salesman

On the Web

‘Retire Rich!’ Don’t Believe the Sales Pitch

If an alien were to drop in to study earthlings’ retirement, it would have to conclude that saving is either nearly hopeless or super easy.

Many Americans approach retirement planning with dread – hardly surprising, given that only about half of working-age adults are on track to have sufficient savings to retire in the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to while working.

But there purports to be an easier way – and it’s on YouTube. Googling “retirement” turns up all kinds of outlandish promises of nirvana for regular folks.  Examples of YouTube titles are: “Retire Young. Retire Rich.” “Guaranteed Ways to Retire Rich.” “How to Retire in 10 Years – Much Easier Than You Think.” You get the picture.

Don’t be fooled. In a 401(k) world, what workers need is determination, planning, and persistence to ensure they’ll be prepared for old age.  YouTube offers only magic bullets.

Many of these exploitative videos are targeted to 20-somethings new to the financial world, who may be more vulnerable and persuadable. But perhaps they are also able to attract hundreds or even thousands of viewers because they offer easy solutions to what may be our most anxiety-producing financial challenge: Will I ever be able to afford to retire?

Yes, one video claims. Retire at age 40! The self-appointed retirement expert in this video, who does not identify himself, hides behind cartoon illustrations on a white board to display his mathematical comparisons of workers who started saving at different ages. The point of this exercise is that people who start early will wind up with a better-funded retirement, due to compounding investment returns, than those who start in their 40s or 50s. So far so good.

But things quickly go downhill when he claims that it’s possible for a 23-year-old to retire in 17 years. You “don’t have to work another day in your life, and you’re still able to do the things you want to do,” he says, allowing this tantalizing prospect to sink in with the audience. But his retire-at-40 scheme has a catch – and it’s a big one. To achieve this goal, a 23-year-old would have to save half of his or her income. Young adults are trying to achieve independence – not move back in with their parents to follow his financial prescription.

Another pitchman claims that a 27-year-old who saves $28 a week can retire at 67 with $665,000 in the bank.  He throws around a lot of fuzzy math to explain how he arrives at this figure. But plugging his basic assumptions into the SEC’s investment calculator, investor.gov, clarifies what’s behind his inflated claim: a $665,000 nest egg at age 67 would require an unrealistic investment return of more than 9.5 percent every single year for 40 years.

The goal of this video is revealed only at the end.  Viewers are encouraged to visit the narrator’s website, where, with a few clicks, they can open up an IRA and start investing. A sounder option: start contributing to your 401(k) at work. Unlike robo-IRAs, employers will often match a small percentage of their employees’ weekly or monthly contributions. This approach will get you to your retirement goal faster than a promise.

Another fantastic claim of instant wealth comes from a real estate investor who tells viewers of his call-in show that saving money in a 401(k) is “dumb.” “Your mom and dad’s rules will not prepare you for retirement,” he says. “I’m the guy who will help you with it.” 

Nearly 29,000 people have watched his unintelligible sales pitch, but let’s hope that no one asked for his help. The narrator claims he can turn a $700,000 investment in multifamily properties into $3.5 million when the properties are sold. He is at best irresponsible in peddling a high-risk investment as part of a retirement plan and at worst a fraud: he informs potential customers that he would keep $200,000 of that $700,000 initial investment for himself and $1.2 million of the $3.5 million payout at the end. “The more I make the more you make!” he says.

It’s understandable that people would look for easy answers, because it’s extremely hard to delay gratification, say no to spending, and save. But retirement planning will never be as simple as these videos claim.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.  

11 Responses to ‘Retire Rich!’ Don’t Believe the Sales Pitch

  1. Jessica says:

    I’m disappointed that this article laughs at people who could possibly save 50% of their salary. I think the country and earth would be better off if American’s learned how to save more. If basic needs are met at $70k a year and basic basic needs are met for far less than that, why wouldn’t the first basic tenant of being ‘squared away’ for retirement be to save as much as possible and live a pleasant life within or below your means?

    You do us all a disservice if you laugh-off high savings rates as a real solution.

  2. Kim, you are spot on. It is interesting that so many are working so hard telling people that they don’t have to work hard.

    “Retire young, like me!” they say. Except that they are not retired. They are working at making readers/viewers think they can retire young… buy purchasing their products/services.

  3. Brian says:

    ‪It’s easy to delay instant gratification, to say no to spending, and to save. Retirement planning is very simple. What people lack is discipline.

    The first step to saving well is entering the occupation that will give you a good head start on saving: https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/50-highest-paying-college-majors/

    • Ken Pidcock says:

      Good on them for specifying “during the first five years out of college.” I saw a list a few weeks back where the top three occupations were zoologist (!), physician and pharmacist.

  4. Keith Meintjes says:

    In the good old days, companies had pension plans, and they spent about 15% of payroll to fund those plans. Workers did not get a 15% raise when those plans disappeared, but that’s what you need to save to compensate for the pension you’re not going to get.

    I tell people to save 25% of their pre-tax income (in tax-advantaged accounts if they can).

  5. Joel L. Frank says:

    And make sure your employer plan operates at di minimus cost, not like the New Jersey State Employees Deferred Compensation 457(b) Plan which cost the participant about 2.5 cents for each dollar invested. OUTCH!!!

  6. Wendy Weiss says:

    This article is really important. It speaks to individuals who make middle class incomes ($50,000-$60,000 in most of the USA) and may spend 40%-70% of their income on rent or mortgage & property taxes. It is difficult for these people to save for retirement and meet their other expenses, such as student loan payments.

    Warning them that retirement investment scams exist is extremely important. And reminding them to save 10% of their income is crucial, even if a stretch.

    There are others in the top 1% and the top 25% who earn more. Perhaps the top quintile can save 50% of their income. But my hunch is that that is aspirational, not the norm.

    Perhaps other readers of this blog have statistics that will demonstrate that that is the norm. In that case, I would love them to share the data.

  7. Ken Pidcock says:

    When considering retirement advice, we should always remember that much of it is provided by financial advisers to whom your savings are potentially assets under management. For example, I’ve seen advice that delaying Social Security benefits “only makes sense if delaying Social Security benefits doesn’t require dipping into your long-term savings.” Which is nonsense, but makes sense when you realize that the money you spend to delay Social Security benefits diminishes assets under management. Likewise with simple annuities. I KNOW why Ken Fisher hates annuities. Doesn’t mean I should as well. (I guess that’s an old ad.)

  8. Penny says:

    Quantitative easing by the federal reserve board lowered the return on low risk government bonds to close to zero; this had two effects: it lowered returns on every kind of investment except real estate and it increased the cost of housing as a knock-on effect.

    Good retirement planning cannot substitute for good government planning. If we pursue poor government planning for the next 10 years as we have for the past 15, no amount of personal planning is going to overcome the result: increased poverty as a sign of being middle rather than upper class

Leave a Comment

Please read our Comments Policy before commenting.

*