SURVEY SAYS: Obstacles to Saving More for Retirement

Studies show a number of reasons employees give for not saving, or not saving more, for retirement—things like paying off student loans, paying for children’s education expenses, or just not making enough.

Last week, I asked NewsDash readers, “What obstacles keep you from saving more for retirement?”

Needing enough money to pay basic monthly bills was selected by the highest percentage of responding readers (29.4%), followed by “other” (27.4%), which we will get to later. More than one-quarter said paying for unexpected expense like home repairs and saving/paying for children’s education (25.5% each) kept them from saving more for retirement.

Nearly one in five (19.6% each) selected “not willing to sacrifice things that add to my quality of life” and “having medical bills to pay.” Not making enough income and paying off credit card debt were obstacles for 17.6% of respondents, each. Statutory limits on savings was an obstacle for 7.8% of respondents, while still paying off student loans was an obstacle for 5.9% of respondents. Nearly 10% indicated there were no obstacles to them saving more for retirement.

Among “other” responses, respondents cited daycare expenses, helping adult children or elderly parents, raising grandchildren, weddings, spouse spending habits or spouse going back to school, a summer cottage, general philosophy of balancing money and just wanting to “seize the day.”

Among those who left comments about obstacles to saving more for retirement, a few said there are no obstacles if one sets her mind to saving more, with one saying we can be our own obstacles and another suggesting we use the word “excuses” rather than “obstacles.” Others provided details about their obstacles. I can relate to the reader who said: “When the kids were finally out of the house, I thought here’s my chance to catch-up. They left alright, but I’ll be danged if they didn’t forget to take their hands out of my pockets.” Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said: “It’s a balance. My mother and two close friends died at age 53, so I am very aware of trying to strike a balance between enjoying my life pre-retirement in case I don’t make it to retirement and preparing appropriately in case I DO.”

Thank you to all who participated in the survey.


I've always said that I can never retire because I will not have enough money. According to folklore, St. Malachy predicted the end of the world will come during the reign of Pope Francis and with the choice of presidential candidates we have this year, I'm inclined to believe him. With that in mind, I may have to opt for early retirement.

Overall financial wellness is critical to saving more for retirement.

I won't be poor when I retire, but I will have to be thrifty. I started my career and raising grandbabies at about the same time. I've had 16 years to save so far and about 10 to go. Being able to start saving sooner would have helped. But life happens and you do the best you can.

I still think that there should be ways to make saving for retirement exempt from federal meddling. I keep looking back at our history, and it becomes more apparent each day that there is a real disconnect between the reality of life for most of us and what is ostensibly being done on our behalf by our politicians. Days of the "robber-barons" come to mind...

As of this year our youngest kids are finally launched; college done, weddings done, off the household payroll. So instead of socking money away for a couple additional years, the spouse up and retired! I had hoped we'd both work a while longer, but now I'm supporting a stay-home grandpa.

When the kids were finally out of the house, I thought here's my chance to catch-up. They left alright, but I'll be danged if they didn't forget to take their hands out of my pockets.

If you want afford your necessities and pleasures (coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, impulse buys at the grocery store, travel, crafts, sports, etc.) in retirement, you have to find a way to put some money into retirement savings now.

I'm the retirement plans expert but it's my husband that wants to defer 100% and not spend anything now. I say we can sometimes hit the max and still enjoy life, bribing him with a steak and a beach.

There's always something that gets in the way, so saving for retirement is a never ending task.

It's a balance. My mother and two close friends died at age 53, so I am very aware of trying to strike a balance between enjoying my life pre-retirement in case I don't make it to retirement and preparing appropriately in case I DO.

Currently eliminating debt and saving for a new baby are limiting my retirement contributions; however, I never NOT contribute enough to maximize on the full employer match.

Verbatim (cont.) 

Employer contributions are low if they make them at all putting more savings burden on employees. Yet the interest rates are at an all-time low and the stock market is a rollercoaster of highs and lows where you never know if your funds will be there when you need them or not. I keep adding money to my savings, but it doesn't seem to make much difference in the end.

Homes cost more than 10 times more than when my parents paid for theirs. While not a retirement account there is something to say about owning a home.

Mid-life career changes led us to withdraw early savings to pay for graduate school. Poor economy led us to save less because we are supporting adult children and grandchildren. As a retirement professional, I am the ultimate example of "Do what I say, not what I do."

need to get it set up to happen automatically, if not, it is too easy for bad choices to be made diverting funds to pay for something else.

It bugs me to no end when people say they can't afford to save, but yet they pay for cable TV or satellite, fancy cell phones, expensive electronics and packages, expensive tattoos, expensive vehicles or homes, etc. Sometime they need to take responsibility for their decisions and make it a priority! They are their own obstacle to saving more for retirement!!!

I live in a small / modest house on Long Island. Basic living expenses from insurance, electric, water, heat, real estate taxes do not allow me to save anything anymore. That and three kids in college with 0 financial aid because of where I live is not fair. Our income is comparable to someone in Kansas if you compare expenses, yet we get nothing from financial aid. Loans are not aid.

I live frugally on my income and it is just not enough to contribute more to my 401(k). Once I get my Health Savings Account up to a balance that exceeds my medical costs I might be able to contribute more. Now that the kids are gone, it would seem like there would be more funds available but now the home repairs, put off, have to be made!

I am saving at a higher rate than many my age, but still wish I could do more.

I've been fortunate in having an excellent 401(k) plan available to me since the early days of 401(k)'s and a two earner household with decent enough income to handle those impediments to savings listed above without serious detriment to retirement savings or living standard. The obstacles I have allowed to reduce my future retirement income is not saving for it but rather investing outside my employer sponsored DC plan. The reasons for not doing so are all of the above plus my own inertia and distraction (I'm our plan administrator so the old saying 'the cobbler's children go without shoes' applies very well). But now I am of the age and point in my career where I don't have those impediments so I am trying to catch up with outside investments to augment and support my future retirement income. Unfortunately, inertia still applies and I find I have, and continue to, miss great opportunities through hesitation (or fear) of pulling the trigger on investments I feel will be winners. I continue to kick myself for missed opportunities because I can't help but think that no matter how much I have saved for retirement it is still not going to be enough.

I thank family values while growing up and the power of payroll deduction. When I changed jobs at age 32 I started "maxing out" my contributions. Three employers later, at age 56 I am on track to retire at age 60. I'll probably keep working though, as I love my job!

In theory, at different points in time, any/all of the things listed could be an "obstacle" to saving for retirement - or to paying the rent, or to eating, or - well, pretty much anything. But I've seen surveys that show people prioritizing here-and-now spending on silly things and others that show that even with real financial challenges, people still finding ways to set money aside for retirement. Personally, I've encountered them all, but never quit saving (even when I didn't have a workplace retirement plan). So, rather than calling them "obstacles," how about we use another term for these? Let's call them "excuses."


NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not necessarily the stance of Asset International or its affiliates.