Why Retirement Is a Fantasy for Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers
Life + Money

Why Retirement Is a Fantasy for Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

Generation X-ers have been called many things, but Heath Holmes can attest to the fact that “worry-free” is not one of them.

Holmes, a 36-year-old assistant controller in Denver, is highly doubtful that even he saves the recommended 10% of his income in a 401(k) for the next 30 years that he would have the retirement he wants.

“I'm on the tail end of Generation X, and I strongly believe that retirement — as sold and packaged by the ‘American Dream’ — isn't something that is attainable for me unless I do something about it,” Holmes said.

Much of his generation feels like Holmes, according to a new study by life insurance company Allianz Life. The research showed the vast majority of both Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers believe the traditional definition of retirement is a “romantic fantasy of the past,” with 84% saying they feel that a retirement starting at age 65 spent “doing exactly what you want” is now unrealistic. However, Gen X respondents felt even more hopeless, with 67% agreeing financial targets for how much you need to retire are way out of reach, whereas only 49% of Baby Boomers felt likewise.

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Many helping plan those hoped-for retirements aren’t surprised by the pessimism.

“I do believe a lot of this is based on a few factors, including one’s psychology of money based on the experiences they have had over the years from childhood to present, the idea of wanting more now in our ever impatient world with a need for instant gratification,” said Evan Shorten, president of Paragon Financial Partners in Woodland Hills, Calif.

Shorten said one of the most important differences he has discovered in talking to both generations is while Baby Boomers seem to live within a set guideline of spending, Gen X-ers are still increasing their lifestyle as their income grows, which may prevent them from saving as much.

“Ultimately, if you goes back to the basics and implement a realistic savings and spending plan you can put yourself in a position to live your dream retirement,” Shorten said.

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The problems affecting both generations’ retirement plans do vary, agrees Justin Kumar, a senior portfolio manager with Arlington Capital Management in Arlington Heights, Ill.

“Many Baby Boomers have worked, but they have spent too much, and they underestimate what they will need in retirement on both an annual basis and over a lifetime,” Kumar said. “Many Gen X workers have hit rough patches with work and have had to dip into their savings — or worse, their retirement funds — to meet today's needs.”

However, some factors that already may have wrecked the perfect retirement dream were out of the hands of both Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers alike, argues Steven Hirsch, a New York-based CPA.

“One obvious contributor was the Great Recession and the decline of the stock market in 2008 and 2009,” Hirsch said. “Fortunes were lost. A lot of Baby Boomers watched their life savings virtually cut in half and are still feeling the sting today.”

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Another less obvious factor is the volatility of the real estate market over the past 15 years, Hirsch added. Before 2008, it was assumed by many that real estate prices would go up forever — and previous generations were able to retire comfortably just from building up equity in their homes.

“With housing prices growing faster than wages, people were left with less to put into savings,” Hirsch said. “When real estate prices plummeted, many would-be retirees were forced to continue working well beyond age 65.

Which is exactly what Holmes may be left to do. A few years ago he cashed out his modest 401(k) to start a small business — something he hopes will keep income flowing even into his retirement.

However, so far his plan has yet to make his retirement dreams feel secure.

“I'm still running it on the side, but it certainly isn't the answer I'm looking for,” Holmes said. “So I just keep testing new ideas and saving a little while every day I get closer to so-called ‘retirement.’”

This article originally appeared on MainStreet.

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