Are Baby Boomer Retirements Doomed?

Are baby boomer retirements doomed?  I fear the answer for millions of people is a resounding “Yes”.

According to the US Census, there are almost 80 Million Baby Boomers living in The United States.  I’m proud to call myself one (though my 1963 birth means I barely squeaked into the 1946 – 1964 timeframe).

Baby boomers are now retiring at the rate of ~10,000 per day.

That’s a LOT of folks heading into retirement.

Are Baby Boomers Ready For Retirement?

I read two very concerning studies this week, one from GoBankingRates and the other from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO).  Both focus on baby boomers’ readiness for retirement, which is the focus of today’s article.  The GoBankingRates study asked each of three age groups (Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers) the following question:

“By your best estimate, how much money do you have saved for retirement?”

The results are startling, and summarized by the following graphic from the study:

Look at those numbers again:

56% of Americans Have $10k Or Less Saved For Retirement! Click To Tweet

Obviously, the data above is for all age groups, so it’s influenced a bit  by the “younger crowd”.  Let’s look at Baby Boomers specifically:

How Much Do Baby Boomers Have Saved For Retirement?

Fortunately, the study breaks the data down by demographics.  While it’s “better” for “Baby Boomers/Seniors”, it’s still cause for serious alarm:

Among those Ages 55+, there’s still a tremendous gap in what folks have saved for retirement, and what they’ll actually need to retire:

Of Folks Ages 55 or Older, 45% have less than $10k saved for retirement (!!!) Click To Tweet

Further, 28% of Baby Boomers have NOTHING saved for retirement.  That’s ~22 MILLION people, over the age of 55, who have nothing saved for retirement.  While some of those folks may be the lucky few who can count on a pension, many will be destined for a life funded soley by Social Security.  In fact, 35% of Baby Boomers expect Social Security will be their primary source of retirement income.

Scary stuff, this.

75% Of Those Over 40 Are Behind

Using benchmark targets from JP Morgan, the GoBankingRates study concludes that 3 out of 4 folks approaching retirement are behind on their retirement savings vs. where they need to be.  A concerning reality, and one which folks will be facing in the very near future as they approach retirement age and may be forced to retire sooner than they think.  If you lose your job, and are unable to fund your retirement, you’ll likely be left with a life in pursuit of low paying jobs.  Forever.

The reality is, many Baby Boomers will never be able to retire. Click To Tweet

If you’ve procrastinated on making retirement savings a priority, you’re very quickly facing the day when you’ll have to pay for this mistake.  I feel for the majority of Americans who are unprepared for retirement, and worry about what the balance of their lives have in store for them.

There’s an older lady who works at the drive-thru of our local Wendy’s.  My wife and I ask ourselves how old she is whenever we go through that drive through, and have agreed she’s likely in her late 70’s, maybe even 80.  She’s always pleasant, and we’ve commented to each other that she’s probably their best employee.  It makes me sad to think that she’s stuck working a minimum wage job at such a late stage in her life.

I suspect there will be many more like her in the coming years.

Sad.

What I Would Do If I Were Behind

Fortunately, my wife and I have made it a priority to save for retirement since our 20’s, and we’re in good shape.  I suspect most of you reading this are also in better shape than “average”.  Perhaps you know some folks who fall into the scenario depicted by these studies.  What can they do? Here’s what I would do if I were in their shoes:

1. Get Very Serious, Very Fast

Realize that your working days are numbered, and no one cares about you as much as you do.  This is on you. Own it, and admit you’ve procrastinated for too long.  Commit to take action, and start today.

2. Sacrifice Like There’s No Tomorrow

Unless you want to be that 80 year old woman working at Wendy’s, it’s time to sacrifice now.  Sucks, don’t it? Get over it, and start sacrificing today.  Either way, you’re going to have to sacrifice.  Better to sacrifice some today, rather than push all of your sacrifice to tomorrow (Wendy’s).  Cut off your land line.  Kill the cable.  Sell the new car and buy an old clunker.  Sell your house and move into something smaller/cheaper.  Get a roommate. Stop eating out.  Cut off all funding to your children. If you have a problem with credit cards, put them in a bowl of water and throw them in the freezer (better yet, cut them up). Tough decisions, all, but the reality is that you’re very quickly running out of choices.  It’s time to face reality, as ugly as it may be.

