Forewarned is Forearmed

One of the biggest worries Americans have when it comes to retirement is outliving their money, according to a plan participant survey by Prudential Retirement. A substantial 71 percent of survey respondents fear they may not have sufficient income for their retirement years. Only one in five are highly confident they will have enough to last a lifetime.

So that begs the question - why are people having a hard time saving for retirement? Why are they actually saving less when they need to save more?

The answer to those questions may surprise you. Research shows the reason could lie in how our brains are wired to respond to the environment. Humans are conditioned to focus on survival in the here and now. Yet, our contemporary life demands that we plan for multiple scenarios and contingencies, often with effects that could shape our lives far into the future.

Behavioral researchers have found that people actually perceive their future selves as strangers, and many find it difficult to understand the financial needs that “stranger” will have in his or her lifetime. That’s one reason why saving for many years ahead is difficult for us. This and further research from Prudential shows there are five inherent behavioral biases that make us our own worst enemies when it comes to saving for retirement.

  • Not being aware of increasing lifespans (longevity disconnect)
  • Putting off difficult or time-consuming tasks (procrastination)
  • Thinking that bad things only happen to other people (optimism bias)
  • Making decisions based on what other people are doing (herd mentality)
  • Putting today’s wants ahead of tomorrow’s needs (instant gratification)

As I’ve often said, I’m a big believer of “forewarned is forearmed.” So, perhaps a better understanding of why we behave as we do can help us combat our biases. Once recognized, we can find a way to overcome them, eventually leading to better retirement preparedness.