Most of us dream of a happy, carefree retirement. Facing up to what it might take to fund those plans is another matter.
According to a new survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS) of nearly 1,500 working baby boomers, “freedom,” “enjoyment,” and “stress-free” were the three most popular terms associated with retirement.
Yet few of those surveyed reported that they were saving enough to retire comfortably. And while many planned to make up for that savings by working longer, they weren’t working to stay fit and skilled enough to put in more years on the job.
And that disconnect is a bit of magical thinking, says Catherine Collinson, chief executive officer of the non-profit Transamerica Institute that sponsored the survey.
“The freedom to work on your terms, retire on your terms, and live on your terms is not an entitlement,” Collinson says.”You’re going to have to work to make that happen.”
Expectations vs reality
The majority of baby boomers surveyed by TCRS want to keep working past age 65, and are eager to stay with their current employer.
Only half of those surveyed, however, also reported that they are performing well at their current job, and 60% admitted to not keeping their skills cutting edge.
Worse, only one in four reported that they have a Plan B ready if they find themselves laid off.
That’s a problem. A recent report from the non-partisan Urban Institute found that more than half of workers between the ages of 51 and 64 are laid off before they want to retire.
Another problem: Working gets harder as you age. An earlier survey co-sponsored by TCRS found that 66% of U.S. retirees had retired earlier than planned, with ill health cited as the main reason.
Yet in the TCRS survey, while 80% of boomers reported that they were in good or excellent health today, just six in 10 eat healthfully and exercise regularly.
The key step to take
Part of the reason for this disconnect between goals and action, suggests Collinson, is that an enormous, long-term goal like retirement can feel overwhelming. That, in turn, leads to avoidance.
So try taking baby steps. “Instead of taking on the personal equivalent of solving world hunger all at once, map out a plan where you can do one or two things at a time,” says Collinson.
Once you’ve settled on some smaller goals, write them down: Researchers have found that writing a letter to your future older self can make it easier to stay committed to longer term goals.
And be realistic, not rigid. A study found that people who set a high goal that included some wiggle room–I will go to the gym 7 days a week, but won’t beat myself up if I miss 2 days–stuck to their goal more than people who didn’t give themselves that breathing space to be human.