The economy is a mess, the job market is moribund and the stock market remains volatile. Meanwhile, Congress continues to be strangled by partisan bickering and unable or unwilling to figure out meaningful solutions to the country’s most pressing problems. On Monday, the Advisor Confidence Index, which measures advisor views on the U.S. economy and stock market, reached its lowest level in 16 months.
Yet despite all of this turmoil, a new quarterly retirement survey from Charles Schwab finds that pre-retiree baby boomers are remaining relatively calm. How could this be? If anyone is feeling stressed out, shouldn’t it be the baby boomers? With careers, children, parents and retirement planning to worry about, boomers are arguably the world’s foremost multitaskers. To put it simply, they’ve got a lot to worry about.
But according to Schwab’s survey, the majority of baby boomers ages 50 to 60 (54%) don’t expect to delay their planned retirement date. Fewer (38%) expect to retire later than they had originally planned. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority (74%) said they would not need financial support from others at some point during retirement. And more than half (54%) believe they are likely to enter retirement debt free.
Justin Sinnott, vice president and financial consultant for Schwab’s Seattle branch, said that the survey’s findings are due in part to the type of client that Schwab is normally dealing with. These are people with a balance sheet and accumulated assets. Investors also got a bit of a break and were able to come up for air with the performance of the stock market in 2009. By alleviating some of the immediate financial concerns, many boomers were able to sit down and do some serious planning for the future.
“Boomers got to look at what their real life retirement situation was going to be like,” Sinnott said. “We could look at how to do it differently for the next 10 years so we don’t go through the roller coaster ride again. It’s important to set expectations about returns that are going to be coming out of the market and economy right now. The calm is coming after having gone thru the planning.”
Schwab’s survey also found that the sense of calm is coming from the emerging perspective among boomers that retirement will not mean putting the breaks on their professional lives. In fact, 88% of those surveyed expect to continue to work after they become eligible for full retirement benefits. Although the “the need for more money” was the leading reason (28%) for working beyond the traditional retirement age, this is not exactly what it may seem to be.
“Boomers are a much different retiree than their parent’s generation,” Sinnott said. “They are interested in staying active. They are interested in traveling and seeing the world. They are saying that they want to do things that cost us more than just feeding ourselves and enjoying our grandchildren.”
So the need for money is not coming from a sense of desperation, but rather from a desire to pay for a full and active life during retirement. Sinnott cites his father-in-law as an example. A retired school superintendent, he still takes on part-time work as a substitute principal because he wants a little disposal income “so he can buy new toys,” Sinnott said. This could mean a new boat, maybe some hunting gear, basically things that make life better.
Of course, boomers are not only looking out for themselves. They are interested in legacy planning for their children. Some are paying for college, or helping children who might be in a precarious financial situation during these tough economic times. Sinnott is doing a lot of generational planning as many boomers are interested in teaching their children good savings habits.
But of course, not everyone is worry free. Though the majority of boomers that answered Schwab’s survey are financially strong, there are the 20% or 25% that are not so lucky. “There are those that have come in on near financial life support,” Sinnott said. “They have the assets, but they just haven’t got them in order.”
When the stock market was soaring and the housing bubble growing, people were able to look away from their finances. They didn’t have to think about their financial plan. They could afford to not pay attention. But boomers no longer have that luxury as they near retirement.
“If you don’t know what your net worth looks like, what your balance sheet looks like, you need to do it with quickness,” Sinnott said.