The 11 Biggest Retirement Lies We Tell Ourselves

Laura Shin

Retirement is one of our biggest financial challenges for three reasons:

  1. The sum we have to save for retirement is bigger than for any other financial goal.
  2. When we prioritize our desires, retirement never wins on urgency, making it easy to keep putting off.
  3. Saving for retirement is the financial equivalent of an ultramarathon. (Any of you run an ultramarathon, recently?) When saving to buy a house or to pay for your child’s college education, you might save for five or 15 years, but for retirement, you have to save decade over decade.

If just reading that list is making you sweat, we understand.

According to a nationwide survey conducted by LearnVest and Chase Blueprint, Americans’ number one financial worry is whether or not we’ll be able to save enough for retirement. About one-third of men and women cite that as their top concern over, for instance, paying down debt, having enough money to live comfortably and having enough to provide for their children.

As with any daunting challenges we face, we tend to think up excuses so we can avoid facing the difficult work of saving for retirement. Well, today is the day you’re going to stop.

RELATED: Americans Know They Need to Save for Retirement. So Why Aren’t They?

We’ve compiled a list of the top retirement lies we tell ourselves, and we’ve come up with solutions that will get you on the path to a comfortable nest egg.

1. I can’t afford it.

More than one in four women in the Chase/LearnVest study say they don’t have money to contribute to retirement after all the bills are paid.

Ahem. Yes, you can find $20 to get started. If you haven’t started saving for retirement, pack your lunch twice this week, and put $20 in a retirement account. (If you always pack a lunch, cut out another $20 expense this week.) Make this happen, even if you have to do it one dollar at a time over the course of the month. If you can’t think of any costs to cut, take our free 10-day Cut Your Costs bootcamp.

If your employer offers a retirement plan, set it up today and start putting at least 1% of your salary away. If you have an individual retirement account, log in and start contributing $20 more a month. If you were to contribute $20 a month for 30 years and your money grew on average 7% a year, your total contributions of $7,200 would grow to more than $24,000. Want a step-by-step guide on setting up your employer-based and individual retirement accounts? This checklist was made for you.

2. I’m so young, there is plenty of time to save for retirement later.

This is one of the most seductive retirement lies. For a good long while, it is true that retirement is a ways off. (Even if you’re 55, it’s still at least 10 years away.) Unsurprisingly, a quarter of women aged 25-32 in the Chase/LearnVest study said that retirement is so far off they have little interest in learning about it. Even 5% of women aged 45-54 still feel that way.

But time moves along faster than you think: The study also showed that 6% of women aged 45-54 had less than $5,000 saved for retirement. Those women are in a serious game of catch-up now.

Need more motivation to start today? Consider this: The longer you put off saving for retirement, the more difficult it will be for you to save.

Let’s say your goal is to save $1 million for retirement.

If you start saving for retirement when you’re 25, you’ll only have to contribute slightly less than $6,500 a year to reach that goal by the time you turn 65. Still, if you’re 25 and making $35,000 a year, $6,500 probably seems like a lot. Contributing that amount will leave you $28,500 a year to live on. Not ideal.

But if you wait until you’re 45 and making more money–let’s say, $60,000 a year–and start contributing then, you’ll have to contribute $28,185 a year to get to your retirement goal of $1 million! And that leaves you less than $32,000 a year to live on. But if you had started at 25, you would still be contributing just $6,500 a year at age 45, so you would have $53,500 a year to live on–not bad.

So, start now. (Learn more about why starting early makes it easier to save for retirement.)

3. When I get married someday I won’t have to worry about money.

(We bet all the married women reading this are having a good chuckle right now.)

Whether or not marriage makes your financial life easier or not depends on a whole host of factors: Do you both work? Do you both make enough to support yourselves? Could one or both of you get laid off? Or get sick? Will one of you stay home? Will one or both of you switch careers? Will one or both of you receive an inheritance? Are you honest with each other about your spending? Do you agree on your financial goals? Will you have children? If so, will you pay for their college educations?

Want more proof that marriage won’t relieve your retirement worries? Here’s the age breakdown of women who reported they “would probably rely on my partner in order to save for retirement” in our Chase/LearnVest study: 23% of women aged 25-32 but only 12% of women age 45-54. It appears that as women get older, they become more realistic about retirement.

