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Old 02-09-2016, 07:17 PM   #81
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Barrier to savings? There's no barrier, except lack of discipline. We had higher personal savings rates in the past when the gap between income and true necessities (housing, groceries, electricity, health care, etc) was a lot smaller than it is today.

The average US cable TV bill is $99/mo. =$1200/year
The sverage US cell phone plan (individuals and family plans lumped together) runs about $120/mo . = $1440/year.
The average US family spends $2800/year eating out.

Cut those expenditures by 50% (a major sacrifice?),
and we've found $2700 additional to go into retirement savings. That's 4% of earnings before taxes--not a bad start, and just by putting that into savings we'll have doubled the personal savings rate of that average family. Next, we'll start looking at the hedonistic expansions in average house sizes--lots of savings to be had there just by living in the same size house that folks had in the 1960s. I'd bet the available money to be saved there is at least twice as much.

Now, averages aren't the same as medians, but it's not a lack of income that causes our low retirement savings rate, it's, in general, a lack of discipline/desire/etc.
As I also noted in my post (although perhaps not clearly enough), people's expectations for living standards increased at a faster rate than their incomes, which for most households actually have been flat for the last 30 years in real terms.U.S. Household Incomes: A 47-Year Perspective - dshort - Advisor Perspectives

I doubt that most people today would accept the way we lived when we were young children. If they did, yes, they would have more money to save. But they don't, and I don't think we'll be able to jawbone them into changing their minds anytime soon.
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Old 02-09-2016, 07:22 PM   #82
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They sound like the people who would not save on a pre-tax or an after tax basis. The problem is not the 401k at all, it's a lack of either desire or ability (expenses meet or exceed current income) to save anything.


A perceived lack of funds. The same people somehow year after year have no money to save.

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Old 02-09-2016, 07:33 PM   #83
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A perceived lack of funds. The same people somehow year after year have no money to save.

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Exactly. The non-universality of 401k's is just a red herring, in my opinion.
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Old 02-09-2016, 08:02 PM   #84
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$10K of debt in 1979 (which is what my then-SO was shouldering for a state school, while living on campus instead of at home as I did), $40K of debt today. Is that consistent with the CPI, or is it a faster increase? Are today's students getting more or less for their $$?

Bottom line, I'd like to see something more authoritative than a snarky meme before I make any conclusions on where the greenest grass prevails. Like rumors, those memes always have a little grain of truth somewhere, are extremely easy to make up and pass around, and the axes are always grinding so furiously in the background that you can't hear yourself think.

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I attended a private university and lived on campus. I looked up what it cost and adjusted it for inflation... It would be $15,500 a year today.
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Old 02-09-2016, 08:37 PM   #85
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I personally feel, albeit as one of those "complainypants millenials", that life is easier and harder at the same time than 30 years ago.

There's far more opportunity for a successful career than ever before. Now with 401Ks, IRAs, HSAs, 529s, etc... you can save tons of money for retirement and invest it however you want. Now you can search for a job and know exactly what you're getting for retirement savings instead of having to guess what 30 years x 1.8% x base salary^30 + 5 raises would look like. Additionally, wow now your plan is portable! Is your boss as ass? Maybe the company has been stiffing you on the raises or asking you to cover the work of 1,000 former employees. Well screw that, with your 401K, once you've vested that money is yours forever and you can shop around for a better job. Also, now that you're more mobile you can job hop and get more compensation! That means those certifications that your company made you get but wouldn't compensate you for are now an attractive feature to be used for new potential employers. Basically, for the proactive person you can make a ton of money, save a ton of money, and if you structure it correctly can reduce your tax payments significantly throughout your life.

Technology has vastly improved education possibilities for many people. You can take classes online, have access to works of literature that a normal library wouldn't carry, and be in connection with more people globally than ever before. And once you've graduated college, holy crap the internet now has search engines where employers can post for jobs! Now instead of blindly asking about possible openings or waiting to see what's in the paper you can apply all over the world for positions that fit your skill level. Additionally you can determine what your peers with relatively similar skillsets are making so you can know what you should be making and when its time to move to something else.

Medical... lack of superpower warfare... environmental air improvements... safety regulations... transportation... social equality... these have all been improved immensely from 30+ years ago and I doubt you could find a reasonable person who would want to live in that time instead of today.



