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Retirement: Too Worried or Not Worried Enough?

May 15, 2018 5 min read Marilen Cawad

Key takeaways

  • Overworrying could feed your future — and starve your present.
  • Underworrying today could risk your financial tomorrow.
  • Be realistic about your preparedness, and act accordingly.


When it comes to retirement readiness, “oversavers” and “undersavers” sit on opposite ends of a wide spectrum. But even though one might sound worse than the other, both conditions could lead to problems. And in many cases, their root causes are related: The first is overly concerned about funding retirement (let’s call them “worry-warts”), while the second isn’t concerned enough (“what-me-worriers?”).

Does either sound like you? And what can you do about it? Read on.



Too worried

You’ve done a good job saving consistently over the years, and you take pride in increasing your nest egg. You’ve paid off your mortgage and have no outstanding debt. You studiously monitor your retirement accounts, and when there’s market turbulence, you take quick corrective action, such as cutting down on spending.

Congratulations would be in order, except…the idea of starting to draw down on your assets frightens you, and you constantly fear you’ll run out of money in retirement.

Truth is, you’re a worry-wart. And you’re not alone. According to the Center for Retirement Research’s National Retirement Risk Index* (NRRI),1 one in four (24%) working-age American households believe they risk being unprepared for retirement — even though their savings history and attitude suggest that they’ll be well prepared.

This misperception puts worry-warts in danger of being “oversavers” who live below their current means. That’s not always a bad thing. But it can become a problem if you’re not living the lifestyle you want — and can afford. “You could be forgoing travel or other nice plans,” says Robert Fishbein, a Prudential vice president and author who speaks frequently on retirement planning strategies, “Or worse, not enjoying basic living comforts or appropriate medical care.” In this case, an “oversaver” may need help moving from an all-saving mindset to a prudent spending mode.


Not worried enough

Yes, you think about retirement, but not regularly or methodically. To you, life after work is either a distant concern, not a priority or simply too frightening to truly consider. Result: You forgo years of planning (and saving), thinking you can always invest more aggressively later to catch up. You confuse current wants — a new car, a bigger home, new furniture — with needs, and give them greater priority. You have a long-term savings goal, but when you estimate the retirement assets you’ll have and see how far behind you are, you take no action to change your behavior.

Fact is, you’re a what-me-worrier. And you are not alone either. The NRRI found that one in five (19%) households believe they’ll be well prepared for retirement even when their current strategy and attitude tell a very different story.  

“The person who is not worried about retirement ultimately loses the ability to control his future,” says Fishbein. “By saving and planning into retirement properly, you can control when you stop working. By failing to do so, your only choice is to keep working or live poorly in retirement.”

There’s the rub: The choice to continue working may not be yours. In fact, according to a study for Prudential,2 51% of American retirees left the workforce earlier than they’d planned. The notion of “working until I die” is far from a given — and certainly not an adequate substitute for planning ahead and accumulating a nest egg to fund your retirement years.

The notion of “working until I die”… is not an adequate substitute for planning ahead.

Take your preparedness pulse

According to the NRRI, 43% of American households don’t assess their retirement preparedness accurately — they’re either too worried (and “oversaving”) or not worried enough (and “undersaving”).

So, how can you gauge your retirement preparedness?

Fishbein says you’re probably in good shape if you:

  1. Prioritize savings throughout your career and work toward an asset-accumulation goal.
  2. Maintain a budget and avoid dipping into retirement savings.
  3. Avoid debt, or pay off personal debt such as student, credit card and car loans.
  4. Have a plan to pay off your mortgage by the time you retire — and execute on it.
  5. Plan for retirement assuming you’ll delay starting Social Security benefits until age 70.
  6. Have a heath care plan for retirement.
  7. Have a plan for how you’ll use your assets to generate a reliable retirement income stream — including a portion that’s guaranteed for your lifetime.
  8. Review and adjust your retirement planning at least annually to ensure you’re still on track to meet your goals.



What you can do next

Strike a balance between saving for tomorrow and living for today. Check your savings status — and be realistic about your chances of reaching your goal. You may find you’re in better shape than you’d thought (and can afford to splurge on yourself every now and then) — or that the sturdy financial ship you thought you’d built has holes you need to fill (while forgoing fleeting expenses that could undercut your future).


*The National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI) is published by the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College. The latest CRR research analyzes how well households are self-assessing their retirement preparedness. Prudential is the exclusive sponsor of the National Retirement Risk Index.


Please consult your tax and legal advisors regarding your particular circumstances.


Marilen Cawad is the Director of Digital Content Strategy at Prudential.


  • 1 http://research.prudential.com/documents/rp/FINAL_SI30_Awareness_to_Wellness_2_16_2017.pdf
  • 2 https://www.prudential.com/media/managed/documents/rp/Planning_Your_Retirement_Expect_the_Unexpected.pdf


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