Visualizing the Sole of Retirement – Do you own Retirement Shoes?

For a majority of workers, retirement is an ethereal concept. It has no real presence, density or visibility. There are several published studies available that outline how for many, retirement, especially after the economic drubbing of 2008, remains a misty pipedream, or at the very least postponed well past normal retirement age of 65 or 67. For those in their twenties and thirties, it feels even more nebulous and approaching the topic seems fruitless; retirement doesn’t appear on the financial radar for this group.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute, an institution providing objective, nonpartisan information surrounding employee benefit plans since 1978, conducts annual surveys designed to capture the pulse of Americans saving and preparing for retirement.

Specifically, their Retirement Confidence Survey is one of the longest-running public opinion studies of its kind on Americans’ attitudes on retirement and savings: The survey for 2010 reports that fewer workers and/or their spouses have saved for retirement – 69 percent, down from 75 percent in 2009. Also, fewer workers say they are currently saving for retirement (60 percent down from 65 percent in 2009). As if this wasn’t troubling enough, many workers continue to be unaware of how much they really need to save. Less than half those surveyed report they have even tried to calculate how much money they’ll need to have accumulated by the time retirement comes around.

With rates of return muted and people living longer, the pot of money needed to sustain a comfortable retirement needs to be greater than almost any other time in history. There has been a marked decrease in the younger set saving for retirement. In the year 2000, 75 percent of surveyed workers aged 25-34 reported saving for retirement; in 2010 the number hovers around 58 percent.

For those 35-44 the percentage of workers who said they saved for retirement in 2000 was a healthy 83 percent; in 2010 the number falters to 61 percent. If these trends continue, the majority of Americans will face a formidable retirement lifestyle crisis. As I ponder this dilemma I realize we all need to find a way to bring the retirement future into the present so the pain or pleasure we may experience is real and in the now.

Having 20 years to retirement myself made me understand I needed to make the next stage more real for me too, but I didn’t know how to go about it-then the shoes came along. These aren’t ordinary shoes mind you-there are memories deep in the soles.

When I was 8 years old I received my first pair of Hush Puppies. I was a lemming to advertising as a kid so when I saw the Bassett Hound mascot at a young age I was hooked. I drove my parents crazy. I had to have them and begged relentlessly. My father gave in one Saturday and purchased a dark suede-like pair of paradise for me and I wore them proudly for years, making sure to keep them as pristine as possible for as long as possible.

I drove my parents nuts about many things like only eating the bacon with the “Indian head” on the packaging, but that’s a story for another time. A year ago it happened. After all this time I bought a pair of Hush Puppies. Black suede-like material and the memories came back brighter than ever. After I slipped them on and realized how comfortable the shoes were, I wondered why I waited all these years to buy a pair.

How much bacon can one man eat?

Perhaps I just figured Hush Puppies weren’t made for adults. How silly. These things are so comfortable I can’t imagine not wearing them well into the future. And then it hit me. While on the phone with a special friend who tends to inspire me often, the idea took over.

It hit me so hard I needed to find a place to pull off the road and quickly record my revelation: At age 47, I purchased my retirement shoes. Ok so not literally; I don’t believe the shoes are going to endure that long. However the comfort I felt was something I knew I wanted to experience well into the decades. I was able to actually make a purchase today that pulled a future into the present. I realized then how all of us, regardless of age, need to make a purchase today of something we can imagine using through a different lifecycle years away and to use that good feeling to motivate us to save more for the future.

So, where are your “retirement shoes?” Have you thought about it yet? Here are some steps to take (no pun intended) to make a purchase that may alter your thinking and cushion the blow (pun intended) when retirement is the present situation: They don’t need to be Shoes and Expensive is Not Part of the Plan – Don’t use this exercise as an excuse to make a high-end luxury purchase. This is all about comfort, not cost. Keep it under $100 dollars. Someone I know bought a plain-vanilla pair of cotton sweatpants.

Random Thoughts:

1). As early as Tomorrow Increase your Retirement Savings by 1 Percent – Don’t think about it, just do it. Begin by increasing the salary deferral percentage in your company retirement plan or set aside the money on monthly autopilot in a traditional or Roth IRA. It’s not the amount, it’s the exercise.

2).  Visualize the Comfort – Walk a mile in the shoes. Use the blanket, wear the pants, read the book, eat the candy. Close your eyes and attempt to fool your mind into believing retirement is here and enjoy the comfort today.

2). Don’t Forget to Add more Comfort Items Later on – I don’t know what will compliment the retirement shoes, but I’m going to keep a keen eye out. So should you. I have a favorite website for comfort items. Take a look: http://www.vermontcountrystore.com. Time goes by quicker than you think.

3). Think Comfortization – a combination of comfort and visualization may be just what you need to jumpstart your thinking. Sounds funny, but spending a little today may help you save more for a better tomorrow.

4). Comfortization Goes Deeper than you Think – Let’s face it. You may never retire. Studies show how those between the ages of 55-64 hold roughly $45,000 in retirement plan assets, which is $3,000 lower than 3 years ago. Comfortization may be facing the fact that you need to make a change now, a big one, in your life. Forget retirement. If you make $100,000 at a job you despise and you’re never going to retire anyway, why not make $50,000 doing something you love and enjoy it since you may spend more time working than relaxing in retirement? Perhaps working at what you love is the new retirement?

Today, I’m seeking my retirement Christmas tree. It’ll be made of tinsel, you know the real stuff that cuts your fingers without you realizing it. Along with one of those vintage color wheels. Old school. I plan to stare at this tree reflect pretty colors as I drool into my lap.

I want to slip off into the next journey, under this tree. Staring as the colors change above me.

I bet that’s what heaven or retirement is really like.