THE FEDERAL government today released an inflation measure that’s closely watched—for no good reason.
At issue is CPI-W, the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. In July, it stood at 246.155. August’s level, which was released this morning, was 246.336. July and August’s levels are two of the three months used to calculate the annual cost-of-living increase for Social Security retirement benefits. The CPI-W for September will be the final factor in determining 2019’s benefits increase.
I HAVE A FRIVOLOUS routine. I buy $40 in lottery tickets on the first day of each month. Many years ago, this was part of my retirement plan—the years when I was young and foolish, or maybe just foolish.
For as long as I can recall, I’ve had a premonition of receiving $14 million, either from a long-lost relative or from the lottery. Time is running out, however. That relative appears to have forgotten about me.
I FEEL WEALTHY. I spent the morning in an upscale shopping mall where, as you stroll along, you can see Bentleys on display. Even the store clerks are a bit snooty. Once I was shopping for a gift and the clerk asked if I could afford the handbag I was considering. I guess, on that occasion, I didn’t look wealthy enough.
When I go shopping with my wife, I don’t feel wealthy. Instead, all I see are items we shouldn’t buy.
I’M IN THE PROCESS of moving into a 55-plus condo community—in my case, way plus. The property taxes on my new condo will be $12,200 a year, the bulk of which goes toward the local school system. But here’s the thing: No one in the community has children in school and hasn’t for decades. That got me to thinking. Why can’t we just buy the services we need from the town?
Years ago, I felt quite differently.
THERE’S LITTLE difference between the typical American family’s spending habits and that of our federal government—and many state governments as well. We run our government like many Americans run their financial lives, living above our means, seeking instant gratification, saving inadequately, showing little concern for the future, supporting our lifestyle with debt and denying the risks we face.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, all the major trust funds are headed for insolvency in the near future.
I WAS 45 YEARS OLD in 1988. That year, my oldest child started college and, the next year, my second son. Two years later, it was my daughter’s turn. The year after, my youngest went off to college. I had at least one child in college for 10 years in a row.
I bet you think this is a story of college loans and other debt. Nope, it’s about retirement planning. After going into major debt and using all my assets,
WE’RE FACED WITH a host of thorny retirement issues: Keep Social Security solvent. Make Medicare affordable. Many Americans aren’t saving enough. They want to retire earlier than they can reasonably afford. They’re effectively financially illiterate.
But in the end, you don’t need to worry about all Americans. Instead, what you need to worry about is you. Want a comfortable retirement? Here are my 10 commandments:
If your preretirement lifestyle is set with a view to what you can sustain after you quit the workforce,
AT 75 YEARS OLD, I find myself living paycheck-to-paycheck. I now understand how that feels and how it can happen. But you can put away the violin: It’s only temporary.
Being fiscally conservative, I don’t like being in debt or having unpaid bills. I even pay credit cards before they are due—or I used to. Until a month ago, I paid all my bills, with considerable money left over at the end of each month.
READ THE MEDIA and you’ll likely be convinced that health care costs in retirement will be overwhelming. One example: The Motley Fool says the average couple will need $400,000 for retirement health care expenses—if they’re healthy.
Pretty scary stuff. But let’s be realistic: Every ongoing living expense stated as a lump sum looks scary. For instance, my total property taxes over my retirement will come to $435,000, excluding annual increases.
Not reassured? Consider this from a recent study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute: “For the majority of surveyed people,
RAISE YOUR WALLET if you think taxes won’t be going up.
Is there much doubt that the federal government will seek additional revenue, given its ballooning debt and future spending on Social Security, Medicare and other federal programs? If so, should retirement savers really be deferring taxes—or, instead, should we be taking advantage of tax-free retirement savings?
The IRA was first introduced in 1974. At that time, there was a 38% tax rate on individual incomes of more than $20,000,
I HAVE A PENSION, a 401(k) plan and other investments, and no debt. I worked more than 50 years to accumulate what I have. Still, I realize I am fortunate.
That brings me to a list of advice for seniors that’s now making the rounds on the internet. I found it fascinating—and disturbing. The list is presented for “those of us who are between 65 and death, i.e. old.” Many people who have read the list buy into the philosophy behind it.
MY FATHER WAS AGE 19 and my mother was 11 when the Great Depression started. They were married in 1942 and I was born in late 1943. Their view of money matters was surely tempered by their life experience.
They had no investments to speak of and always kept what little money they had in a checking account. They would never borrow and didn’t know what a credit card was.
Many years ago, I convinced my mother to buy 75 shares of the company I worked for—a large utility.
WHO’S YOUR WORST financial enemy? Got a mirror? For millions of American workers, their employee benefits play a significant role in their financial life—and yet this noncash portion of their compensation is often undervalued, overlooked and misused.
I designed and managed employee benefits for nearly 50 years. During those years, I tried every form of communication I could think of to get employees to pay attention to their benefits. I retired with a sense of failure.
A FEW YEARS BACK, I was conducting a retirement planning seminar. At one point, I talked about survivor benefits under our company’s pension plan. As I outlined the benefits, I noticed a strange look on one woman’s face. She was the spouse of an employee.
A few minutes later, I spoke about health benefits, explaining that a surviving spouse was required to pay 100% of the premium. Upon hearing that, the woman took a rolled-up newspaper and began beating her husband about the head.
IS WHAT YOU’RE PAID what you’re really paid? Probably not. The compensation that you don’t see each payday has a tremendous impact on your financial security and your future standard of living—and should affect how much you save and how you invest.
Defined benefit pension plans can be the most valuable form of noncash compensation. Health benefits for active and retired employees are a close second—especially so because they’re tax-free compensation (and hence a huge revenue loss for the federal government).