Debt or Death? Some Would Rather Die Than Run Out of Retirement Money

Young couple calculating budget

A third of middle-class Americans aren’t saving for retirement, and more than half plan to save later to make up for not saving enough now, according to an annual retirement survey from Wells Fargo. Those are not good strategies, people. And that’s even scarier considering almost one in four would rather die early than run out of money in retirement.

It’s extremely difficult to make up for lost time when it comes to retirement planning, so if you’re not yet saving, now is the time to start. Apparently, that’s not what’s happening: In 2013, middle-class Americans had saved a median of $25,000, but this year, that median is $20,000. The data is based on 1,001 phone interviews with Americans ages 25 to 75 with a household income between $50,000 to $99,999 (the low end of that spectrum went down to $25,000 for 25- to 29-year-olds to reflect their early career earnings). The median household income of those surveyed was $63,000.

Those surveyed expected they’d need a median of $250,000 saved for retirement (how much you need heavily depends on your standard of living expectations, in addition to your life expectancy). That’s not going to happen if you only set aside $125 a month for retirement, which is the median monthly savings among middle-class Americans.

Americans aren’t totally lying to themselves: 68% said saving is harder than they thought it would be, and 48% aren’t confident they’ll save enough by the time they retire to live comfortably. The whole “living comfortably” thing is pretty important, considering 22% of respondents said they would rather die early than not have enough money saved to live the way they want in retirement. One would hope that 22% is mostly made up of people saving properly for their post-work years, but given the high rates of insufficient savings, it seems some people are headed toward serious unhappiness.

Yes, saving for retirement is difficult, especially if you’re one of the 38% of middle-class Americans making sacrifices now so you can live comfortably later (61% said they’re not sacrificing a lot for retirement), but it’s worth it later on. Insufficient retirement savings means sacrificing what you want later on (at best) and possibly going into debt to make ends meet. Think about how you’d rather spend your 80s: traveling, volunteering and spending time with family, or figuring out how to get out of debt?

As we’ve written before, debt and your credit scores still matter in retirement, particularly if you haven’t saved enough money to fully fund your golden years.

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Christine DiGangi covers personal finance for Previously, she managed communications for the Society of Professional Journalists, served as a copy editor of The New York Times News Service and worked as a reporter for the Oregonian and the News & Record.