Pete the Planner: You just don’t need a lot of money to retire successfully

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Peter DunnWhile the win/win scenario is often discussed in popular culture, I’m not sure many people believe deep-down in their heart of hearts that it is possible. Which is also to say they don’t believe in lose/lose situations. This is precisely why it’s socially acceptable for every scenario to have both a winner and loser. Popular culture has taken us to this place.

Think about public discourse around any important topic. Everything seems so polarizing. People don’t tell you they simply see an issue differently than you see it; they tell you that you’re wrong.

From a financial perspective, the win/lose scenario is often used to describe the so-called haves and have-nots. In other words, there are financial winners and there are financial losers. As it turns out, I don’t believe this.

The primary reason the haves and have-nots thinking is false is because of the subjective nature as to what it is to “have.” To understand this, look no further than your workplace.

The senior leadership team within a business often makes a dangerous set of assumptions regarding not only what it is to have, but who possibly can have. The levers of judgment are rather obvious: Education, income and job title are some of the primary ways leadership knowingly or unknowingly filters who may end up among the haves.

However, the ironic justice in it all is that, whereas a great education, great pay and a great job title provide a path to financial success, those elements can just as easily lead someone down a path of financial failure. And if leaders mistakenly assume a certain part of the population is likely fine, they’ve likely also written off a portion of the population as a have-not.

Of course, the process of haphazardly assigning people into the haves and have-nots is not formal, and it is generally the result of unconscious bias. Which brings me to my favorite realization I’ve ever had in the financial world: Sometimes, it’s actually easier for a person with fewer lifetime earnings to retire than it is for a person who has earned a ton of money throughout his or her career. Once I noticed this, and then a pattern emerged, I became instantly obsessed with the following idea:

The average American won’t be successful in retirement because they happen to have a lot of money. Instead, the average American will be successful in retirement because he or she doesn’t need a lot of money.

This simple idea is more than a cute turn of phrase. And I’ve seen it applied successfully over and over and over again. It speaks to the importance of stability, as opposed to comfort. Which is exactly why I also group people into distinct financial groups. The groups are no stability, some stability, and lots of stability.

My desire to group people based on stability as opposed to their education, income or job titles isn’t a case of semantics. In fact, my absolute insistence in grouping people based on the level of financial stability in their lives is rooted in the opportunity to improve stability itself. When you take a deep look at your workforce, what you will notice is that people of all education levels, income and job titles have varying levels of financial stability.

Their stability exists in spite of all the cultural factors working against them. The modern household is harder than ever to maintain, based on a choking number of considerations. To understand how people can improve their stability, you must first understand all the forces working against them. Many of these forces are getting worse, which suggests the need for your cognition is increasingly important.

All of this is to say I believe employers and employees can both win, and I’ve consistently seen it happen. The question is, in what area are they choosing to align? The answer is stability. Neither a company nor a person can thrive without first finding stability. And while employers can really only directly impact a couple of the 10 factors of stability, they can most certainly indirectly impact the other eight factors.

An employer can arguably determine the reliability and variability of an income, but the other eight factors of stability can’t be dismissed simply because an employer doesn’t control them. Helping employees make favorable decisions around student loans, retirement savings, housing and debt, when done appropriately, can bring both parties a win.

When employers value and grow their employees’ stability, there are no losers.•


Dunn is CEO of Your Money Line powered by Pete the Planner, an employee-benefit organization focused on solving employees’ financial challenges. Email your financial questions to

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