On the other hand, all of these conveniences have come at a price...

Pensions were the equivalent of bowling with half the pins but getting bumpers. Sure you can score more points with 10 pins, but for your average crappy (clueless) person, the safer option where the employer takes the risks and forces you to save far outweighs the option where the potential gains are higher but you take the risk and have to be responsible for saving. In some people's cases the employer only offer's a truly crappy 401K with a small, or maybe no match. Is it that employee's fault that their 401K is with John Hancock and the match is 2% and they can't save as much as someone with Vanguard and a 25% match? Many people simply are on uneven playing fields where differences in plans, which may not even be readily knowable, can amount to 10s of thousands of dollars in additional fees.

Technology has lead to globalization, so yay for more potential markets for growth but also more competition for jobs. Speaking from experience my first employer outsourced 90% of the accounting department to a foreign country. Something on this level would not have happened 30 years ago. The rise of contract jobs has made some employment either sporadic or less compensating than in the past. Some people might enjoy the quick buck for Uber/Lyft gigs but look at what's happening to the taxi cab drivers? Million dollar medallions are quickly becoming worthless whereas in the past you could use it as an investment vehicle. Speaking of the internet I hope you've never done anything terrible in your life. Background checks and the unforgiving internet mean that those who make mistakes may never obtain meaningful work again. Think about Adam Smith, a CFO who has struggled to gain employment after he uploaded a video of himself going off on someone at Chik Fil A. How many job applications today check for criminal and now credit records as compared to the past? At least back in the day you could move across the country and realistically try to start over by laying low...

As for college... the price has increased exponentially. Just looking at raw data tuition has outpaced inflation for years as a result of cheap money being thrown at it. And before you go off on kids for borrowing money and living lavishly, the same thing has happened when people could take out mortgages and buy homes of their dream with no money down, and we all see where that led... You're 18, have the work experience of flipping burgers for 2 summers at minimum wage and now your being offered enough money to buy a home, its tough to handle. How many pro athletes and lottery winners get access to tons of money and lose it all? Speaking of losing it all, student loan debt is one of the few times where you can legally screw yourself over for the rest of your life. If you get in too deep on credit card debt your credit is ruined for 7 years, but then you're back on your feet and ready to keep on rolling. That student loan debt though will never go away. There are people with mortgages worth of monthly payments coupled with starting salaries who will never get ahead in life. Is the solution for some of these people to honestly live at home for the next decade after college attempting to pay off their loans? People used to get married and have kids at 18, now some people are having to live at home until 30 just to get started in life? As for college not being necessary, have you seen high school these days? Hardly any job will even consider you with just a high school diploma thanks to the watering down of standards over the years. In many cases you can't even graduate high school without either enlisting in the armed forces or applying to college. Gone are the days of getting out of school, bumbling around for a few months, and then grabbing a solid blue collar job and riding that for 30 years. Sure people on this board wouldn't do that today or back then but we're talking about the average person, not the exceptions. The college industrial complex is real, society doesn't finish your education at grade 12, now its expected you'll go at least through grade 16. Think of the books, the movies, the songs, the imagery, the discussions of where you'll go to college and what you'll become. For all the talk about not needing college, I don't remember a single discussion from any educator through high school saying that some people should consider trade school or another alternative instead of college. There's a million people saying you need to go to college (heck Michelle Obama was in a youtube video rap about it) but the only one I know who is saying loudly that you don't need college is Mike Rowe. 1 vs 1,000,000+... not exactly a even discussion...


