In part, that explains why so many have so little set aside for the future. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, half of all workers age 55 and older have less than $50,000 saved for retirement.
All sorts of attempts at getting people to save more for their later years have been made—from finger-wagging lectures to automatically enrolling new employees in 401(k) plans. Some attempts are more successful than others, but all fight the phenomenon known as hyperbolic discounting — in essence, given a choice, most of us prefer a reward that arrives sooner than later.
As Marketplace radio host David Brancaccio described in a New York Times article, one exercise recommended by behavioral economists is this: before making a big financial decision, try interviewing your future self.
It is this future self who might judge that it is right to spend a fortune on college because my children will end up with more fulfilling lives. Yet my future self might warn me from 2045 that he is stuck eating cat food because of that golden $17,000 Apple Watch I really had to have in 2015.
Another idea is to interview real people — those you can relate to who are a bit further along in life and can speak to their actual experiences, what they wish they had done differently, and how they would advise you.
Brancaccio talked with a 93-year-old man he admires named Herb.
I interrogated my future self, I mean Herb, about several practical choices. I haven’t been saving enough for retirement because of those aforementioned college tuitions. This year I might be able to kick in $10,000 to a 401(k), but I could raise the contribution to $16,000 if I canceled a much-needed family vacation that we were planning in Spain.
Herb’s answer was swift. Cut the cost of the vacation in half and put the cash saved toward retirement. “You can do it both ways,” he said. I figure that might be easier if we disinvite our three young-adult children or switch to a vacation that does not involve airfare, such as a drive to a cabin in my home state, Maine.
Still having a hard time seeing your future clearly enough to be spurred to action? Download the Face Retirement app from Merrill Edge. After taking a picture of yourself, the app will show you what you’re likely to look like decades into the future. If that doesn’t get you to save more for your later years, it might at least prompt you to wear sunscreen more often.
What have you found most helpful in motivating you to save for retirement?