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What is Retirement? Fantasy vs. Reality Thumbnail

What is Retirement? Fantasy vs. Reality

Three times a week, every week, we add to the Slott Report. Two article entries and a mailbag. All factual, measurable information. “This is what to consider when you name a trust as your beneficiary.” “How much can a sole proprietor contribute to a SEP account?” “This is how you fix an excess IRA contribution.” On and on it goes. All excellent, helpful material.
What is Retirement? Fantasy vs. RealityBut what is the end game? Why do we wade through the morass of IRS rules and complicated legislation and oftentimes fantastically dry data? It is an overall effort to help people reach and create a “successful retirement.” But what does that mean? What is retirement? Fantasyland says a person works a job for 40+ years and saves a little annually through IRA contributions and 401(k) salary deferrals. And when this person stops working at age 65, he can ride off into the sunset and do all the things he wanted to do previously, but could not because he was tied to a desk or a mop or a piece of heavy construction equipment.

A few people may still fall into this category — workers who maintain steady employment at a single company followed by blissful retirement. But that ain’t the case for most of us. Research shows the average person will have 12 jobs during his or her lifetime. Also, in March 2023, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 56% of civilian workers participate in a retirement plan. All of us are searching for the right professional, personal and financial combination. How can I keep a roof over my head, food on the table, do the things I enjoy today, but also sleep comfortably knowing my future – my “retirement” years – will be waiting for me?

For those who find gratifying employment and mental solace, congratulations are in order! For most, it’s a never-ending search. The Dirty Heads have a song called “Vacation.” The lyrics say: “A-a-ay, I’m on vacation. Every single day ’cause I love my occupation. A-a-ay, I’m on vacation. If you don’t like your life, then you should go and change it.”

I agree. If you don’t like where you’re at, do everything in your power to change it, because fantasyland retirement will not mystically appear at age 65. Create a budget. Meet with a financial advisor. Go back to school. Develop a plan. Maintain a long-term view. Yes, this is boring, real-life stuff. But if you stick to the plan, it will bear fruit. By sticking to the long-term plan, short-term gratification opportunities should present themselves.

Recently I was presented with my own short-term “live for today” opportunity. My son is spending his freshman year studying abroad in Florence, Italy, and my wife and I were able to visit. We wore out a big part of the country — Venice, Rome, Pisa, Florence, Cinque Terre. Daily step counts reached 27,000. At one point, breathing heavily and ascending a long, steep gravel hill in Boboli Gardens, my wife said, “Good thing we came here while we’re young. No way I could climb this if I was retired.”

And thus, this Slott Report entry was born. Fantasyland says every septuagenarian energetically bounces around Europe. Reality tells us otherwise. (Run a Google image search for “elderly couple asleep in gondola.”) While we all must deal with everyday obstacles, it is imperative to put your best foot forward. We only get one shot at life. Face reality and create positive change, because “blissful retirement” as it’s portrayed is not promised — nor will it magically appear.

By Andy Ives, CFP®, AIF®
IRA Analyst
Ed Slott and Company, LLC

Christian Cordoba, founder of California Retirement Advisors, has been a member of Ed Slott's Master Elite IRA Advisor Group since 2007.

Copyright © 2024, Ed Slott and Company, LLC Reprinted from The Slott Report, 03/20/24, with permission. https://irahelp.com/slottreport/what-is-retirement-fantasy-vs-reality/, Ed Slott and Company, LLC takes no responsibility for the current accuracy of this article. 
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