Folly of Youth

Why the under-40s should start saving now

Back Article Sep 1, 2011 By Dixie Reid

Blair Sapeta isn’t setting aside money for her retirement. She’s just 31 years old and has more immediate financial concerns.

In June, she married her longtime love, Anthony Sapeta. They both work, so their 3-year-old son, A.J., is in daycare, which is expensive. They’re saving up to send him to a private school and then to college, and they hope to buy a house someday. “Then what if there are braces and all the other things that come up?” she says.

Retirement and the ailments that come with old age seem so very remote right now.

“I doubt that my generation is thinking or planning for retirement. I should have a 401(k), and I don’t. I should be setting aside money for retirement, and I’m not. I should have long-term care insurance, and I don’t — and I’m in the industry,” says Sapeta, business development director for Home Instead Senior Care, which provides in-home services for seniors throughout Sacramento and the Sierra foothills.

The industry average today for round-the-clock at-home care is $8,550 a month, Sapeta says. Private-pay nursing for just six hours a day is $9,900 monthly. And a professional caregiver service like Home Instead charges nearly $4,000 a month for six hours of daily in-home care. For those unable to remain in their home, a private room in a nursing home costs $206 a day on average.

Sapeta has a degree in gerontology and a grandmother diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Her husband has looked after his elderly grandparents. Still, she and many of her generation aren’t ready to start paying for the inevitable.

At least 70 percent of Americans 65 and older will need some kind of long-term care services, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and neither private health insurance nor Medicare will cover the bulk of the expense.

The price tag is daunting now and likely to rise substantially as today’s under-40 population ages. The federal government’s website for long-term care information (longtermcare.gov) offers an interactive savings calculator to help individuals figure out how much they should put aside each month to pay for assisted living, nursing home and other elder care. It’s based on age, gender, where you plan to retire and how much you should be saving each month.

For instance, a 40-year-old woman who will retire in California should put aside $1,182.50 a month (calculated with a 4 percent annual rate of return) to cover the estimated $1.4 million her long-term care will cost. The cost is adjusted for inflation. If she were to set aside $1,000 a month, she will find herself more than $200,000 short.

On the other hand, a 40-year-old man, whose life expectancy is likely less than the woman’s, need only save $767 a month to pay the price of growing old in California. His long-term care will cost him just over $900,000.

“I tell people that the best time to start planning for retirement is as soon as they get their first job,” says Steve Raymond, president of the Sacramento-based Financial Planning Association of Northern California.

“Most people don’t do it until they’re faced with retirement, but when you’re younger, at least start putting some money away right away. Start at 1 percent of your salary, but start. If your employer has a 401(k) with matching (contribution), start there because you’ll also learn a little about investing.”

 Along with anticipating the cost of long-term care, people also should think about retirement, taxes and estate planning as well, says Joel Larsen, a certified financial planner and accredited investment fiduciary at Navion Financial Advisors LLC in Davis.

“Financial planning, in its simplest sense, is figuring out where you are, where you want to be and how to get there. You have X number of years left in your life, and the longer time you have going forward, the more time you have to adjust.

“Retirement planning lasts as long as you do,” he says. “Once you retire, there is no more fudge factor. You have no more wiggle room after you retire, but you still have to do planning to make sure you stay retired. You don’t want your retirement plan to include the phrase, ‘Would you like fries with that?’”

It’s smart to be prepared for whatever surprises might come along before or during those golden years.

“We run simulations on the stock market, inflation and investment returns and see what the dollar amount is that seems safe,” Raymond says. “You have to adjust it as you go along and get closer to retirement.

“When you retire, it is going to be expensive,” he says. “You’re going to need quite a bit of money, with or without Social Security, but you can’t sacrifice everything in your life just for retirement because some of us won’t make it to retirement. There are unfortunate events, like disease or accidents, so I encourage people to live a balanced life. Don’t blow all of your money, but don’t be a miser either.”

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