By: Michelle Singletary

Have we — those of us trying to get people to save for retirement — become like Freddy Krueger in Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” movies?

Krueger killed people in their dreams. We may be killing people’s dreams of being able to ever have enough money for retirement.


Are we scaring people not toward saving, but away from it with terrifying proclamations that if they haven’t amassed, say, $1 million or $2 million or even $3 million by the time they want to retire, they won’t be able to survive?

If we frighten folks too much, many may just throw up their hands and stop saving and investing, believing that they will never be able to save enough, so why even try?

That was the general sentiment from some of my Twitter followers after I passed along a story by my colleague Jonnelle Marte: Millennials may need to double how much they save for retirement

Marte wrote an interesting story about investment professionals projecting that lower market returns in the years to come might mean people won’t have enough for retirement. And they think millennials will have an even harder path to saving enough.

“While it’s impossible to predict exactly what the stock market will do, investing pros over the past several months have been reducing their expectations for what they think the stock market will return, not only in the next year, but potentially over the next couple of decades,” Marte wrote. “If those gloomier outlooks hold true, workers saving for retirement today may not get as much from their portfolios in the long term as previous generations did. Advisers say that millennials, who are decades away from retirement, will need to save more — in some cases twice as much as they were saving before — to make up the difference.”

In response to my posting, Micah Hauptman, a financial services counsel at Consumer Federation of America expressing his personal opinion, wrote “These predictions are so speculative, they’re almost worthless. Let’s not scare people based on such weak evidence.”

He also made a good follow-up point: “Also, early years of savings are much more dependent on contributions and not rate of return.”

“We don’t know what market returns are going to be tomorrow, much less for the next 10, 20, 30, or 40 years,” Hauptman said. “I think people should have reasonable expectations and save as much as they can.”

I agree. So here are some stories that may offer you some retirement saving relief:

— Do you really need to save $1 million to retire?
“That’s only true, though, if your only retirement income is money from savings and investments,” writes David Slade for the Post and Courier. “About one out of five workers still have pension plans.”

And don’t forget many people will be receiving Social Security, he also points out.


I was the guest on a radio program recently, and several callers announced that they were ready to retire.

Two callers in particular were very confident that they had saved enough to stop working. One woman was in her mid-50s.

“How much do you have saved,” I asked.

She had about $100,000.

I took a long breath. I don’t believe that woman, based on other things she said, will be able to stretch that money for what could be decades in retirement.

So on one hand, we do have to be careful about alarming people. But folks also have to be realistic about how much it takes to live in retirement.