We’re used to assessing our wellbeing through metrics.
Newborns are immediately given a numbered assessment for things like skin tone, breathing, and reflexes. School children regularly take standardized tests to determine their grade level in reading and math. High schoolers focus on their GPA and SAT scores. And as adults our routine check-ups involve tests with dozens of data points—our health by the numbers.
In each case the metric comes with the question: How does this compare with others? We want to know that our kids are reading at the appropriate grade level and that our cholesterol is in a healthy range for a person of our description.
So it’s no wonder that we would tend to seek a similar, simple metric for assessing the “health” of our retirement account. After all, money is easy to measure.
It’s no surprise then that the internet abounds with retirement calculators to help you compare the size of your nest egg to others of your cohort. And you can’t scroll down a financial news feed without seeing at least one article titled, “How Much Should You Have Saved For Retirement at Your Age” (or similar wording).
Though it’s great to have a specific goal you’re working towards, there are several strong reasons not to focus obsessively on any one number.
First, it can make you complacent. Vicki Bogan, associate professor of economics at Cornell University, says, “Anchoring on a specific number—and saying once you get [to] that number you’re done—is not the best idea.” You have to make a lot of broad assumptions about the future to come up with that number and it’s likely that some of them will be incorrect.
For example, says Allison Schrager of the Manhattan Institute, in recent months a booming stock market has convinced people to retire early because they hit “the number.” Unfortunately, they may be assuming that the recent past performance of their investments will continue at their current pace going forward. It’s unwise to base your future plans on a market forecast.
Second, keying in one number assumes that your expenditures won’t change throughout retirement. Your spending needs will undoubtedly change as you age, for example, healthcare. And your activities when you have more leisure time are likely to cost more. Rich Jones, host of the Paychecks and Balances podcast, also points out that changes in cost-of-living can vary greatly, depending where you choose to retire.
Finally, it can be discouraging to be constantly comparing your savings to an arbitrary number where you “should be.” It’s important to remember that any metric presented in an article or savings calculator is just speculation. Your unique situation most likely calls for a goal number that’s very unique to you and your situation.
That’s why it’s so important for us to have an in-depth conversation. I can help you fully assess your needs, desires, and dreams. Then create a plan specifically tailored to your income, timeline and risk tolerance. And then you can focus on your unique goal set without having to worry how you measure up to everyone else.