3. Adjust Your Expectations

Realize that if you’re behind in your 50’s, you’re likely behind for life. Forget about retiring to a life of leisure, and look for additional sources of income that you can build in the event you lose your job.  Drive for Uber if you must, but find something now that can generate some additional income.  Save every extra dime you earn.  Leisure is likely an unrealistic expectation at this point in your life, so double down and commit those leisure hours to earning some extra money.  Now.  Mentally prepare yourself for the reality that you’ll probably be working for many more years, and you’ll likely never be able to retire.  Unpleasant, but it’s important that you take off the rose colored glasses and peer cleary into the reality that you’re facing.

A life of procrastination is catching up to you.  Fast.

4. Live Like You’re On Social Security

Get your updated Social Security estimates here, then try to build a budget using those income estimates.  Be prepared – it’ll be an ugly, ugly scenario.  How am I supposed to live on $1,500 a month??!! Better to face the reality now while you can still do something about it, than to lose your job next month and have to face it unprepared.  If nothing else, it’ll be a wakeup call to how serious your situation is.

It is serious.

Recognize the fact, and make radical changes today.


Conclusion

Today’s post was painful to write.  However, the facts are the facts, and there are millions of baby boomers rapidly approaching a point where they’ll have to face a very ugly reality. I have sincere empathy for folks who are unprepared for retirement.  Consider this a cold, hard slap in the face to “Wake Up!!”.  Better to read these words today, while you can still do something about it, than to continue to procrastinate and make matters worse.

It’s your choice, and only you can make it.

You can choose to continue to ignore reality, but don’t be surprised if you end up as that 80 year old working at Wendy’s.

As much as it hurts, face up to the fact that it’s time to Deal With It.

Today’s the day to Deal With It.  So….Deal With It.

Now.

40 comments

  1. We’ll be your guinea pigs and let you know if we’re doomed. We think we have everything covered. Even so, number 3 is a strategy we can use if needed. After we downsize (this year hopefully) we’re still leaving room for further downsizing if needed, or living in another country. Mr. Groovy similarly addressed the fact that many people in their 50s are not in a good place in his Prepare for Impact You’re 55 Years Old and Broke post. Great minds think alike!

    1. Mrs G, first in with a comment! You win! 🙂 Knowing you and Mr G as well as I do, I don’t think much of this article will apply to you! I had forgotten about Mr G’s post, should have linked to it as well! It really is scary how ill prepared the majority of people are….I worry about what we’ll face over the next 10-20 years. As the “Serenity Prayer” says, we can only control what we can control, but I do worry about those who haven’t taken control of their retirement finances. Glad to see you have contingency plans, and hoping you never have to exercise them! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. It is certainly a scary thought to be one of those behind! Social security isn’t meant to replace all income in retirement…and as a millennial how much will be around when I come of age is TBD but I’m not planning on it. Time for people to have a wake up call and get some serious help on controlling expenses. That’s where my emphasis would be! Smaller house, cheaper cars, control restaurant spending and shopping etc.

    1. I agree, TGS, best to assume you’ll not get any Social Security, consider it a bonus if it comes. Better to be prepared for the worse and have a surprise to the upside, vs. the other way around! Today’s article has a harsh tone, I really feel like folks need a wake up call, and decided to wake them up today. I hope it impacts at least a few. If nothing else, I feel better knowing I’ve tried.

  3. While scary, I do wonder if the picture is slightly better in reality. I have at least two family members with less then 100k to their names in their 60s. Both would answer the question he same. However one of them has a pension that combined with their social security exceeds their yearly pay. Pensions are a thing of the past but I think you’d be suprised how many older folks still have remenants of them.
    I’m still worried because the underlining cultural current has been for decades to not save. Furthermore the first folks to start out with no pension being the norm are probably still about ten years from retirement. I expect that’s the point where things get interesting and potentially laws get changed as a result.

    1. FTF, I hear where you’re coming from, and there’s no doubt that those with pensions are fairing better than those without. My concern is the % of folks with pensions is dwindling faster than a snowfall in Georgia, and my real concern is for the folks under the “cultural current” of not saving. Without a pension, I really fear for their future, and hence my strong article today.

