An Argument for Not Saving Everything for Retirement

The headlines make it clear that Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement. In fact, a striking 21% of Americans don’t even possess a savings account, according to a survey from GoBankingRates. 

And while it is true that Americans need to be saving more for retirement, what about enjoying our time now, preparing for short-term income shocks and implementing a conscious game plan for future success? It's important not to forfeit current mental, physical and social well-being in the single-minded pursuit of retirement planning.

That's not to say that everyone is saving too much for retirement and not living in the now. But people can go overboard in being generous to their future selves, undermining their well-being now and ignoring the need to set up proper protection against short-term emergencies. Here are the three most important areas to focus on.

The Importance of Staying Physically and Mentally Sharp

First on the list is investing in your health. By making your health a top priority while you’re still working, you increase your work productivity, improve your wellbeing and avoid expensive healthcare costs during retirement.

“We can really only operate at our ultimate potential if we are healthy and happy. Things like good medical insurance and an effort to take care of our minds and bodies can all help increase personal productivity,” says Mark Hebner, founder and president of Index Fund Advisors, Inc., in Irvine, Calif., and author of “Index Funds: The 12-Step Recovery Program for Active Investors.”

Burnout rates are high for employees who don’t take any time off. Millennial employees, in particular, are in support of a different work-life balance, which improves job satisfaction and mental well-being. Consequently, more and more companies are adapting to this push for flexible work arrangements by offering unlimited vacation policies. (To learn more, see: Unlimited Vacation Policies: How Much Do You Take?)

Alongside mental health is the importance of physical wellbeing. You’ve probably heard that uncovered medical expenses are one of the most overlooked retirement costs that can get in the way of your financial freedom later in life. To stay motivated and productive, we must be willing to devote time to exercise and outdoor activity. That can involve allocating more funds to a dietician, personal trainer, gym membership, proper medical insurance, frequent check-ups or more costly unprocessed foods. (To learn more, see: How to Make Sure Your Healthcare Costs Do Not Ruin Your Retirement.)

Necessary Protection Against Short-Term Income Shocks

Anything from an emergency medical disaster to a car wreck or employment change can highlight why everyone needs short-term emergency savings. A recent survey by Bankrate.com of 1,000 American adults concluded that 63% had didn't have enough put aside to cover a $500 auto repair or a $1,000 emergency room visit. Before setting aside everything for your long-term retirement plan, it’s important to consider having short-term financial cushions in place. This way you prevent yourself from falling into immediate debt, in the case of an unexpected setback.

“I definitely believe in balance,” says Marguerita Cheng, CEO, Blue Ocean Global Wealth, Rockville, Md. “Clients need to have cash reserves for emergencies or opportunities that may arise. These tend to be dollars that are liquid and readily accessible.” 

Read How to Use Your Roth IRA as an Emergency Fund for a way to combine saving for both needs.

Mini-Vacations vs. Outdated Deferred Life Plan

Timothy Ferriss’ New York Times Bestseller, “4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich” popularized the idea of using various 21st century advances to transform the traditional model of a deferred-life plan, where people save everything for retirement and work long hours in the same cube for over 40 hours a week.

Ferriss advocates a life of mini-retirements. Instead of saving 100% for retirement, Ferriss proposes enjoying more in the now while staying smart regarding saving for the future. (For related reading, see: How Entrepreneurs Around the World Use Geo-arbitrage to Their Advantage.) In an interview on the topic, Ferriss explains how he saved money while traveling the world for a year, compared to staying home in San Francisco Bay Area. First, he suggests recognizing that the costs of travel are mostly transportation and housing costs and that the differences in global cost of living result in paying the same price for a mediocre hotel in the U.S. for four days as you'd spend for a few weeks in a luxury villa somewhere overseas. After amortizing the transportation and housing costs over the period of 12 months, he calculated savings of $32,000. He improved his financial balance even before he figured out how to make money remotely, which he’s famous for popularizing. 

Anti-lump sum retirement isn't anti-investing at all. Instead, it's proposing a more rational lifetime investment strategy. The distinction here is that retirement is no longer the sole objective of investing. The reality of the matter is that you often don't know how long you'll have to enjoy your li. Given this truth, it's better to hedge against the risk of not surviving to enjoy your retirement savings, by spreading leisure time throughout your life. 

The Bottom Line

It’s true that the vast majority of Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement. However, it’s equally true that preparing for retirement isn't just about money. And that saving money isn't just about retirement. The importance of physical and mental well-being serve as excellent arguments for not saving every dime and minute for retirement. This way, we can be in the right mental and physical state later to enjoy the fruits of our hard-earned savings.

The advent of technology, work arrangement flexibility, and global mobility, make it easier to live a life of mini-retirements, instead of saving it all for later. Ultimately, retirement savings should and will continue to be an important aspect of our future plans. To live a life without many regrets, we must find a balance between living in the now, preparing for short-term emergencies, and planning for a long and leisurely retirement.