So yes, overall today it's easier than ever before to have a successful life. But to have that successful life requires a lot more planning than before. And if you make mistakes, they're much more likely to haunt you than similar mistakes did in the past.
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Old 02-09-2016, 08:46 PM   #86
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It should be pointed out that traditional 1 company pensions meant you had to stay at a company for an entire career, both because the number of years was involved in the formula, and many had a highest 3 of 5 years way of determining the salary multiplier. Of course things got a bit better when vesting began to occur sooner but the amounts tend to be small unless you spent the last 20+ years working for one company.
Today the model of a career at one company no longer works so the traditional defined benefit model no longer works.
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Old 02-09-2016, 09:10 PM   #87
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It should be pointed out that traditional 1 company pensions meant you had to stay at a company for an entire career, both because the number of years was involved in the formula, and many had a highest 3 of 5 years way of determining the salary multiplier. Of course things got a bit better when vesting began to occur sooner but the amounts tend to be small unless you spent the last 20+ years working for one company.
Today the model of a career at one company no longer works so the traditional defined benefit model no longer works.
That is true. The longest I worked for a company with a defined pension plan was 11 years back in the 80's. I had a good salary but that earned me a whopping $395 a month (non cola) when I turned 65 last year...
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Old 02-09-2016, 09:19 PM   #88
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I do remember having no problem paying for my Top 10 Engineering school education via part time working and a co-op program. It just wasn't that expensive for a state resident. I graduated completely debt free. Late 70s.

Even twenty years later - no way! And much worse now.
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Old 02-10-2016, 01:44 AM   #89
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Well, I suppose 401K's could be made both universally available and compulsory by government regulation but where is the line? If one is employed there is already an obligatory SS contribution and a fairly certain payout. This payout along with other elements of the government's safety net should be sufficient to keep some one from having to sleep under a bridge while starving to death but not much beyond that. I don't know where the right balance lies but there are some folks that it takes a lot of doing to save from themselves.
I don't think retirement plans need to be made compulsory. SS is already a decent backstop.

However, it sure would be nice if the limits at least were made universally available and everyone had access to more than just $5,500 ($6,500 with catch-up) per year in tax advantaged retirement savings. That would be a decent incentive for people to save more for their retirement. Again, it doesn't need to be 401k's. Increasing IRA limits to the same levels would suffice. Also, extend ERISA protection to IRAs.
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Old 02-10-2016, 06:04 AM   #90
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I remember the students at (at least) one Ontario university protesting/picketing to back the teaching staff's demands for increased salaries.

And subsequently being unable to comprehend why their tuition fees were increased.
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Old 02-10-2016, 06:14 AM   #91
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I went to UC Santa Barbara in the late 70s and early 80s. Tuition was $750 per year. Today I think it is $10k to $12k per year. However, back then you cannot get $12k per year in FAFSA and another $2,500 in an American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Back then tuition, books, room and board were about $25k to $30k for 4 years. Today it's about $100k. Subtract almost $60k for FAFSA and Tax credits and today's cost can be as low as $40k. It's not as different as it appears.
I also attended UCSB in the late 1970s. Tuition was $238 per quarter, now it's over $14000 per year -- a 19-fold increase. The minimum wage wa $2.65, it has just risen from $9 to $10 this last month -- not quite a four-fold increase. (My quarterly textbook budget was about $100 which is roughly the cost of a single textbook today.) My starting salary as a young engineer from a second tier school was $30K. I have no idea what the starting salary is for a young engineer now, but I'm willing to bet that it's closer to the minimum wage increase than the tuition increase.

Since the AO tax credit is only partially refundable, a student earning minimum wage would only receive 40% of that tax credit per year unless they had a higher income parent to claim the credit.

Edited to add: starting salaries for young engineers have more than doubled since I graduated! 2014 satarting salaries were in the high $60Ks. Woo-hoo! It justs costs nearly twenty times as much to get there!
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Old 02-10-2016, 06:48 AM   #92
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Edited to add: starting salaries for young engineers have more than doubled since I graduated! 2014 satarting salaries were in the high $60Ks. Woo-hoo! It justs costs nearly twenty times as much to get there!
Some observations:
- The tuition may have gone up 19 fold, but the other costs of being a full-time student (books, transportation, room, board, etc) haven't gone up that much. So the increased cost of "getting there" is a LOT less than twenty times as much.
- And the "twenty times" sounds terrible, but it's because the original amount was so small. I remember, I was a full-time student at a CA state college in the early 1980s. We complained loudly about the increases in "registration fees" (i.e. tuition), but they were a small part of my expenses. Fees for a quarter were equal to my part of one month's rent for a shared rundown apartment.
At least an engineer is getting a valuable degree for his tuition. Assuming that starting salary of 60K is about double what he'd get without a degree, he'll have earned enough "extra" to pay off 4 years of tuition in just two years of work. Is this the staggering student debt load we keep hearing about? I doubt it.

