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The Retirement Fantasy

The number one question I get as a financial planner is “Am I on track for retirement?” This isn’t surprising considering you can’t turn on the TV these days without some slick commercial that glorifies the golden years.

However, for the Generation X clients I serve, I need to dig a little deeper to figure out what’s behind the question before I answer it – and the answer is probably “maybe”. Google “Gen X retirement” and you’ll come up with a host of articles that claim everything from “Gen X will never be able to retire” to offering “Painless retirement tips for Gen X”.  What is it about Gen X that is different from Boomers or Millennials? Why are we so worried?

Gen X is a small slice of the population – but we’re a transitional generation that is the guinea pig for many of the changes that are happening in society. We are the first generation to experience the profound shift from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution 401k-style investments – making retirement income less certain. We change jobs more often. We get married later, buy houses later, and start families later. We took on significant student loan debt yet have seen the value of a college education erode. Our parents are living longer, and raising kids is costing more than previous generations. Health care costs are rising and uncertain. And when it comes to social security, it’s almost guaranteed we won’t get 100% of the benefits that have been promised.

So it’s not surprising that retirement is on our mind. The good news is that we still have 15-30 years to go and have time to plan. It comes back to the question of what are you planning for? Do you hate your job and think that retiring early will make you happy? Do you see retirement as the only time in life you will get to pursue your dreams and interests?

You hate your job

Let’s face it, you might be dreaming of retirement because you wake up every day dreading going to work. You want to save every dollar of your salary so that you can retire when you’re 55. Unfortunately that may be exactly when your kids will be starting college. And you can’t get any social security. And how on earth are you going to pay for health insurance? Oh, and you might live 45 more years.

Start thinking about how you can find work today that will make you never want to retire. It’s possible. Give yourself options and get inspired. Invest in yourself by learning a new skill and think about switching careers if your current one isn’t rewarding. Even if you have to take a pay cut or a step back, working 10-20 more years will provide more security than throwing an extra couple grand of “misery money” into the retirement account every year.

You want to enjoy your golden years

I totally get it. You’ve seen the commercials, and those Boomers look so darn happy! But what if your health fails and you can’t play golf every day? What if your spouse dies and you don’t have him/her to share retirement with? The future is uncertain.

Right now is the best time to enjoy life and what is important to you. You are young enough to do the things you want to do and go the places you want to go. Appreciate the time you can spend with your kids before they go away to college. Make date night with your partner a priority. Enjoy time with friends and cultivate your hobbies.


If either of the above sounds like you, I recommend sitting down with yourself and putting retirement aside for a second. Ask yourself what is important to you TODAY and what would you do if money or time weren’t an obstacle?

While you can definitely prepare for retirement by saving and investing, it is difficult to know with certainty what the economy, social security, or health care options will be like by the time you get there. You also don’t know what your health will be like, and what will be most important to you then – such as living close to grandchildren or traveling the world.

So I encourage you bake some money into your budget to enjoy life today in addition to saving for retirement. Free up some time to check things off your bucket list. Don’t give in to the Retirement Fantasy.