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Investing for retirement can’t wait

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A personal question for you today: How much money do you have set aside for retirement?

The answers among Telegram readers likely will be all over the map. Responses will depend on factors such as age, income, education level and employment status. But the same harsh reality faces everyone who thinks about the question: If you aren’t saving enough now, your ability to live comfortably later will be remarkably difficult.

The results of a national survey this week paint a bleak picture for the so-called Golden Years for the vast majority of Americans.

More than a third of American workers – 36 percent – have $1,000 or less in savings and investments that could be used for retirement. That doesn’t count money invested in homeownership, which can help in some cases. But the folks who hope to sell their homes one day and live off the money they make from the sale will still have to live somewhere.

More than three-quarters of Americans – 78 percent – have less than $100,000 saved for retirement. A hundred grand can sound like a lot of money, but the average life expectancy for an American man is 76 years. For a woman, it’s 81 years. If you hope to retire at age 65, $100,000 will disappear pretty quickly over the course of 10 years or more.

Social Security will help. But remember that even when President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the concept, he meant for it to be one part of a three-legged school. Pensions were expected to fill the role of another leg. Savings were to make up the third.

If you’re fortunate enough to receive a pension in retirement, you’re lucky indeed. A 2013 report in The Washington Post found that just 35 percent of American workers had a defined benefits pension plan provided by their employers.

That makes the need to save on your own even more critical. Many employers these days offer a tax-deferred 401(k) plan and even offer matching funds to encourage workers to participate. If your employer has such a benefit and you’re not participating, you’re leaving money on the table. The only way to collect that investment is to participate in the plan.

For those who believe their everyday expenses make it cost-prohibitive to put money into an Individual Retirement Account or a 401(k), consider the skyrocketing performance of the stock market during the past five years. The Standard & Poor 500 index has more than doubled since 2009. Short of winning the lottery, can you think of any other means of generating 100 percent of your investment during that time?

Retirement shouldn’t be an elusive dream for hard-working Americans, but at the investment rate mentioned at the beginning of this editorial, it likely will be for too many people. Saving and investing requires some sacrifice and discipline, but it’s a critical component for your well-being.

Put some stock in your future.