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A Scientific Reason Why People Suck At Saving For Retirement

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A Scientific Reason Why People Suck At Saving For Retirement

Before we get to our main story on retirement, a quick update on the battle in Trackstar between Tesla (TSLA) and Nvidia (NVDA)

As we detailed a couple weeks ago, Trackstar collects data from our 100-plus financial media partners that tells us the most searched stock and ETF tickers among retail investors and financial professionals. Trackstar helps us identify opportunities you – and we – might have otherwise missed. It also lets us have some fun, such as keeping tabs on the race at the top: 

Over the last month, NVDA did something that once looked impossible. Among retail investors, it became the second most searched stock only behind Tesla (TSLA), passing third place Apple (AAPL) by a whopping 74,371 views. More impressive – and maybe more telling – NVDA became the most searched stock among financial pros with 2,067 views compared to Tesla’s 1,612 and Apple’s 1,442.

As you can see at the top of this newsletter, Apple has regained second place with retail investors, taking a lead of more than 38,000 views over now #3 Nvidia. Among financial pros, NVDA still leads TSLA, with 1,453 views compared to Tesla’s still impressive 1,381 views. 

Now, our latest thoughts on the – for some people – rough road to retirement. 

As we recently noted, Gen X is absolutely screwed on retirement

  • 22% of Gen X have nothing saved for retirement. 
  • 20% have never saved for retirement.
  • 56% of Generation X has less than $100,000 saved for retirement. 
  • 55% believe they’ll require $500,000 or more for a comfortable retirement. 

And, as has been well-documented, the retirement crisis isn’t confined to Gen X. While listening to an NPR podcast, The Juice heard a UCLA professor summarize research that might explain one reason why so many people have trouble saving for the future. 

Of course, in our debt-fueled haves and have nots economy, quite a few people simply don’t have the means to save enough for retirement. As we noted in reference to Gen X, sometimes this comes down to personal choice:

Not to sound harsh, but we have to wonder how many spend their extra money on things they don’t need. Rather than prioritize retirement savings, they kick the can relying on their parents or anticipating an inheritance so they can “afford” the lifestyle they want to live now.

This is where the UCLA research on how people view their future selves comes into play. When trying to figure out why people don’t save, professor Hal Hershfield asked: 

…how do people sort of move through time and think about these much older versions of themselves?

So he ran an experiment. 

Long story short, Hershfield and his team studied the brains of some research subjects. When they asked the subjects questions about their present selves, one part of their brain lit up. When asked questions about famous people like Matt Damon another part of their brain lit up.  

Makes sense. But here’s the most interesting part. When asked questions about their future selves, the same part of the brain lit up as when asked about Matt Damon and other celebs. 

So, according to Hershfield, “In the brain, the future self looks like another person.”

Surprised, they ran the study again and got the same results. 

Hershfield concluded that some people see a version of themselves in the future that they don’t “really don’t feel all that emotionally connected to or invested in,” leading them to “live much more for today than tomorrow.”

So next time somebody chides you for splurging on a trip abroad in lieu of contributing to your IRA, just tell them, science! 

The Bottom Line: Or better yet, go back to basics. 

For some people, conventional personal finance doesn’t work. However, if you don’t feel that bond with the person you’re gonna be in 5, 10, 15, 20 years, it might make sense to force yourself to save. 

The best way – contribute pre-tax dollars to a 401(k) that, ideally, provides a company match. Or putting investing into an IRA or some other tax-advantageous vehicle on autopilot. 

However you decide to save and invest, trick that part of your brain into thinking you have less money than you make. Pay yourself first every two weeks or each month. Meaning every time you paid, skim 5%, 10% or 15% off the top and send it to savings or an investment account. Then, do everything in your power to keep it there rather than withdraw it to spend needlessly on the person you are today.

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