Regrets — Retirees Have Had a Few

Oct 3, 2022
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We’ve heard it before, and we’re hearing it again. The most common financial regret of today’s retirees is not having saved more for retirement. The latest research comes from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

In a survey earlier this year of retirees ages 55 to 80, half said they wish they had changed certain financial habits in order to better prepare for retirement. Of those, 72% said they would have saved more or saved earlier. Asked what advice they would give to their younger self, 70% of all respondents said they would advise “changing savings habits by saving or investing more or earlier.”

Especially this year, with frequent headlines about the bear market, a recession, and the war in Ukraine — all of which are out of our control — it’s important to focus our energy and actions on steps we can control. And how much we save, whether in an emergency fund or an investment account, is largely within our control.

What about you?

So let me ask you: do you have enough money in an emergency fund? Do you have three to six months’ worth of essential living expenses in such an account? If not, we would even suggest temporarily pausing contributions to a retirement account in order to more fully build that important safety net. (If you could at least keep contributing enough to your retirement plan to get any match offered by your employer but redirect any contributions beyond that amount toward your emergency fund, that would be the ideal.)

If you have an adequate emergency fund, are you contributing enough to your retirement plan? How much is enough? If you’ve never figured out the answer to that question, that would be a helpful exercise. You could use MoneyGuide for that purpose, which would enable you to do some additional “what-if” scenario planning as well. Or, even using a free online calculator would be a step in the right direction. (Another noteworthy finding from the EBRI study was that just 42% of retirees had identified retirement-related financial goals and had developed a plan for pursuing those goals. Those with a plan or an advisor were less likely to have financial regrets that those without.)

If you have adult children in the workforce, you might ask whether they are sufficiently contributing to a retirement plan. Today, it’s the norm for new employees to be automatically opted-in to such a plan. However, it’s also the norm to automatically set the contribution rate very low. Many people, assuming their employer knows best, never increase their contribution rate.

One other surprising finding from the EBRI survey, especially in light of other surveys that indicate many retirees struggle with meaning and purpose, was that just 23% of retirees were doing any volunteer work.

Next steps

Is there a call to action in any of these findings for you? Do you need to bolster contributions to an emergency fund or retirement account? Would it be wise to check with an adult child to see if they are contributing enough to their retirement plan? And what sort of volunteer work do you envision doing in your later years?

Written by

Matt Bell

Matt Bell

Matt Bell is Sound Mind Investing's Managing Editor. He is the author of five biblical money management books and the teacher or co-teacher on three video-based small group resources. His latest book, Trusted: Preparing Your Kids for a Lifetime of God-Honoring Money Management, was published by Focus on the Family in 2023. Matt has spoken at churches, universities, and conferences throughout the country and has been quoted in USA TODAY, U.S. News & World Report, and many other media outlets.

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