The consequences: If you're making this mistake now, you're not alone. A new Wells Fargo study, which surveyed 1,000 middle-class Americans from their 20s into their 70s, reports that 37 percent of people don't expect to ever retire, and they plan to work until they're too sick to do anything else – or die – whichever comes first.
Two years ago, Ken Bodnar, then 55, was pretty sure his future was going to involve being "the most educated greeter that Wal-Mart would ever have."
Bodnar surely means no offense to minimum-wage earners, but from a salary standpoint, it would have been a step down. He had just lost his job as the chief technology officer at a prepaid debit card and money transfer company in Nassau, Bahamas, a position he had been offered two years earlier when he was toiling in a cubicle in Ottawa, Ontario. It was 2011, and Bodnar was an unemployed expat supporting his 24-year-old daughter. He had nothing saved for retirement.
As it turned out, Bodnar was able to save himself from being a cautionary tale. For the next two years, he worked in a series of odd jobs, proving his worth to employers and bringing in what money he could. Bodnar eventually landed at SelectBidder.com, a wholesale inventory website for the auto industry, where he is currently the chief technology officer.
And, yes, he is finally saving for retirement and has a healthy amount of money already stashed away. He also no longer has any debt, which he abhors and suggests everyone in their mid-50s and beyond start hammering away at if they haven't already.
"Debt puts you further behind the eight ball than you really need to be," says Bodnar, who is able to put a lot toward retirement partly due to scaling back his expenses. "I live frugally, and it doesn't kill me."
But Bodnar can see another alternate reality, one that he came awfully close to, and it haunts him to think about it. He imagined himself "slinging fries at McDonald's, knowing how to fix the malfunctioning electronic sales register and the global networking that it was connected to."