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The Surprising Way That Millennials Plan to Retire

Dan Kadlec
They look forward to their later years as a time to pursue passions—kind of like boomers before the financial crisis

Even at their young age, Millennials are starting to shape the retirement equation. The oldest of this generation is just 34. But as a group they are already thinking way ahead, viewing retirement as driven more by finances than chronology.

Some 41% of Millennials say they will retire when they hit their savings goal, whenever that may occur. Only 18% of boomers plan that way, according to the spring 2016 Merrill Edge Report. Meanwhile, just 28% of Millennials say retirement is about hitting a certain age, like 65, while 35% of boomers feel that way.

These differences suggest that Millennials have big plans for their later years—and more than half of Millennials in the survey (described as mass affluent, with above average incomes or assets) say they are excited about retirement and expect to pursue a passion, go back to school, or start a business or some other pursuit.

Millennials’ optimism today looks a lot like the optimism boomers once expressed. Before the financial crisis, millions of boomers were obsessed with hitting “their number” and retiring to an active life of purpose and fun. Personal growth, launching a nonprofit, or buying a hobby farm isn’t a new idea. But these lifestyles take money—and boomers have generally fallen short in the savings department.

A lack of savings and the difficult post-crisis period has prompted many boomers to stop thinking about their savings goal and start planning around how much longer they can reasonably work. In the Merrill survey, boomers are more likely than Millennials to say they will not retire until health issues force them to call it quits.

This should serve as a warning to all those optimistic young adults. Reality will come calling one day and your best safeguard is starting a savings plan today—and never wavering. Yet Millennials could be doing much better in this area. Millennials’ top financial insecurity centers on retirement saving—in line with the population as a whole, Merrill found.

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Saving doesn’t have to be difficult. A young person should save 10% to 15% of pay through automatic contributions to a 401(k) plan or some other savings account. If that sounds like a lot, start lower and increase contributions by 1% each year. To keep it simple, direct all savings into a target-date mutual fund dated the year you will turn 67. Starting saving at 25, not 35, could produce double the nest egg by age 70. Then you really will be free to follow your passion.