      You may well be right, and laws may get changed as a result. Unfortunately, those law changes will likely penalize those who have been responsible and taken accountability for their situations. Tax rates will increase, and those who have saved for their futures will most likely be called upon to pay for those who have not. Concerning state of affairs.

  4. And here’s a different angle…some of those with meager savings may be saying, ” Well, I’m not going to retire anyway, what difference does it make.? I love my job, I make good money, l’m O.k…”

    Well, I was saying the same thing..in my late 60s I still owned and ran a small business with 10 employees. Loved it! Thought I’d never retire. But things creep in… spouse developed alarming health issues. A potential business buyer popped up. I developed some limiting health issues. Laws began encroaching on business profits. Technology got more complicated.

    It’s all worked out fine for us, and we do have retirement resources, but otherwise I might still be slogging away daily at a business that always has new challenges, trying to keep up with new laws and technology, dealing with the health items that just slowly multiply, yet locked into working hard to support us. The author of this article is SO RIGHT! You do not know what your next 10 years will bring! Plan NOW!

    1. Brenda, as “the author of this article”, I say a sincere “thank you” for the contribution. Great to hear from someone who is experiencing the realities of life. Happy it’s working out for you, and hope the health issues are manageable. Thanks for the comment, it adds a lot of value to this post!

  5. Another problem with people relying on pensions is that they are not guaranteed. If the company hits hard financial times they may be reduced or in the worst case virtually eliminated. Think Enron, or the big financial houses the government bailed out during the economic crisis. There is no assurance that every company will get that treatment if it happens to them. Most pension plans are funded on rosy and perhaps unrealistic estimates of their underlying investment portfolios. If the real estate and equity markets soften or undergo a major rationalization then many of these funds will become insolvent. Even public pensions are suspect as cities and states are having difficulty balancing their budgets, think Detroit and California. Pensions are an amazing benefit however longevity increases and inadequate funding threaten their survival. Social Security is likewise financially unsustainable however the guy writing those checks gets to print his own money so it is much more likely to survive with only minor alterations. I think you are correct that most of your audience is in the planned and prepared demographic but I am sure you’re responsible for many of us being as well prepared as we are. Thanks for what you do.

    1. “I am sure you’re responsible for many of us being as well prepared as we are.” Steve, you give me WAY too much credit (but thank you!). I agree on the risk for pensions. Clearly better to have one than not, but even having one doesn’t insure it’ll be there forever. Airlines are another example where pensions blew up in bankruptcies, and the PBGC guarantees are at lower levels than the original pensions. Bottom line: you’ve got to save, and save a lot.

  6. The millennial portion of the infographic is pretty scary. I should be feeling pretty good. I just need to not screw it up by the time I’m boomer aged!

    It’s fascinating to me that there’s a higher percentage of millennials who have >$300k than either of the percentages of milliennials with $200k-$299k or $100k-$199k

    1. Hey TJ! Great point about the % of Millenials > $300k, I hadn’t picked up on that. Guess it means if you get rolling, you can roll right on thru $100k, $200k and up and over $300k! Interesting.

      I appreciate your comment as a Millenial. I targeted my article on Baby Boomers since they’re facing the most urgent crisis, but there’s clearly a message in here for younger generations, as well. Not everyone is as well placed as you are!! Looking forward to reading about your exciting year!

  7. Thanks for raising the awareness! This is a great reminder what will happen if folks don’t apply the simple principles of the FIRE. Even $300k is not that much as a supplement to Social Security, so I would argue that the share of Baby Boomers ready for crunch-time is even below 22.4%.
    Why should we all care about this? Aren’t we all FI, or on the wy to FI? First, we should care because we all have relatives and friends who might need some advice on getting their act together. Everybody, let’s all be generous with advice to our loved-ones! Second, if the situation is really this bad, I’m worried about what kind of populist policies and redistribution of wealth schemes will be ahead of us. I’m planning for higher taxes in the future, how about you all?

    1. BIG ERN!! Good comments, and I agree we should all care about this, even if we’ve positioned ourselves well with our finances. All of us know plenty of people who aren’t as good with their money, and I do feel some sense of obligation to attempt to help them, if they’re willing to listen. It’s my hope that folks will forward this article to those who need to know. (Either that, or your last paragraph is most probable. And, for the record, yes, I am assuming taxes will be higher in the future, and many “retiree benefits” like Medicare, etc., will become increasingly “Means Tested”. Slamming as much as I can into the Roth……).

