Years ago―when my kids were still kids―we discovered an ingenious Web site1 that purported to offer a real-time assessment of your “naughty or nice” status.
As parents, we rarely invoked the name of Santa to encourage good behavior, and for the very most part our children didn’t require much “redirection.” But no tone of voice or physical threat ever had the impact of that Web site―if not on their behaviors (they were kids, after all), then certainly on the level of their concern about the consequences. In fact, in one of his final years as a “believer,” my son (who, it must be acknowledged, had been PARTICULARLY naughty that December) was on the verge of tears, worried that he’d find nothing under the Christmas tree but the coal and the bundle of switches he surely deserved.
One could argue that many participants still act as though some kind of benevolent elf will drop down their chimney with a bag full of cold cash from the North Pole, that somehow, their bad savings behaviors throughout the year(s) notwithstanding, they’ll be able to pull the wool over the eyes of a myopic, portly gentleman in a red snow suit.
Next month we’ll field the 23rd annual version of the Retirement Confidence Survey,2 where we will, among other things, seek to gain a sense of American workers’ preparation for (and confidence about) retirement, as well as some idea as to how those already retired view the adequacy of their own preparations. In previous years we’ve seen confidence wax stronger and then wane―and we’ve seen distressingly low levels of preparation that sometimes seem at odds with the high confidence expressed. However, in wake of the Great Recession, we’ve also seen a growing awareness of the need for those preparations,3 and cognizance of the challenge in doing so. We’ve also seen regrets that more wasn’t done earlier, at a time when the options were greater, and time an asset.
Ultimately, the volume of presents under our Christmas tree never really had anything to do with our kids’ behavior. As parents, we nurtured their belief in Santa Claus as long as we thought we could (without subjecting them to the ridicule of their classmates), not because we expected it to modify their behavior (though we hoped, from time to time), but because kids should have a chance to believe, if only for a little while, in those kinds of possibilities.
We all live in a world of possibilities, of course. But as adults we realize—or should realize—that those possibilities are frequently bounded in by the reality of our behaviors.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus—but he looks a lot like you, assisted by “helpers” like the employer match, tax incentives, automatic enrollment and deferral increases, and qualified default investment alternatives.
Nevin E. Adams, JD
(1) The Naughty or Nice site is STILL online, here.
(2) More information about the Retirement Confidence Survey, as well as results from prior years, is available online here.
(3) That first step on that path, and it’s a critical one, is to Choose to Save.® A great place to start those preparations figuring out quickly what you’ll need is the BallparkE$timate,® available online here. Organizations interested in building/reinforcing a workplace savings campaign can find free resources—and a handy schedule of events around which to construct a program—courtesy of the American Savings Education Council (ASEC). Choose to Save® is sponsored by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute Education and Research Fund (EBRI-ERF) and one of its programs, the American Savings Education Council (ASEC). The Website and materials development have been underwritten through generous grants and additional support from EBRI Members and ASEC Partner institutions.