Shame and Regret: The Thieves of Your Retirement

When I talk to people about their retirement future, I’m guaranteed to get an emotional response. Some are enthusiastic because they set their financial goal, created a plan, and worked that plan. Now they’re looking forward to retirement with confidence.

But that’s not the case for a lot of folks.

Many people experience some not-so-great emotions: anxiety, shame, regret, guilt and embarrassment. If you’ve ever felt this way about your retirement, you’re not alone.

The problem is, those emotions could be stealing time and money from your retirement fund.

How Americans Feel

In 2016, Ramsey Solutions commissioned a survey of more than 1,000 adults to evaluate the state of retirement in America, including how people feel about that chapter of their lives. Here’s what we discovered: 56% of adults in the U.S. lose sleep thinking about retirement. And their top emotion isn’t excitement. It’s anxiety. The study also showed that 80% of Americans who feel ashamed, guilty or embarrassed about retirement lose sleep over it.

Negative Emotions Taking Control

Unfortunately, people get stuck in those negative emotions and live in regret instead of taking steps to improve their retirement future. For example, Americans who aren’t comfortable talking with a financial professional about their situation are three times more likely to feel regret and more than twice as likely to feel guilty and ashamed than those who are okay with outside help. I get it—you’re embarrassed to admit to someone else the mistakes you’ve made. You feel regret and shame. I understand. I’ve been there. Those emotions are powerful, but they shouldn’t derail your future.

There Is a Different Option

I need you to understand something: Everybody feels regret about past mistakes, especially when it comes to their finances and retirement savings. I’ve made my share of stupid decisions, like when I spent five years making huge SUV payments. Or that time I took out money from my 401(k) to buy stuff to impress people. But you know what? I don’t let regret, shame, embarrassment or anything else control my actions. I keep the past where it belongs—in the past—and I keep charging ahead. And so can you.

The retirement research told us that 48% of Americans feel hopeful about their future—regardless of whether they’re behind on or ahead of their retirement saving goals. You can grab onto hope and let go of those negative emotions dragging you down. Here’s how:

1. Get on a Plan

Get out of debt, get on a budget, and get focused on your destination. Debt is retirement quicksand. It’ll keep you stuck in neutral and unable to make traction toward that retirement dream. Your budget is your compass. When you get distracted, your budget points you in the right direction and shows you where your money needs to go. It also keeps you focused on the end goal—that retirement you’ve been dreaming about.

2. Talk to Your Employer

Find out what retirement plans they offer and get signed up now! Take advantage of company matching so you maximize your investments. If you don’t, you’re missing out on free money. If you’re already participating in a retirement plan, like a 401(k), increase the percentage you’re putting away. Your goal is 15% or more of your monthly take-home pay.

3. Talk to an Investing Professional

You take your car to the shop for repairs. You take your children to the doctor when they’re sick. You lean on professionals in other areas of life, so why not talk to someone about saving for retirement? According to our study, 44% of people who work with an investing professional have $100,000 or more in their nest eggs compared to just 9% of people who go it alone.

It’s okay to remember past mistakes so you don’t repeat them. But those missteps shouldn’t keep you from making better choices now and in the future. You can get excited about your retirement when you decide that nothing can stop you from taking the steps to get there.