In a depressing survey that confirms what we already know about Americans’ inattention to their retirement security, the firm TIAA-CREF recently released a survey finding that more Americans spent more time choosing a restaurant for a special occasion or buying a flat-screen TV than they did on choosing IRA investments.
According to the survey, 25 percent of Americans have spent two or more hours on restaurant choices, versus just 15 percent who spent the same amount of time on retirement planning. And 21 percent of Americans have spent two-plus hours shopping for a TV.
Even more depressing, the survey also found that only 17 percent of Americans contribute to an IRA at all – and that this percentage has declined since 2012, when 22 percent of respondents owned an IRA.
A variety of factors no doubt contribute to these problems. Investment choices are overwhelming, and many people may feel they don’t understand the choices in front of them or fear making a mistake.
Many Americans may also feel that they have enough difficulty keeping up in the here and now to worry about retirement. Research by the nonprofit Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) finds that nearly half of Americans don’t have the immediate cash savings set aside to survive at the poverty rate for three months.
And according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, only 44 percent of Americans have even tried to calculate how much money they need to save for retirement.
The solutions are those we’ve known for a while: make saving for retirement automatic, easy and universal. “Auto-enrollment” in company 401(k) plans, for example, can increase participation in retirement savings program, particularly for minority workers. Some companies are also now experimenting with “auto-escalation,” increasing the amount of contributions that workers put into their accounts.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of these types of advances is that they require little to no effort on the part of American workers. Even if we still end up spending more time choosing restaurants and televisions, we may still end up somewhat ready for retirement – despite ourselves.