Retirement plans? No way—we’re just a bunch of procrastinators

My parents left inheritance money in an irrevocable trust for their six grandchildren. They trusted me to handle the money matters for them, so now I, as the executor, have spent a great deal of time discussing investment options with a bunch of 20-somethings.

I made it clear that they should have fun with some of the money, but I also stressed they needed to start planning now and invest for their retirement.

Don Bayley | iStock | Getty Images

Don Bayley | iStock | Getty Images

I am sure the temptation was there to buy an expensive new car, go on a European vacation or spend thousands on a wild shopping spree.

My mission, however, was to let my two adult children and their cousins understand that putting off saving for retirement now will make the problem of financing retirement even worse later.

My advice sounded nice to them, I’m sure, but I also know that for a 20-something, retirement can seem very, very far away.

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It’s for this and various other reasons that Americans, as a whole, have not saved enough for retirement.

As the senior editor overseeing CNBC’s Financial Advisor Hub, I speak with financial professionals almost daily.

Their overall assessment is that saving for retirement is often put on hold as workers struggle to pay for current expenses or try to just make ends meet.

In fact, data from the Employee Benefits Research Institute indicates more than 50 percent of Americans have less than $25,000 saved. To make this scenario even more depressing, 28 percent have less than $1,000. It’s evident that most Americans will not be able to cover one year of living expenses during their retirement, let alone cover the rest of their lives.

Retirement planning is serious business, but research has shown that Americans aren’t dealing with it seriously. The bottom line is, when it comes to retirement planning, we are a nation of procrastinators.

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Psychologists say that procrastination is one way we cope with the anxiety of starting or completing a task or making a decision.

Adding procrastination to the retirement-planning mix produces a bad result because wasted time and lost opportunities will never make the future better.

That makes the job of a financial professional even tougher as they attempt to use logic, reason and facts to persuade procrastinating prospects and clients that retirement planning and saving are top priorities.

These serious procrastinators obviously have emotional issues that prevent the cold, hard facts from penetrating into their brains.

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I asked several financial advisors what they do when their clients ignore performance metrics, retirement calculations and all the warning signs pointing to a dismal retirement—and then go out and buy an expensive boat or that red sports car.

The consensus was that, while financial professionals aren’t trained as therapists and don’t feel comfortable playing the role of Dr. Sigmund Freud, they still must try to understand a client’s fears and perceptions before tackling retirement-related investment issues.

“When it came to my parent’s trust, I made sure procrastination was not in the equation. That said, I did weave a little therapy into the discussion.”

Here are some popular excuses for putting off retirement planning:

  • “I am just too busy.”
  • “It’s too soon to think about retirement.”
  • “I waited too long, so it’s too late for me to put enough money away.”
  • “I can’t do it now, because my finances are a mess.”
  • “I don’t have enough money to start planning for retirement—but my kids will take care of me.”
  • And my favorite: “What’s the difference? My plan is to work until I drop dead, anyway.”

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When it came to my parents’ trust, I made sure procrastination was not in the equation. That said, I did weave a little therapy into the discussion and, as of right now, four of the six have invested in an individual retirement account.

I am still working on the other two to break the procrastination cycle—even temporarily.

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