Michelle Teheux: American dream becomes American desperation
One of the recurring pieces of spam I tend to get in my in box is about this mythical beast called “early retirement.”
And I’m puzzled, because don’t these people know that nobody is dreaming about early retirement anymore?
Don’t they know that most people aren’t dreaming about any sort of retirement anymore?
Retirement — early, late or otherwise — is becoming a thing of the past.
Partly that’s the economy, and it’s the gradually dawning realization that while Wall Street might be doing better, the rest of us are not, and that this might be as good as it’s going to get.
Also, people are living longer. That’s a good thing, but where does that leave the traditional age 65 retirement?
In an age when people can reasonably expect to live into their 80s, the idea of working just 30 years — or 40 years — is rather absurd, isn’t it?
How many people will be able to save enough money in 30 or 40 years to build enough investments to sustain around half of their lifetime needs?
If you have a pension, the question becomes whether you could conceivably create enough value for your employer in your years there to make it worth that employer’s cost of supporting you for decades to come. You might live decades longer than you worked for that employer.
So why do investment gurus continue to encourage folks to dream about retirements filled with travel and leisure, when that will be available only to the few?
For one thing, financial advisers don’t make money if people don’t invest, and when drumming up business I suppose it does sound better to paint a pretty picture of golf and cruises rather than the alternative, which would be to warn people that if they don’t step up their savings, they risk a future of bitter want and deprivation.
But since I’m not an investment professional, I’ve got nothing to lose by telling it like it is.
Here’s the deal, people. If you’re wealthy, by all means make an appointment with your financial adviser and do what he or she tells you. Trips around the world and weeks at resorts will indeed be yours.
But if you’re not wealthy, listen up.
You probably aren’t going to retire, ever, except perhaps when you become too feeble to drag yourself to work.
But with luck, hard work, and savings you can probably transition to part-time work someday, and if you have a paid-off house and no other debts, you’ll be able to scrape along with the help of whatever money you put by through the years. That’s a realistic goal.
Most people have already gotten the message, loud and clear.
I can’t think of the last time I heard someone openly dream about being able to buy a bigger house or a fancier car. What I hear people talking about is how hard they’re trying to get what they’ve got paid off quickly. They don’t trust their jobs to be around forever, and they don’t see a replacement job right around the corner either.
Dreaming has ceased. Hunkering down has commenced.
What we need is a new kind of American dream.
Michelle Teheux may be reached at email@example.com.