But, I'm sure it seems "staggering" if our newly minted grad has a degree that leaves him/her employable only at $10/hour. And if she/he "lived well" during the college years(on borrowed money), "extended their studies" to 5 or 6 years, and didn't bother to take a part time job to offset some living expenses, then I'm positive it would feel "staggering." Poor choices . . . well, maybe that's the biggest lesson they get from college.
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Old 02-10-2016, 08:03 AM   #93
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I was in college around 1980'ish. I worked one summer in a factory (union wages) and made almost enough in that one summer to pay for all 4 years of tuition (state university). If I would have worked a little more OT (time and a half pay), I could have covered all 4 years tuition. And this was not an exceptional situation, it was a common thing to do, back when the factories were humming along. But the times, they were a-changin'. I only got to do that for one year in college. The manufacturing decline took hold, and that factory is now long gone. If I had been born some years earlier, I could have done 4 summers at the factory.

I can't imagine anyone nowadays being able to pay 4 years tuition with one 3 month long summer job stint, so in that respect, things are much more difficult today.
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Old 02-10-2016, 08:20 AM   #94
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I do remember having no problem paying for my Top 10 Engineering school education via part time working and a co-op program. It just wasn't that expensive for a state resident. I graduated completely debt free. Late 70s.

Even twenty years later - no way! And much worse now.
What do engineering interns make these days? Google suggests anywhere from $20-$30/hour -- don't know if this is accurate.

The way my coop program was structured, it was basically 4 months schools alternating with 4 months work. $20 * 40hours * 16 week = $12800. State school tuition for 4 months is probably around $6k. So under the same program they would make double tuition.

I did my eng coop in early 90s. I think people made around $500-$600 a week. This works out to $550 *16 = 8800. But tuition for me was somewhere just north of $2000. Lets say $2200. So I was making 4x tuition in the same period.

But I went to school in canada. However, I think even back then it was comparable to US state pricing.

So the financials seem twice as bad for current engineers (compared to my situation).
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Old 02-10-2016, 08:23 AM   #95
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One aspect of the huge educational debt is the ease with which a student who is borrowing money can bundle living expenses along with educational expenses.
In the early-mid '70s when I was student, we lived as cheaply as we could. 4 students in a crappy apartment, nobody had cars, slinging pizzas for beer money.
We didn't complain because everyone lived that way.

the more recent trend, likely influenced by the fact that the loans are supposedly not dismissible, is for students to have a much more elevated lifestyle, naively thinking that their education will afford them an income that will make paying the "student" loans off an easy matter.

I have seen this with my own eyes, close family members falling into this trap.
I see it as another example of the law of unintended consequences.
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Old 02-10-2016, 08:25 AM   #96
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I worked for 9 years at a pensioned company but you had to have 10 to be vested.
and because they valued the years on a hockey stick graph, it was worth a cup of coffee a day! Much better today.
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I remember the students at (at least) one Ontario university protesting/picketing to back the teaching staff's demands for increased salaries.

And subsequently being unable to comprehend why their tuition fees were increased.
Apparently they did not teach logic courses to those demonstrators!
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I believe my daughter has had a tougher time getting established than I did, 40 years ago. The cost of education and housing is so much more (in Toronto) while salaries paid to young people are less on an inflation adjusted basis. My daughter is very lucky that her parents are willing and able to help but most kids her age are saddled with student debt and have little prospect of acquiring a house on their salaries. At least in Toronto.
My youngest son worked at a bar part time while completing his studies. Then he was offered a full-time job in Toronto for $36k and faced a dilemma because he was making $55k with tips. So he worked at the bar another year and then got a transfer to Toronto and continued to work there and at his day job until he was debt-free and had the down payment for a house.

This was 15 years ago but those opportunities are still available today.
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Old 02-10-2016, 09:25 AM   #97
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Since DW and I are parents of several Millennials, this is a constant discussion for us. But at the end of the day, we love our kids and they love us, so it is all good.

My personal observations:

- DW and I went to an Ivy League school whose cost (tuition + room + board) was around $6K when wen graduated in the late 70s. The school currently costs close to $60K. The cost has far outpaced inflation.