  8. Yikes! That Gen X figure is just as scary. They’re born 1961-1981, so range in age from 35-55 (roughly). For 52 percent of them to have under $10k in retirement is another crisis about to hit. And they’re even less likely to have pensions than the boomers.

  9. I have many stories with your statistics, and yes they are scary. Sometimes there are circumstances that make it really difficult to save for retirement. I only worked part-time for the last sixteen years because of caring for a sick adult child who passed away in April. There was no retirement plan where I worked. I chose to care for my child above saving for retirement and really don’t regret it for now. I have no way to make up for it either having just turned 67. I already have sacrificed a lot of “comfort”.
    And, that nice lady that work’s at Wendy’s may be doing it because she wants to. My mother-in-law tried retirement for 3 months and went back to work at 68 and worked until 85 and would still be working except for health problems. She’s now 92. Some people really like to keep working. Perhaps that is her case. Just wanted to share another perspective.

    1. Mom – your comment really impacted me, and I feel sincerely sorry for the trials you’ve faced, worse than anyone deserves. Good point about health crisis being the root cause for some of those “not prepared”, and I would agree this is an excellent point (my sister’s facing the same thing, after the illness and early death of her husband). Tough situation, and certainly not something you can “blame” on the individual. I suspect (hope?) it’s a smallish % of the total “unprepared” population, but it’s a valid point.

      Ironic that you mentioned the Wendy’s lady. One of the thoughts I had about her was exactly the same, “I wonder if maybe she’s working because she wants to. Maybe her husband has passed, and she enjoys greeting customers.” I truly hope that’s the case, like it was with your mother-in-law. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Powerful and relevant additions to the discussion.

  10. I would just add one additional word of caution. Don’t ‘phone it in’ your last 5 years. If your retirement plans are mid-term, and contigent on continuing your current rate of pay for 5 or more years – do what you can to keep relevant in your job. Don’t go into coast mode. It may cost you your job before you thought you would be done. When those down-sizing murmors start – it’s too late to suddenly act interested in your job, your company, and your coworkers. Keep up on professional credentials and learn new skills all the time. You really don’t want your employer to know you are close to retiring as that may put you on the fast track for layoff. (Unless you can count on a fat severance package to close the gap for you – then by all means that may be perfect.) A previous boss was in “oh just two or three more years of this and then I’m done” for about four years straight and was hardly contributing anything. Literally checking his accounts and facebook all day long at work. Then the company decided he wasn’t pulling his weight any longer so his career was suddenly cut short. He was very stunned.

    I’m just saying – let it by your decision not thiers!

    1. Great point N2S! I wrote a post about exactly that concept, “When At Work, Work!”.

      You’re correct, the last thing you want to do is justify an early termination. Having said that, a fat severance package sure would be nice!! (haha). Obviously, you can’t assume that, and must maintain your focus on work as “Priority 1” while at work. It gets harder as you get closer to retirement, but it must be a focus. Nice addition to the discussion, thanks for stopping by.

  11. The statistics are alarming! It makes me feel pretty good about where we’re at right now (we’re in the gen x category). My parents were way behind on retirement savings but, thankfully, have been able to make it work (my mom still works 3 days/week by choice). Living in a lower cost of living area helps and they never took on a large mortgage, so they were able to pay it off before my dad retired. I think it is possible to catch up, but it would mean some drastic lifestyle changes for many people. Lowering those monthly living expenses can help tremendously.

    1. Hey Amanda! Glad to hear your folks “dug out”, may be an article there on how they did it. I think folks who are “behind” would benefit from real life stories of those who were behind and have managed it. Keep me posted, I’ll share as a guest post if you write it!

  12. Wow, those are some sad/scary numbers. You hear all the time that millions aren’t prepared for retirement, but seeing the numbers all together hits you pretty hard. I’m lucky in that I had good personal finance habits drilled into me when I left college. I’m also one of those weird ones who gets more enjoyment out of accumulating money instead of stuff.

    You have a good list of recommendations for those behind. The first one is the biggest. Get serious, and fast. The best time to start was 10 years ago. The next best time is today!

