The 401(k) Road Trip Team Returns with Tales of Pessimism, Progress

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How much 401(k) fees chip away at your retirementRecently, The Online 401(k) team was hanging out near Union Square in Manhattan, doing their last few interviews for their independent documentary, Broken Eggs: The Looming Retirement Crisis in America

Dressed in crisply ironed shirts, looking just a bit tan, their refreshed appearance belied the six sweaty weeks they'd just spent on the road in their trusty 1970s-era VW bus, on a cross-country trip to take soundings of our nation's soured financial dreams.

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The initial trailer for the film (below) shows Americans have no shortage of pessimism about their retirement prospects.

"This is the U.S., man," a mustachioed elderly gentleman in a cowboy hat says. "What ever happened to the dream, you know, of the U.S? Everybody in life is in a race to a stoplight."

Translation: At the end of the road, these days, Social Security won't even cover many people's insurance policies. Folks around the country had similarly grim sentiments about their dwindling or non-existent 401(k)s.




And though the people in the clip above were glib about the retirement crisis, there is an air of tension surrounding the topic.

"401(k) is the new 'F word'," said Andrew Meadows, consumer and brand ambassador at The Online 401(k). "It's like talking about your dysfunctional family or your sex lives. People aren't prepared, and it's awkward."

The 401(k) Road Trip Team Returns with Tales of Pessimism, Progress

By Selena Maranjian, The Motley Fool

There's a persistent assumption going around about what happens after one retires: Pundits, financial planners and even retirees often claim that your spending shrinks after you leave the 9-to-5 world.

Sure, your house may be paid off by then, and you may be able to ditch the expenses of commuting and buying clothes for work. That's not the full picture, though.

In good and not-so-good ways, many people end up spending more than they expect during their golden years.

For lots of folks, retirement means finally getting around to doing things you've been putting off for years. And those things cost money.

You may finally do some traveling in Europe, for example, or explore the U.S. in an RV. Want to get serious about your love for curling? Joining a league costs some money. Looking forward to overhauling the garden or taking up woodworking? That'll cost you, too. Even just traveling to visit and spend time with the grandkids can add up -- in travel costs, dinners to treat the family, and gifts and ice creams for the young ones.

Of course, you don't have to bear these costs. You can let the children and grandchildren come to you and can spend more time in public libraries than on golf courses. But the early years of retirement, in particular, are when folks tend to have significant energy and lots of plans.

Unfortunately, many expenses in retirement are not so discretionary.

Health care, for example, can take a huge bite out of your nest egg. Fidelity Investments recently estimated that a 65-year-old couple retiring today can expect to pay, on average, about $230,000 on health care. That's just an average, so you might spend far less -- but you could also spend much more.

Medicare probably won't provide sufficient coverage, so you might need to buy supplemental insurance, which isn't usually cheap.

Meanwhile, though a lower income level will probably mean your income taxes will decrease, you'll still be on the hook for property taxes. And those will probably keep growing over time. If your annual property tax is $3,000 and it grows at 3% each year, it will hit $5,400 in 20 years.

Your home insurance costs will rise, too, along with your car insurance premiums, the cost of heating and cooling your home, groceries, and most other items.

And finally, whereas you might expect retirement to be a time when you're no longer raising children and supporting those dependents, you might still find yourself occasionally -- or routinely -- helping your loved ones out financially.

Still, the news isn't all bad. While you might spend more than you expected to once you retire, you probably won't keep it up. As we move into and then out of our 70s, people tend to slow down and be less active. Less travel, less eating out, and fewer hobbies can mean lower spending.

Throughout most of our retirement, we'll enjoy discounts on various expenses, too, such as movie tickets, meals, and even property taxes.

What to do

Don't let your retirement plan end up designed by assumptions you never questioned. Take some time to map out what your expenses may be in retirement, and to make sure you're saving, investing, and accumulating enough to support them.

If it looks like you're not quite where you should be, you have options. You can ramp up your saving and invest your money more effectively. (Yes, you can become a millionaire on a minimum-wage salary.) You might work a few more years before retiring, too, which can do wonders for your nest egg by boosting your Social Security benefits.

Another possibility is working part-time through part of your retirement, which can add income and possibly some useful benefits as well. It also keeps many retirees happier, giving them a social setting to belong to. Downsizing to a smaller home or moving to a less costly town or region can also make a difference.

Spend some time planning now, and you'll thank yourself later.

Learn more:


AOL DailyFinance Retirement News


The Motley Fool Retirement Nook


The Social Security Administration Retirement Planner

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The current reality of our retirement prospects is, after all, a somber one:
  • 46% of American workers have less than $10,000 saved for retirement.
  • 74% of American workers expect to keep working once they "retire" and 40% expect to keep working until they drop.
  • 36% of Americans say they don't contribute anything to retirement.
And though the documentary team from The Online 401(k) came back from the trip with a little less money than they had planned in the retirement fund -- having left $375 in Schurz, Nev., where a cop nabbed them for speeding -- capturing some of this collective dialogue on retirement proved valuable on its own in the midst of this crisis.

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