One could certainly argue that many Americans act as though at retirement some kind of benevolent elf will drop down their chimney with a bag full of cold cash from the North Pole.
They behave as though, 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 snowsuit.
A few years back — well, now it’s quite a few years back — when my kids still believed in the reality of Santa Claus, we discovered an ingenious website that purported to offer a real-time assessment of their “naughty or nice” status.
Now, as Christmas approached, it was not uncommon for us to caution our occasionally misbehaving brood that they had best be attentive to how those actions might be viewed by the big guy at the North Pole.
But nothing we said ever had the impact of that website — 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 year) was on the verge of tears, worried that he’d find nothing under the Christmas tree but the coal and bundle of switches he so surely “deserved.”
In similar fashion, must of those responding to the ubiquitous surveys about their retirement confidence and preparations don’t seem to have much in the way of rational responses to the gaps they clearly see between their retirement needs and their savings behaviors. Not that they actually believe in a retirement version of St. Nick, but that’s essentially how they behave, though a significant number will, when asked to assess their retirement confidence, express varying degrees of doubt and concern about the consequences of their “naughty” behaviors.
Like my son in that week before Christmas, they tend to worry about it too late to influence the outcome.
Ultimately, the volume of presents under our Christmas tree never really had anything to do with our kids’ behavior, of course. 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 we believed that 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 — that those possibilities are frequently bounded in by the reality of our behaviors. This is a season of giving, of coming together, of sharing with others.
However, it is also a time of year when we should all be making a list and checking it twice — taking note, and making changes to what is “naughty and nice” about our savings behaviors.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus — but he looks a lot like you, assisted by “helpers” like your workplace retirement plan, the employer match, and your retirement plan advisor.
- Nevin E. Adams, JD
P.S.: The Naughty or Nice website is still online, here.