Don’t you love it when someone spends money researching something that you’ve had a hunch about, but you don’t have gobs of grant money, time, or expertise to research it yourself?
For a long time I’ve noticed that there tend to be two kinds of retirees:
Those who barely, if at all, prepared for retirement. They plan on existing primarily on Social Security and for the most part, find a way to live within these means, especially if they have a paid-off home.
Those who “saved well” enter retirement with way more money than they could ever spend within their current lifestyle.
But both seem to restrict their spending in retirement.
I’ve known far too many people who have sacrificed time with their family, the opportunity to pursue their values, or worked themselves into poor health trying to provide for the future. Then they have no idea how to spend the money.
I’ve known far too many millionaires who died.
What’s the point in having a million dollars if you’re dead?
Meanwhile, most people on fixed incomes, although they may live frugally, find a way to subsist on their meager incomes. Of the clients I’ve worked with in my banking career, these clients (as a whole) were noticeably nicer and happier than my millionaire clients.
So why save all that money if you won’t spend it? Maybe you shouldn’t.
Life-cycle Financial Model
Recently, I ran into this article on Yahoo Finance by Market Watch.
It outlines research based on the life-cycle financial model which states that the most rational way to live is to keep your lifestyle as consistent (from your 20s to your 80s) as possible and end your life with almost no money.
What the life cycle model suggests is that a rational person would rather spend $50,000 every single year, than spend $20,000 one year, $80,000 the next year, $30,000 the next year, $70,000 the next year, etc.
Proponents suggest that rational people want to smooth out, as much as possible, the variability in lifestyle over time.
This makes sense.
There’s a way we’re used to living. This is why it’s hard for the over-savers to spend down their assets in retirement and people with only social security feel pinched, even if they technically can survive on their fixed income alone. Changing your lifestyle is hard. Although lifestyle expenses do tend to creep upward over time pulling them back is nearly impossible.
The church is obsessed with saving. I’m tired of the “Work hard, save, and give to the church” line. Preparing for our financial future is not a part of Jesus’ message to us. Perhaps it’s prudent, but Jesus is much more concerned with the arrival of the kingdom than the eventuality of retirement.
The financial services community champions the idea of saving because their pay is directly influenced by the dollar amount in your account. Has your advisor ever told you that you were saving plenty and you should probably back down your savings rate?
Didn’t think so.
This study suggests that there might be a priority before saving for retirement. While it suggests that this priority is lifestyle improvement. I’ll suggest something a little more eternal.
What if we oriented our money around the invitations of Jesus? What if we took care of our basic needs today, but after that focused on preparing for and stepping into a mission, instead of planning to take it easy in thirty years?
What if we planned for the future with the overflow after we’ve been obedient to God’s call?
Do we believe, as followers of Jesus, that there would be extra? Do we believe in a God who cares for the sparrows and the lilies? Do we believe in a God that even if we completely muff on retirement that he’ll still care for us?
This study suggests that not only is it Biblical to spend money today on finding the life God has called you to but it’s actually a more rational use of our dollars.
Is Today More Important Than the Future?
Economics assumes that money today is preferred over money tomorrow. The only reason to defer money until tomorrow is an expectation of future gain. How much gain would you need on your money to take it out of the Kingdom of Heaven and invest in the world?
That’s a trick question.
However, that’s what we do all the time.
“We would go on that mission trip, but you know work and money”…Meanwhile, we’ll pour money into our 401(k).
“We’ll cut back our work hours soon,” instead we take the promotion.
We plan on going to seminary, taking a Bible course, or working on our marriage, but that money in our savings account isn’t for that, it’s for our future.
I’m not against saving.
Eventually, you’ll be too old or sick or out of step with the technological trends to earn a living. We should prepare for those eventualities so we don’t burden others.
Perhaps there is something today that is more important than money tomorrow.
Perhaps there is something worth sacrificing a year or two of compound interest.
Maybe the opportunity cost of not stepping into your mission today is more expensive than a few years of market growth.
Is every decision a time value of money calculation? Or are there things that don’t have a price tag?
Dying a millionaire is like getting a 4.0 in college (no offense to you smarties out there).
It doesn’t tell you you’re smart.
It tells you you spent way too much time preparing for something inevitable and far too little doing things that bring you life.
This research suggests that even if you get a late start you’ll have time to catch up, as long as you maintain a stable lifestyle. The church should encourage its young people to take risks, explore, follow Jesus, and become citizens of the world before it heaps the burden of nose-to-the-grindstone work and saving.
Is life not more than food and clothes? (Matthew 6:25)
The church seems to forget that.
What is “life and life abundantly,” if not spending money today to follow the mission God has for your life? Does God call us to first secure our retirement and then follow Him?
I think we know the answer.
We need to decide to “seek first the Kingdom of God” and then retirement, and care for our bodies in the future will be added to us.
If you don’t trust the Bible. Trust the science.