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Retirement Planning > Retirement Investing

What's the Key to a Better Retirement? Have a 'Planning Mindset' Now

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People with a “planning mindset” typically have more savings and less financial stress, according to the 2018 Wells Fargo Retirement Study.

“The most important finding in our research [was] the remarkable power of the ‘planning mindset,’” Fredrik Axsater, head of Strategic Business Segments at Wells Fargo Asset Management, said during a press briefing in New York.

Wells Fargo uncovered four specific statements that, when affirmed by workers, correlate with a significantly better financial life, including lower levels of financial stress and better financial well-being. The attitudes and behaviors inherent to the statements contribute to what Wells Fargo calls a “planning mindset.”

These four specific statements are:

  1. Setting a financial goal during the past six months.
  2. Working toward a long-term goal.
  3. Feeling good about planning financial matters over the next one to two years.
  4. Preferring to save for retirement now rather than waiting until later.

“What does it take for us to be successful in any sort of broader long-term goal? It starts with having a longer-term objective. It’s also helpful to have some medium-term goal in mind, and taking action,” Axsater explained. “And that is really what is representative in these four questions.

Workers that fall in the category of having a planning mindset are 42% less likely to have high levels of financial stress, the study found.

They’re also more likely to have more retirement savings. According to the study, they have 3.1 times more retirement savings than someone without a planning mindset. For example, the study found that working men with the planning mindset have saved more for retirement than those without ($150,000 versus $60,000). And the same is true for working women, where those with a planning mindset have $75,000 saved for retirement versus the $30,000 that those without a planning mindset have saved.

Across all workers, 84% of those with a planning mindset say they regularly contribute to retirement savings versus 66% who do not have this mindset. And fewer people with the planning mindset — 27% — envision living to age 85 or longer as a financial hardship versus 43% who do not have this mindset.

According to Axsater, the next question is how to get more people into this planning mindset.

The survey discovered that the generation that may be most in need of this mindset is Generation X.

Pressured by the financial responsibilities of raising children and supporting aging parents, Gen X workers — defined roughly as those born between 1961 and 1981 — are nearing the critical pre-retirement phase. However, among Gen X workers, only 45% say they have a detailed financial plan, the lowest rate of planning among all generations, according to the study.

The study also found that fewer than half — 48% — of Gen X workers say they are saving enough for retirement, comapred with 58% of baby boomers.

The study also found that 24% of Gen X workers say they have “unmanageable” debt, very close to the 26% of Millennials who report “unmanageable” debt.

When asked to rank their financial priorities after paying off monthly expenses, Gen X respondents say that saving for retirement ranks highest, at 58%, followed by 54% who say it is important to pay off debt (credit cards, loans). For Gen X respondents, paying off debt as a priority outranks both millennials and baby boomers by at least 9 percentage points.

“On average [Gen Xers] start saving six years after millennials, more than half of them are still paying down debt, less than half have a financial plan, [and] less than half feel like they’re on track for a secure retirement,” Axsater said. “It’s across the board that they’re worse off. In terms of prioritizing our efforts, the time is now to really help Generation X have the retirement that they desire and deserve.”

The Wells Fargo Retirement Study includes 3,563 online interviews of 2,560 working Americans 21 or older and 1,003 retired Americans. The survey was conducted from Aug. 6-20.

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