Why Living in the Moment May Sabotage Your Future

I am frustrated and particularly concerned by the lack of participation in such plans by minorities. A 2009 study by be 100s asset manager Ariel Investments L.L.C. and research firm Hewitt Associates offered alarming stats. Roughly 66% of African Americans and 65% of Latinos participate in their company’s defined contribution plans versus 77% of whites and 76% of Asians. Moreover, blacks and Latinos contribute less to their plans than their white and Asian counterparts regardless of their age or income level. And nearly two of every five African American workers and almost a third of Hispanic workers borrowed from their retirement accounts compared to just one in five white workers. Says Ariel president Mellody Hobson: “Without a significant effort to improve savings and investing behaviors, African American and Hispanic workers are in danger of retiring into poverty.”

I wholeheartedly agree with her conclusion. We have to change our behavior. The problem is not whether we have enough resources; it’s about our priorities. For instance, a few years back I asked a colleague why she couldn’t invest $100 a paycheck in her 401(k) plan. Her response: The “expense” would cut into her shoe budget. She just had to have her Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos. She’d rather spend $2,600 each year on stylish footwear than have that same sum accumulate tax-free to finance her golden years. She represents far too many of us who are choosing to live in the moment as we sacrifice our future.

It’s that type of madness that continues to make me a vocal, unwavering advocate for 401(k)s and similar defined-contribution plans. If you have avoided investing in your future, this is my version of an intervention. Wake up to the fact that Social Security, by itself, is no longer a viable option for financing your retirement. You should consider Social Security a bonus for those of you who have been forward-thinking enough to create your own financial safety net. The beauty of the 401(k) is that your account will be professionally managed and also serve as protection against yourself. Deducting funds before you get your paycheck removes the urge to use those same dollars to “live large” or satisfy your Manolo fix.

Heed my warning: If you don’t get serious about your retirement today, there will be a bleak tomorrow. When you reach retirement age, you may wind up one of those individuals who watch friends and colleagues relocating to warmer climates or traveling to exotic locales while you’re forced to continue working full time well into your sunset years. Bottom line: Stop living for the moment and start investing in your future.

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