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Be Careful Who You Trust When It Comes To Money Advice

taking bad advice could cause years of retirement

Notice the part about opinions

We are all  looking for ways to make money and use it to its fullest potential in order to achieve our goals. You would like assume that money publications know what they are talking about, but be careful who you trust when it comes to money advice.

Don’t Write A Letter To Money Magazine!

I subscribe to exactly one publication, Money Magazine. Like any other resource, some of the content is helpful, some irrelevant, and sometimes, advice seems way off base. I’m sure Money tries to appeal to the most broad target demographic, those who will likely work until their sixties or beyond and retire with a nice 401(k) balance. This month, one reader story jumped out at me.

It was from Carlos,  a 38 year old high school assistant principal. He lives in Southern California with his wife, a former dental assistant who currently stays home with their two young children. His goal was to retire at age 55 when he would be eligible for a pension of $52,000 a year. Now, we obviously don’t get the whole life story in a one page article, but to me, it seems he and his family are doing fairly well. This was the snapshot for Carlos and his family.

  • They own three rental properties.


  •  Only $6000 in an emergency fund


  • Just over $6,000 in credit card debt from their last rental property renovation.


  • 60/40 stock/cash mix in their retirement accounts


Obviously, they need to get rid of the credit card debt and have more in emergency savings. Apparently, they wiped out most of their cash in purchasing the latest rental property. My thought is that if they have been able to save for three rental down payments, these are not spendy people. They should be able to pay off this debt and build up savings. Money recommended all these things plus changing their investment allocation to an 80/20 stock/bond mix. I agree so far, but here is why I would never take Money’s advice hook, line and sinker.

Work Till You Drop

For Carlos, as well as for most of the people in these feature articles, Money says to work longer. Instead of retiring on his timeline with a guaranteed annual income of $52,000, they say he needs to sock away $1.3 million dollars to quit work by 55. They recommend he works until age 62 to save more money. They also advised his wife to go back to work, full time! I’m sorry, but this is just wrong.

Money always assumes that people will need 80% of their current income in retirement. I think for most people, especially high earners, you need nowhere near that amount. I think we could live on 25% of our current income, and we would be sitting pretty at half. In no way should we need 80% unless we get into debt, drive new cars every few years, and buy a bigger house with a mortgage.

Telling someone who wants to retire that he needs to work for 7 more years or asking a stay at home mom to put the kids in daycare so she can work full time is insane. Obviously it would be different if they were $100,000 in credit card debt, but this isn’t the case here. Let’s take what joy they do have and squash it all out, every last drop, until they are shells of the people they used to be!

Why People Can’t Save For Retirement

I believe this is actually a reason people don’t save for retirement. They go online and look at calculators, see they need $2 million to retire, think it’s impossible, and give up because they assume they will be working forever anyway. Why sacrifice today if comfortable retirement is unattainable?

Before you take the advice of any calculator, magazine, or even personal finance bloggers like myself, look at your expected expenses in retirement, add up how much you have, how much you can save, and do the math. Maybe the current path you’re on isn’t working. Maybe you will have to work longer than you’d like or maybe you can retire early if you make smart choices. Just make sure to decide for yourself and don’t assume people know what they’re talking about. Be careful who you trust when it comes to money advice!

Could you live comfortably in retirement on $52,000 a year? Do retirement calculators do a good job of predicting retirement money needs?



About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. We most definitely could live on the $52k/year if need be. With how much we’re saving/investing now it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch. I think calculators can be good, but it’s hard to take that one singular number in a vacuum if you have no idea of what kind of expenses you’ll be encountering in retirement.

  2. Jon @ Money Smart Guides

    Yeah, we could live on $52k a year. If we were to look at our current expenses and project them into retirement, then we would need a ton more than we really do. When we retire, the house will be paid off and we won’t have the auto loans we have now. Right there saves us close to $20K/yr.

    And I agree about seeing a huge retirement number scaring people off. Take time to figure out what retirement means to you – what it will look like – then you can project the cost out and figure out what you need. In most cases, you’ll need millions if you plan to live a lavish retirement. But if you are smart with your spending in retirement, you can get by on much less.

  3. Your observation about Money Magazine is dead bang on target. Even though I’ve been a subscriber for decade, their advice to every situation is becoming so predictable it is tedious. No matter what a person’s situation is, they always tell them to work longer, change their investment mix to mostly stocks (usually through an index fund) and even work in retirement. Hello! If you are working, you aren’t retired. You may be receiving a pension or retirement income, but you aren’t retired. The advice is so generic it assumes everyone has the same goals, and if they aren’t your goals, then they tell you to change them. I do get a few tidbits from them occasionally but usually, I’m done with the whole magazine within an hour and am honestly not real sure why I continue to subscribe.

    • I find the same to be true with Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.

      There just does not seem to be any real thinking any more behind any of the stuff I read in mass media financial publications. It’s all — to quote an old publishing term — boilerplate.

      So read those publications strictly for the entertainment value.

  4. I think retirement calculators are like weatherman, they really can’t predict much of anything with accuracy. The best way to prepare for retirement is to save money, but also work on your lifestyle along the way. I see so many almost retirees who can’t retire because they have inflated their lifestyles to the point where they can’t stop working. The sooner you work on the lifestyle, the faster you can reach retirement.

  5. I always enjoy reading the answers that magazines give to these kinds of questions, but I’m also glad that I don’t have to be the one to do it. Because finances is personal. And a general answer based on a generic calculation without knowing how this couple plans to live in their retirement isn’t worth a lot. Some people could easily live on $52,000 or less and others cannot based upon how they want to live in their retirement. He also lives in SoCal which has a high cost of living too. Depending on how he plans to enjoy retirement and whether they own or will own their home by the time he retires are all huge factors to be considered. I do agree that many people get turned off and scared when they see high numbers needed for retirement. There is only one number that matters and it’s your own personal number.

  6. The reason why some can’t save for retirement is that they have no plans of achieving a greater life in retirement. And, they don’t work until they drop. This is what I have been doing so long as I have the will, energy, and power to work harder!

  7. I recently read a quote from Barry Minkow, of all people, that said “Never take anyone who has a vested interest in lying to you at their word. Even if he’s an ethical person, his incentives and motivations will be different than yours, and his advice will be geared toward his interests, not yours.” I’ve not stopped thinking about this quote since. It will now be the measure for ALL advice I take, money and otherwise. 🙂

    • This goes triple for so-called financial advisors that make their money from the financial products (annuities, mutual funds, insurance) that they are going to sell you. Stay well away from such people. They do not have your best interest at heart. No way.

  8. My goal for retirement is be a millionaire which for some people looking at my present situation is ridiculous, but I do believe its going to happen. I never have utilized a retirement calculator because I think its impossible to truly know how much you’re going to need. I think the important thing is to just save as much as you can and try to live below your means on your way. You can still have a few luxuries while living within your means.

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