- One thing to consider, though, is not just the cost, but the availability of scholarships and non-loan financial aid. I believe it is much greater now, particularly for certain majors, than it was when we were in colleges. Schools like my alma mater will cover the full cost for admitted students if their household income is below a certain level - thought it is MUCH more competitive to get in now; 10-12% acceptance rate in the late 70s, now somewhere around 6-8% with more than twice as many applicants.

- There seems to have been an explosion in college majors, than, frankly I can't figure out how those who choose those major expect to earn money.

- My starting salary at Megacorp, in a technical engineer position in the late 70s, was around $16K My first apartment was a 1 bedroom with a kitchen/dining area, living room, and large walk-in closet was $350/month. That roughly equates (in CPI inflation ) to $52K salary and $1140/month today. So perhaps we did have an advantage when it came to housing and living on our own.

- There were fewer "personal" things to spend on. No cellphone, enough free broadcast TV so that cable wasn't needed, no internet, no personal computers (which when they first came out were relatively more expensive than they are today). It gets back to "'want do you really need" vs. "what do you want".

- Maybe, being the children of immigrants and minorities, we were more "hungry" to succeed, do well, and be independent. In college we worked for better grades and majored in subjects that we did not necessarily "like" but knew there were good job/career prospects. At our school we ran into more than few "connected" classmates who were there just to get their degree and didn't care about the major or grades, since their job prospects where already taken care of based on their name and/or wealth connections. This attitude baffled us at the time.

- While the traditional "join a company, work for them for 30 years, get a pension" stereotype is pretty much gone, overall there seem to be more employment options available to those willing to seek what is needed vs. what they want to do. Honestly, whenever I hear someone describe their main job as a "blogger", I have to smirk. My observation is that folks perhaps are less patient with taking order from others, and combined with less civility towards authority more people want to work at what they desire - even if that doesn't provide the opportunity to save for the future. My personal example: I was a DJ at my college radio station for many years, and even after I graduated as a hobby. A couple of years after starting at Megacorp was contacted by a radio station who heard my air check and was interested in hiring me. My desire was certainly to be on the radio - but for financial reasons I knew Megacorp and the IT industry at the time would offer more long-term opportunity with less financial risk.

- A global economy, now brings challenges and opportunities. Many jobs pay less due to increase global supply (for example, programmer). However, work opportunities are now global, both in employment and, if you strike out on your own, potential clients.
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Old 02-10-2016, 11:45 AM   #98
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If our oldest had lived at home for the entire time, his entire out of pocket college education between grants and paid internships would have been negligible, for a career with jobs that, with some experience, pay six figures in average salary.

I don't know why other kids we know are going into majors with low pay, very limited career prospects while accumulating six figures in debt, but some are. Nationally student debt is $1.3 trillion and becoming a drag on the economy. I also think the solution has to be at least in part to turn off the spigot of loan money because that seems more likely to have success than changing human nature to not think long term and do the ROI numbers on college costs vs. future income potential.
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Old 02-10-2016, 12:14 PM   #99
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I also think the solution has to be at least in part to turn off the spigot of loan money because that seems more likely to have success than changing human nature to not think long term and do the ROI numbers on college costs vs. future income potential.
There are also some good steps being taken to put hard numbers against the value of various majors at particular schools, and to publish those results. It won't stop people from majoring in sociology, women's studies, dance, etc, but for people who care about such things (ROI, to put it bluntly) at least there will be more hard facts.
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Old 02-10-2016, 12:24 PM   #100
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There are also some good steps being taken to put hard numbers against the value of various majors at particular schools, and to publish those results. It won't stop people from majoring in sociology, women's studies, dance, etc, but for people who care about such things (ROI, to put it bluntly) at least there will be more hard facts.
Just to be clear - I'm not dissing sociology and other humanities as majors. I am interested in sociology myself and have thought about it as a second career. I love going to dance performances and the theater, and appreciate all the talented people we see perform. But these are not usually fields where students can get $100K or more into debt and hope to pay off the loans from future earnings within any kind of reasonable time frames.

It all comes back to the marshmallow experiments and ability to think long term and delay gratification. Many people out there just think more short term, and those study results have been repeated across time and country boundaries.
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