Gen X Physicians Must Step Up Retirement Savings

July 19, 2014
Melinda Kibler, CFP

Generation X physicians are generally less prepared for retirement than baby boomers because of investment losses, higher debt, and the switch from employer-paid pensions to 401(k) plans. They can catch up, though.

If you’re a member of Generation X—in the range of 33 to 49 years old—and aren’t saving enough for retirement, start now.

If you wait too long, you might have to delay retirement and keep working a lot longer than you’d like. Gen X physicians are generally less prepared for retirement than baby boomers because of the switch from employer-paid pensions to 401(k) plans, investment losses, higher debt, and lower savings.

Pew Charitable Trusts in 2013 estimated that Gen X households lost 45% of their wealth between 2007 and 2010. Pew predicts the average Gen Xer will be able to replace only about half of their preretirement income.

Since neither employers nor Social Security will fully fund a decent retirement, you have to take the initiative.

Complacency is the first barrier, so becoming aware of the need to save for retirement is the first step.

Next, create a budget. The process of going through your expenses is enlightening because it unveils spending habits and helps you pinpoint where you can reduce spending. Otherwise, you’re likely to reach the end of the year without having saved and not knowing why.

Without a formal budget, you’ll be too lax and won’t reach your goals. Once you’ve set your goals and built a budget to reach them, you’re on your way.

Reduce debt by starting with loans carrying the highest interest rate first—usually credit card debt. Build up your savings to cover 6 to 12 months of living expenses in case of an emergency. If you don’t have to tap into the emergency fund, it will eventually become part of your retirement nest egg.

Now, begin socking away money for retirement. If your employer offers a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, this should be your primary place for retirement savings, particularly if your employer offers matching contributions, which is, essentially, free money.

Once you have maxed out your 401(k) contributions, consider opening up a traditional or Roth IRA if you have additional cash available. If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan, it’s even more important to save in a traditional or Roth IRA—or a SEP-IRA or Keogh plan if you’re self-employed.

Don’t be afraid of stocks

Gen Xers who were hit hard by the market downturn may be afraid to invest in stocks and decide to stick with safe investments like CDs and short-term bonds. But being too conservative is as risky as being too aggressive, because safe investments produce very low returns these days.

Second, learn from prior mistakes. Maintain your target allocation during market downturns instead of bailing on your stock holdings. Investors who sold out of their stock positions in late 2008/early 2009, locked in those losses giving up their opportunity to let those investments recover as the market improved.

Most Gen Xers will want to put the bulk of their retirement in stock funds that offer growth potential. For starters, divide equity investments among a US large-cap fund, a US small-cap fund, and an international fund. Have bond and money market fund exposure in your investment portfolio as well; though it may be more advantageous to invest in bond funds outside your retirement plan.

Make a plan and stick with it instead of trying to time the market. Think long-term.

As you get closer to retirement, slowly take risk off the table and increase your holdings of bonds while maintaining an appropriate level of stocks.

Saving for retirement takes discipline. There are a lot of competing demands on your money, but by the time you get to your mid-30s, it’s very important to save, even if you have to start small.

Melinda Kibler is a certified financial planner with Palisades Hudson Financial Group’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida, office. She can be reached at info@palisadeshudson.com.

Palisades Hudson (www.palisadeshudson.com) is a fee-only financial planning firm and investment advisor with more than $1.3 billion under management. It offers investment management, estate planning, insurance consulting, retirement planning, cross-border planning, business valuation and appraisal, family-office and business management, tax preparation, and executive financial planning. Branch offices are in Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Portland, Oregon. Read the firm’s daily column on personal finance, economics and other topics at http://palisadeshudson.com/current-commentary. Twitter: @palisadeshudson.