  13. An important question and like you, I believe the answer is ‘yes.’ I’m not a Boomer, but I am on the leading edge of Gen Xers (1966), and as your infographic illustrates – and my own experience and conversations with friends/family indicated – my cohort isn’t in any better shape. It’s going to get ugly for lots of folks out there.

    1. Hey James, great to see you on here today. I agree, the problem is certainly not isolated to baby boomers, they’re just closer to the deadline. I hope you get generations learn from the mistakes of the boomers! Us bloggers should make every effort possible to help inform and educate.

  14. Amazing. In like a totally bad kind of way.

    Lady Libre and I were just talking about this last night, and so your statistics couldn’t have come at a better time for our conversation! That bright spot aside, this is very troubling for our society. And, as some other commenters have suggested, for us individually. These sorts of near-universal social/fiscal issues have a way of becoming completely universal very quickly via redistribution, taxation, etc. And, man, this stuff’s happening fast!

    A great post, Fritz. These facts seem like they ought to be straight out of Orwellian science fiction… but sadly they ain’t. Gonna be an interesting couple of decades as all this stuff sorts out.

    1. Gonna be an interesting couple of decades as all this stuff sorts out.

      Indeed, it is. Interesting, and scary. Those of us who enjoy personal finance (and blogging, like you and me!) will have front row seats.

      Buckle in, turbulence ahead!

  15. I really liked this post (shocker…they’re all great!). My parents are boomers, and my dad just sold his business and retired. He retired “late” – just before 70. And he HATES it! 🙂 I’m sure once he’s more into the routine of things, he’ll enjoy it. Or he’ll go back to work in some capacity. But this makes me really proud of both my mom and dad. My mom retired when I was in 6th grade (they had me really late in life), but she went back to work the next year. She’ll probably retire again in another year or so. Anyway, I’ve been watching them think long and hard about what they want their lives to look like, where they will put their money, etc., and I think you’re so right. We ALL need to think about the future, and we need to do it NOW! 🙂

    1. shocker…they’re all great!

      If they are “all great”, it is indeed a shocker! Thanks for the kind words. Interesting story about your folks. I suspect many of us have learned a lot watching our parents make the transition to retirement. There’s a lot of good psych stuff being written now on what makes a great retirement, and the most important stuff is not the financial. It’s important that our retirement planning includes non-financial areas, and it’s why I weave a lot of those types of articles into this blog. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. It does indeed sound like a lot of baby boomers are woefully underprepared for retirement. I know that I don’t have as much as I had planned, but I’m still better off that most, according to these statistics. And the idea that they will work longer might not be possible. I ended up retiring a few years earlier than expected due to health issues. If baby boomers can’t or won’t save the money needed for their retirement, they’d better make some serious adjustments to their lifestyle.

    1. Gary, thanks for your comments as one who’s “been there”. Retiring earlier than expected is surprisingly common, and health issues are often a cause. I agree folks need to be aware of their risks, and hope my article gets distributed to those who need it most! Thanks for your comment.

  17. Honestly, I think the government is going to do something about social security and try to reform it. The way things are currently going, we are going to have a lot of seniors living in a near – poverty in the US.

    Although to be fair, I wonder if moving outside of the US to a cheaper place would be an option for those who have to depend solely on social security for their retirement.

  18. A lot of people won’t have a comfortable retirement. That’s life, though. You save now or you’ll have to deal with the consequences. They’ll have to figure out how to live on social security benefit and find some part time work. It’s not fun, but they’ll deal with it somehow. I don’t think it’s as bad as it sound. Life goes on.

  19. Good post RM. The picture is indeed bleak and your post entirely in line with what I had written earlier. That’s the sad reality and we can’t do much about it as individuals unless each one gets a wake-up moment like most of us FIRE-seekers got early in our lives. This retirement crisis is probably why there are a lot of alluring posts about living “like royalty” for well under $1500 a month in a low cost country somewhere on the globe. That comes with its own risks and issues, which I will be covering in an article later this month.

  20. Great work finding those info graphics, visuals are a powerful tool and clearly tell the story.
    I know this was aimed at the Boomers but my fellow GenXers’ and the Millenials better pay attention too.
    Lifestyles need to change and awareness is everything
    Thanks for sharing

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