All those media reports about retirement make me nervous. They’re usually titled something like “Are you saving enough for retirement?” They probably make you nervous too, because it is almost impossible as an American to read that headline and think, “Yes!”

We’re engrained to think we need millions in the bank in order to have a happy retirement. We’re told that winning at life means quitting in your 50s or early 60s and hitting the cruise-line circuit, counting your coins a la Scrooge McDuck and having a variety of hip and nick-nameable ailments (Low-T! A-fib!) that require designer nick-nameable drugs. “Purple pill” anyone?

We’ve allowed the popular notion of retirement to be based on our hyper-consumerist American culture. But what if we say no to all that? If your home and cars are paid for, if you and your family are healthy, if you’re content and you enjoy modest activities that keep you active and sane, how much of a nest egg do you really need?

Now I’m not suggesting that you could be saving too much. There’s no harm in saving like crazy for retirement. But if you haven’t done that, just how bad should you feel? Not very, I think, but there’s a trick to this.

You have to live a life of contentment and you must avoid debt.

What do you really need to be happy? The people I know who have the most cash in stocks, bonds, savings and retirement accounts also happen to be the most fretful people I know. They track the markets like their lives depend on it, and I know in many ways they think their lives do depend on the markets. If all that money is gone, life is over, right?


I think if we choose modest lifestyles we can worry less about paying for them. If we can choose gardening over golf, hiking the local countryside over European cruises, dinners  at home rather than restaurants several times a week, we will be healthier, happier and we will have more money in the bank.

Buy a home you love that you can pay off in a reasonable amount of time and enjoy your golden years without a mortgage payment. Pay for your stuff as you go. There’s nothing sadder than a 70-year-old with unmanageable credit card debt or a car payment.

Just a thought. And permission not to stress if your 401(k) is a little puny. There’s still time. And there’s still time to choose less.

So what do you think? Is there too much pressure to save up a ton for retirement? Or do we need pressure to save even more?

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