The New Three-Legged Retirement Stool: You, You, And You

The old three-legged stool for retirement consisted of:

1) Pension (Company)

2) Social Security (Government)

3) Personal Savings (You)

Given less than 15% of Americans have pensions or will receive pensions, no longer is having a pension part of most Americans retirement plan. Therefore, we can throw pensions out the window for future generations. For those of you with a pension, bless you. Your pension is perhaps more valuable than you realize.

Given our Social Security system is underfunded by ~32%, the government will either cut the average Social Security benefit by ~32% or raise the minimum age eligible for collecting Social Security by at least several years.

As a result, relying on a government that has perpetually mismanaged our finances is not a wise retirement strategy. Besides, the average monthly Social Security benefit for 62 – 70 year olds is only $1,000 – $1,300 according to the Social Security Administration.

Personal Savings (You) is the only leg of the old three-legged stool that’s able to provide support. Everybody who has the opportunity to contribute to a 401(k) plan should. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 55% of the American workforce has access to a 401(k) and only about 38% of the total workforce participates.

Meanwhile, for those who do participate, the average 401(k) contribution was only about 6.5% of salary when employers didn’t contribute and 11% of salary when employers contribute. Only 18% of 401(k) participants save more than 10 percent of their salary for retirement.

New 401(k) Maximum Contribution Limit For 2020

For 2020, the new 401(k) maximum employee contribution rises to $19,500, up $500 from 2019. Meanwhile, the maximum employer contribution limit also rises by $500 to $37,500, for a total 401(k) contribution limit of $57,000. Below are the details from the IRS.

Do not underestimate the power of working for a stable and highly profitable employer with a strong benefits program. 401(k) matching or profit sharing can significantly boost your retirement funds over time compared to working for a sexy startup that might not even have a 401(k) plan due to a lack of profitability.

When I left my day job in 2012, I forewent roughly $20,000 a year in profit sharing. But at least I got them to pay for my MBA and give me a severance. Now, I contribute as much as possible to a Solo 401(k), SEP IRA, and 529 plan.

The New Three-Legged Retirement Stool

The new three-legged retirement stool now consists of:

1) Personal pre-tax savings (You)

2) Personal after-tax savings (You)

3) Personal hustle (You)

Everybody should figure out a way to contribute the maximum to their 401(k) savings each year, even without a company match. Your goal is to minimize your taxable income, allow your investments to compound tax-deferred for as long as possible, and then build a large enough after-tax portfolio to give yourself options to change jobs, take a break, be a stay at home parent, or retire before the age of 59.5.

Clearly, in order to build this type of wealth, it will take a tremendous amount of discipline. You can’t go blowing your money on stupid things you don’t need. You need to continuously reinvest the large majority of your savings into risk-appropriate investments. Delay your gratification.

The third leg of the new retirement stool is earning money doing something you enjoy: personal hustle. One of the most dangerous things about post-work life is letting your mind and body atrophy. This is one of the reasons why I let my dad edit most of my posts. The more you can stay active post traditional work, the better your retirement lifestyle.

In my case, I stay active in post-work life by:

  1. Being a stay at home dad
  2. Coaching high school tennis for 3-4 months a year
  3. Writing daily

All three activities have a monetary component that enables me to better preserve my retirement nest egg. What you’ll discover after leaving full-time work is that it becomes extremely difficult to spend down principle. After decades of accumulating wealth, it’s hard to go in reverse.

Being stay at home parents allows us to save ~$3,000 a month on childcare. Coaching high school tennis brings in about $1,250 a month and allows me to build relationships with other members of the community.

Keep Building Your Retirement Nest Egg

One of America’s biggest retirement failures is allowing employees to decide how much they should save for retirement.

Given the choice between spending money on cheeseburgers, cars, fancy clothes, shoes, vacations, electronics, and more cheeseburgers or saving for a retirement that is decades away, obviously the majority of Americans are going to choose the former.

Thus, it is unsurprising that roughly 66% of Americans are overweight and the median retirement savings for all families is less than $10,000. Our lack of discipline is literally ruining our lives.

We should have adopted a forced retirement savings system where companies automatically deduct money from each employee’s paycheck for retirement, much like how payroll taxes are automatically deducted. It’s worked in countries like Australia and Singapore.

But it’s already too late for change. Therefore, the only thing we can do is count on ourselves. If we can depend on our own hustle to survive in retirement, all other government benefits will simply be a nice bonus.

Recommendation To Build Wealth

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