Walter Mischel, who used marshmallows to test children’s ability to delay gratification, died recently, but his lesson never grows old.
For those who aren’t familiar with his famous test, a young girl or boy sits at a table with a single marshmallow on a plate. The tester tells the child that he or she can eat the marshmallow right away, but waiting to eat it until the tester comes back into the room will bring a big payoff: a second sweet, puffy morsel.
Watching the children in this video squirm as they wrestle with their decisions brings to mind the adult equivalent. A desire for immediate self-gratification can come at the detriment of any number of personal financial decisions.
Like the marshmallow test, consuming now means having less money in the bank later. The test also applies to deciding when to retire. Retiring becomes extremely tempting for baby boomers who want to escape from work after decades in the labor force. But those who wait patiently for a few more years will have a sweeter retirement: a much larger Social Security check and more 401(k) savings distributed over fewer total years in retirement.
Children, when faced with the marshmallow test, struggle mightily to exercise self-control. They pick up the marshmallow to examine it, play with it, nibble it, and move it out of reach – but impulse gets the better of them, and they pop it into their mouths.
The lesson here is the same for children and adults: resist temptation and be rewarded. …Learn More
Men with high school diplomas are retiring around age 63 – three years before college-educated men. The gap in their retirement ages used to be smaller.
The reasons behind the current disparity are explained in a review of research studies on the topic by Matt Rutledge, an economist with the Center for Retirement Research. The trend for women is similar, though their story is complicated by a sharp rise in their participation in the labor force in recent decades.
Rutledge provides four reasons that less-educated men are still the lion’s share of early retirees:
Health. Older Americans are generally getting healthier and living longer – so why not wait to retire? Well, the health of less-educated people is poorer and has improved less over time than their more-educated coworkers. And health problems trump unemployment and other types of job losses as the single biggest reason for their early retirements – more so than for better-educated workers.
Labor Market. Two aspects of the labor market are relevant to less-educated workers. In the past, a large share of the retiree population could count on a guaranteed monthly income from a pension. Today, the workers who have a retirement savings plan have an incentive to delay retirement, because they will have to rely on the often inadequate and uncertain income that can be withdrawn from their 401(k)s. But less-educated workers haven’t been affected very much by the change, because they’ve never been big beneficiaries of employer retirement plans. In the 1990s, they could claim just 11 percent of the value in pensions, and today they hold 11 percent of the wealth in 401(k) plans.
A second change in the labor market is plummeting U.S. manufacturing employment since the 1980s, which reduced the physical demands of work. But myriad working conditions remain relatively poor for less-educated workers and are still a powerful reason for them to retire. …Learn More
Two of our readers’ favorite articles so far this year connected difficult bread and butter issues – personal finance and retirement – with a far more pleasant topic: travel.
The most popular blog profiled a Houston couple scouting locations for a dream retirement home in South America, which has a lower cost of living. Another well-read blog was about Liz Patterson, a young carpenter in Colorado who built a $7,000 tiny house on a flat-bed trailer to radically reduce her expenses – so she could travel more.
The downsizing efforts of 27-year-old Patterson inspired several older readers to post comments to the blog about their own downsizing. “From children’s cribs and toys in the attic, to collectible things from my parents’ 70-year marriage!” Elaine wrote. “Purging has been heart wrenching and frustrating and long overdue!”
The following articles attracted the most interest from our readers in the first six months of 2018. Topics ranged from 401(k)s, income taxes, and Americans’ uneven participation in the stock market to geriatric care managers. Each headline includes a link to the blog. …Learn More
Medicare pays for the bulk of the medical care for Americans over 65, but a lot of their income is still eaten up by medical expenses.
The list of expenses is long. The lion’s share goes toward various insurance premiums – for Medicare Part B coverage, Part D prescription drug coverage, and supplemental insurance, whether Medigap, a Medicare Advantage plan, or employer health insurance for retirees. The remaining costs, for copayments and deductibles, are also significant.
These out-of-pocket costs, when added together, averaged about $4,300 annually per person, finds a new study by researchers Melissa McInerney, Matthew Rutledge, and Sara Ellen King of the Center for Retirement Research.
Out-of-pocket costs consume a third of the amount that retirees receive from Social Security, which is the most significant source of retirement income for a wide swath of the nation’s seniors, including many people in the middle-class. Half of seniors get at least half of all their income from the federal program.
The Medicare Part D prescription drug program has given some relief to retirees. After it became effective in 2006, the share of seniors’ income consumed by out-of-pocket costs declined slightly and then declined again after a follow-up reform of Part D began to close a big gap in drug coverage – known as the donut hole – in 2010. …Learn More
Kay Dobson is 68, and it’s time to retire from her job as the jack of all trades at the Augusta Circle Elementary School in Greenville, South Carolina.
But she isn’t quite as ready for her June retirement as she could’ve been. She recently learned that an admitted unfamiliarity with Social Security’s arcane rules cost her about $31,000 for two years of foregone spousal benefits based on her husband’s earnings.
“I had not the vaguest idea that I would be eligible for that,” she said.
Dobson is hardly the first person to make a painful mistake like this. People have all kinds of misconceptions about Social Security, or they lack a basic understanding of how it works – that the government calculates benefits using their 35 highest years of earnings, that the size of the monthly checks depends on the age the benefits start, and that working women, like Dobson, are often entitled to a spousal benefit based on their husband’s work record and earnings.
Two years ago, Dobson could have applied for this benefit, because she’d reached her full retirement age – 66. But since she didn’t know this at the time, Social Security recently sent her a check for $7,800 for only six months retroactively – typically the maximum period for retroactive spousal benefits.
Her $1,300 monthly checks are starting to come in now too. When she turns 70, she’ll start collecting a larger benefit based on her own earnings from a long-time career in the school system.
This particular strategy – file for spousal benefits and delay your own – is now available only to people who turned 62 prior to Jan 2, 2016. The unintended loophole was eliminated, because it subverted the original intent of the spousal benefit, which was designed with an eye to retired households with a low-earning or non-working spouse. (The spousal benefit, in and of itself, remains intact and can be a big help to older households in which a working wife earned less than her husband. If that’s the case, her Social Security benefit would be increased until it is equal to half of his full retirement benefit if she claims at or above her own full retirement age.)
The central point here is that ignorance of program rules can mean substantial losses for retirees. For low- or middle-income retirees, the consequences can be especially dire since they’re already scraping by. … Learn More
It’s a simple concept. Deposit retirees’ Social Security checks right before their big-ticket bills come, especially rent.
The U.S. Social Security Administration’s current schedule for depositing pension checks in bank accounts is based on each retiree’s birth date– it can be the second, third, or fourth Wednesday of each month.
The problem is that cash-strapped, low-income seniors receiving the earlier checks, on the second or third Wednesdays, can fall into a common behavioral trap: they spend the money soon after it comes in and then can’t cover the rent, mortgages or credit cards due at the beginning of the following month.
According to a clever new study, people who get these early monthly checks are at greater risk of resorting to desperate measures like payday loans than are seniors receiving them on the fourth Wednesday.
Such measures of financial distress are occurring “even though the pay schedule is known in advance,” write researchers Brian Baugh and Jialan Wang.
The advantage of Social Security deposits made on the fourth Wednesday is that retirees can get the big expenses out of the way first, forcing them to make do for the rest of the month with the money they have left. Indeed, people with fourth-Wednesday deposits had fewer bounced checks, account overdrafts, and payday loans, the researchers found. …Learn More