Here's a statistic that may grab your attention. Surveys querying older adults about their finances find aging couples believe they should be putting 12.1 percent of their working income toward retirement. If you're already retired and you did that, you know whether it worked out for you.
Many experts say if you're saving less than 10 percent, especially if you're in your 40s or 50s, that's just not enough. In a perfect world, according to Capital One ShareBuilder, an investment management firm, we should be saving up to 20 percent during our working years, especially in the last 10 years of employment. Almost no one does that.
I think we would all agree — planning for retirement starts by having conversations that use the word retirement. And it's not just finances you discuss. It's lifestyle-thinking. According to the Capital One survey of aging adults, couples reportedly talked about their eventual retirement 14 times a year. But those conversations were sometimes as brief as simply mentioning the word.
Already retired — and happily (on most days) — I remain interested in the planning process and what works when it comes to preparing for decades of retirement living. I agree with experts who say you need to make the planning process interesting, even "fun" (honest, they do say that), to set the stage for the kind of atmosphere you want once you actually do retire. Maybe you could introduce the topic over dinner at your favorite restaurant where you are relaxed and can thoughtfully consider options.
Maybe, even if you have already retired, you have periodic check-up/check-in dinners to talk about how things are going. If retirement income is tight, make lunch.
At any stage, it's a good idea to maintain a one-page net-worth statement and compile a monthly budget to see exactly where your money goes. I recall when my husband and I began thinking actively about retirement, he evaluated all of our extraneous expenses and proposed dramatic cuts (magazine subscriptions, Kindle book-buying) and money-saving renegotiations (Internet service, phone contracts). I remember those conversations as being initially difficult, but ultimately rewarding. It felt like we were thinking through the possibilities purposefully. If I did not have a spouse, I suspect I would have partnered with a trusted friend or talked to a retirement-planning expert, or maybe tried out one of the many AARP retirement-planning websites (www.aarp.org).
If you realize you will be "living on less — much less," earlier is better in considering how to generate post-retirement revenue. Go to www.encore.org to get a taste of what some people have done with the word retirement.
And don't forget the words "social capital." Researchers have found retirees who were satisfied with the number of friends they have were almost three times more likely to be happy with life, no matter what their income stream.
Retirees who volunteered frequently or regularly attended some sort of worship service were also notably more content.
The word is "retirement," but let's envision it as "happily ever after."
Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.