You Better Watch Out…

“You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout…”

Those are, of course, the opening lyrics to that holiday classic, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” And while the tune is jaunty enough, the message—that there’s some kind of elfin “eye in the sky” keeping tabs on us—has always struck me as just a little bit… creepy.

That said, once upon a time, as Christmas neared, it was not uncommon for my wife and I to use those images to caution our occasionally misbehaving brood that they had best be attentive to how their (not uncommon) misbehaviors might be viewed by the big guy at the North Pole.

In support of that notion, a few years back—well, now it’s quite a few years back—when my kids still believed in the (SPOILER ALERT) reality of Santa Claus, we stumbled across an ingenious website that purported to offer a real-time assessment of their “naughty or nice” status. Indeed, nothing we said (or did, or threatened) 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 lump of coal he so surely “deserved.”[i]

In similar fashion, most of those responding to the ubiquitous surveys about their retirement confidence and preparations don’t seem to do 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—or more accurately, don’t. 

I’m talking about the majorities who—asked to assess their retirement confidence—express varying degrees of doubt and concern about the consequences of their “naughty” behaviors—but like my son in that week before Christmas, they tend to only worry about it—far 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.

This is, of course, 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 lives, our relationships with others, and yes, our financial wellness.

So, 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.

Happy Holidays!

 - Nevin E. Adams, JD

p.s.: I am happy to report that the “naughty or nice” site is still active. I’m even happier to report that, as of this writing, yours truly was rated “super nice,” with the following notation: “Has been nice most of the year (not just near Christmas)! Makes others happy. Could share a little more, however. Politeness is sometimes very good. Can be great listener.”


[i] Fortunately for him (and our parental piece of mind), the site does allow for multiple evaluations—and my son was able to keep trying until he got a more “soothing” response.


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