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What’s your number?

Marketplace Staff Sep 26, 2008

What’s your number?

Marketplace Staff Sep 26, 2008


Tess Vigeland: One thing all of us have in common is confusion over just how much we should save for retirement and Wall Street’s woes make you wonder about that number even more.

Lee Eisenberg wrote a book a couple of years ago called “The Number” and we’ve brought him back to talk about it.

Lee, remind us: what is The Number?

Lee Eisenberg: I am not, let me say right here, a financial planner and am not here to give financial advice and God help you if you accept inadvertently any financial advice that I leave behind.

Vigeland: OK.

Lee Eisenberg: The Number refers to how much money each of us things we need in order to be relatively comfortable and secure over the remaining decades of our lives or the retirement period. A lot of the book talks about something that we tend not to think about quite as much, which is what is it that’s really going to make us happy over those decades and there are a lot of financial planners, enlightened financial planners, who take the position that until you figure out what kinds of things will make you happy and productive, it’s kind of hard to sit around and crunch numbers in the dark without knowing what are the things that are really going to make you feel happy.

Vigeland: Well, given that, how do you go about determining a number?

Eisenberg: Well, what’s left, and unfortunately, a lot of people have to do this retroactively, what’s left is careful financial planning over a good healthy period of time, which many of us don’t do. The point I make in the book was that I could not, in the pages of one book, tell each and every man and woman in America how much he or she needed to feel safe and secure for the rest of their lives.

Vigeland: And in fact, we are not able to do that on a weekly basis on this program.

Eisenberg: No one can do it unless you’re — if you don’t know how to do it yourself — sitting down with an adviser who can take into account all of the variables that add up to you. One of the really heartening things is that if we start asking ourselves “What will really make me feel useful and productive?,” generally speaking, the things that will make us happy tend not to be expensive things. A lot of people say, “I never got to exercise some creative impulse.” Other people say, “You know, I never gave back enough. I didn’t give back to a community or a school or the planet.” We may find out that we need a bit less money than we otherwise think we need, so there is a little bit of a silver lining in this even though all of us have a lot of reasons to be apprehensive about what’s going on out there today.

Vigeland: Well, in very practical terms then, how does someone who is, say, 55, 65 or perhaps in retirement at 75 take that advice and use it in a practical way to not panic?

Eisenberg: This may seem surprising to you. The first thing to do is talk about these things. It was extraordinary to me when I went around asking people of those ages “So, what are you really worried about?” other than health care, people have really not thought about those questions. They seem to define their retirements in material terms and not necessarily in emotional terms and often they don’t share their anxieties with a spouse or a financial adviser who can be trusted and all the rest. So the first practical step is share what you’ve got and share what you’re concerned about. The other obvious practical answer is maximize your 401(k), take advantage of company matches. And then I guess the third piece of practical advice is make sure that you’re diversified. You know, one of the enormous sources of anguish today is that most people’s nest egg was their house and just as it’s foolhardy to take 70 or 80 percent of your assets and buy a single stock, it’s just as foolhardy to put all of your eggs under one roof, as it were.

Vigeland: Lee Eisenberg is the author of “The Number” and thanks so much for discussing The Number with us in these tough times.

Eisenberg: Thank you Tess.

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