow. ‘These’ expenses will be paid off. We’re going to get a bonus, a tax refund or a promotion. Our beloved online business will start turning a bigger profit. Or whatever.
So, we delay taking action. Waiting for the big win. Or the big day when we can put even more money aside for the future.
And all too often it never comes.
Because our expenses miraculously expand to meet our income.
Here’s a little numbers awareness: Let’s take two people, Jack and Jill. From a young age, Jack is a bright spark, always cooking up something and running a business out of his garage. At age 20 Jack learns about financial planning and starts socking away $2000 a year in a tax advantaged retirement plan.
Jill takes a little bit longer to get going. She goes to college and then starts a new job every few years, spending a few months unemployed between them.
At age 30, Jill finally lands her dream job. But cash is tight and she has outstanding student loans. For the next ten years Jill pays down her debt, covers her expenses and starts a family.
There’s nothing left for retirement savings.
Finally, at age 40 Jill has advanced beautifully at work and she starts investing $10,000 a year for retirement.
Assuming both Jack and Jill work and contribute to their retirement plans until age 65, earning a 10% return on their investments, here’s what happens:
Luckily, it looks like neither Jack nor Jill will be in a bad financial position at retirement.
But because Jack started investing small sums of money twenty years before Jill even got going, he will end up with half-a-million more dollars at retirement, which he earned on a significantly smaller investment: $90,000 vs. $250,000.
We each have our own version of the Jack and Jill story, of why we can’t save for the future today and need to wait for tomorrow. I encourage you to look at your expenses again and see where you can make changes to your daily and monthly spending today so you will be able to enjoy a beautiful and comfortable future.
4. Reduce the management fees on your investment accounts. This is one place where many of us can save real money. Let’s go back to our story of Jack and Jill and look more closely at Jack’s retirement portfolio, this time including the yearly fees he pays to his investment manager.
Take a look at the table below and notice the three different fee levels: 0, 1% or 2% per year, and the impact of those fees on Jack’s nest egg:
Investment management fees can reduce your retirement nest egg by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I’m not (necessarily) suggesting that everybody fires their investment managers and moves to a self-managed portfolio. That option can save you a boat load of money over the long term. Unfortunately, it can also cost you big time if you make some of the classic mistakes that individual investors frequently make, like panic selling when the financial markets get rocky and trying to time the markets.
And you could end up depleting your nest egg rather than growing it.
What I am strongly recommending is that you get mindful of your expenses and negotiate your fees.
A savings of 1% per year, which may seem like small change for the valuable services you are receiving, can accumulate and grow and earn compound interest, adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to your money over time.
Wrapping up, I think you’ll agree with me that it’s critically important for you to pay close attention to your retirement savings and to make smart, strong, and empowered decisions.
You don’t want to be like the average American who has less than $10,000 saved up for retirement.
Starting late, never starting, contributing too little, draining your retirement plans early and paying high fees will all take a nasty bite out of the money you’re going to want and need to support you in your later years.
That’s not what I want for you!
I want you to grow beautiful, strong, confident and empowered wealth.
With dearest blessings for your beautiful future,
P.S. If you found this newsletter helpful and know someone who would benefit from it, please feel free to share it.
P.P.S. If you would like more information on how you can take better charge of your money, please download my free eBook Smart Money: 12 Essential Elements of Entrepreneurial Wealth. The eBook is suitable for both employed and self-employed individuals alike.