Bottom line: In marriage, your money worries change, but they won’t go away (in fact, money is a huge problem in this woman’s marriage), and your main money concern–retirement–will always be there whether you get married or not.

(If that still hasn’t convinced you, keep in mind that saving for retirement is harder for women, so it’s something we, married or single, need to focus on more than men.)

  • Elissa Backas

    Ha ha, my husband will be relying on me when we retire :P My 401K is in pretty good shape and I’m only 27. Yay me. Of course one day, all hell could break loose and the dollar may be worth nothing in which case all of us responsible people will look awfully silly, but we’ll have bigger problems to deal with than that. Or aliens, aliens could invade.

  • Ana

    It’s especially hard to save enough in different retirement “baskets”. I have a pension and a 457 and a ROTH and I’d like to contribute more to the ROTH because that seems a little more secure than the stock market but it’s hard coming up with enough extra to save in the ROTH on top of a 457 and pension. 

    • Rima

      I’m in the same boat Ana.  Although we are lucky to have these problems as its rare to have a pension in this day and age.

  • Natalie

    That’s easy to say, but raising my son takes precedence. Between daycare and rent/mortgage, there’s not much left. Single parents -especially those who don’t get help from the absent parent – make due without for the sake of their children. However, this article is very well written and includes much practical information. I will certainly keep many of these points in mind as the years progress. Thank you.

  • Frank

    I like the phrase – ‘a man is not a plan’ …

    • Daniel

      A man, a plan, a canal. Panama!

  • Vonetta

    It’s hard for me to consider having kids, even though I’m 38 and the clock is ticking. Right now, it’s hard enough taking care of myself, paying off student loans, debt and saving for retirement while also having some money left to go out and you know, actually have a social life. So I can find the elusive Mr. Right, get married and have the aforementioned kids! Can’t imagine saving for retirement and college tuition. Hope my future offspring study hard and get a scholarship.

    • Casggp

       I’m right there with you Vonetta and wonder if it’s even a choice for me now.  I’m 36 and stopped working when my father unexpectedly passed away to keep the family together.  My “Mr. Right” changed his mind about having kids along the way and didn’t tell me for years.  Now I’m looking for a job and a new relationship, but I think the clock may have timed out on me.  I personally feel that I should be stable in both arenas before even having kids….but stability isn’t happening soon.  As this rate, I might  have have to choose saving for retirement over having kids.

      • Vonetta

        I guess it’s comforting to know that others are in the same boat. It’s just the reality for many of us. For me, it was a combo of not finding the right guy and being careful not to get pregnant and becoming a single mother. Having a kid is not ideal when I’m trying to get myself together and stay afloat after years of making smart decisions (like going to college and having roommates to save on rent) and not so smart decisions (taking a low-paying job and living off of credit cards when getting laid-off and buying things I couldn’t afford). Hopefully, the next decade will bring many good things and things will fall into place. 

    • Vicky

      56, married to 61 and thinking about retirement. Can’t imagine why people are going for the right wing rhetoric that is resulting is lowering benefits for SS and medicare. People brag about having $74k in 401k funds! What, are you kidding! Our system is not working, and all of you out there better start spending less on worthless junk and start saving! Ths idea that you can keep working is a dream too! Once you’re pushed out of that good job, the only places that will take you are Walmart and Home Depot!

  • uhhuh

    The tone in #1 kind of bugs me. Maybe I’m just not the intended audience here–but then, why am I receiving these emails? In any case, I actually DON’T have $20/week (married with three kids and pinching every penny already). And we already pack our damn lunches. I think it’s the assumption that we don’t that bugs. :P Full disclosure, we do have SOME retirement savings, just not enough and it’s hard to imagine where that money is going to come from.

  • johndogsan

    41 years old with $500,000 in retirement savings. Lived below my means and maxed out my 401k. I do not spend money on $5 Starbucks or other “luxuries” that I could make in my home for 0.25 cents. I’m going to retire at 59 with plenty of money to travel. The key is drawing up a budget, making a plan, and sticking to it.

    • Chicago

      Amen. I’m right there with you I just have to work until 62. So far my plan has worked for us very well. We plan for the worse and pray for the best. Good plans go a long way.

    • Julie Pham

      Do you have kids?

      • bob

        great question. why isn’t this a central part of the dialog, given the investment each child requires?