September 14, 2016 | Rachel Sauer | The Daily Sentinel
Specifically, he said, he started to see the traditional, U.S. concept of retirement — work hard for 45 years, save as much as possible, quit working at 65 — as an illusion sold by government, businesses, banks and anyone else who gains from old paradigms.
West, now 32, began to think of it as The Retirement Myth, a concept he outlined in an chapter for “The Road to Success Vol. 2,” recently published by Celebrity Press. In it, West, the chief executive officer of Montrose-based Lifestyle Financial Planning (lifestylefp.retirerx.com), highlights retirement in the bigger picture of living life as a “get to,” not a “have to.”
West recently spoke with The Daily Sentinel about how The Retirement Myth evolved:
Rachel Sauer: When did you first start to think of the concept of retirement as a myth?
Troy West: It’s been a process since about 2008. During that time I had a pretty severe medical issue, and then obviously the economy at that time. Just after I graduated college in 2006, a lot of companies came to me and wanted me to be part of their company, selling the concept of retirement.
At the time, I was living in San Diego, where you have whole neighborhoods going out (in foreclosure), you have people selling them on the American dream, and they’re failing.
I just started looking into it a lot more, looking at people living the way that I wanted to live, traveling the world, going to a lot of different kinds of events. I just asked myself, are they really following the concept of retirement if they’re doing what they want today? They were just living in a completely different way than some of these companies that were trying to recruit me and selling this concept of retirement were saying you had to live.
Most people weren’t even getting educated about finances, number one, and number two, if they were it wasn’t necessarily their needs that were looked at first. It was more about how were these institutions going to benefit from selling these people something.
So, I went from comparing the financial world to the personal development world. In the personal development world it was more about consulting and asking questions versus this is what you have to do.
I started looking into tax codes, why retirements are set up, the reasons why you can’t touch your money until you’re 59 and a half, the reasons why people have a challenge saving more than 5 percent of their income.
I really found out by breaking down the institutions, the government — they’re making their money right away. The first person that actually gets paid is Uncle Sam.
When you look at financial institutions, what they’re really doing is locking up our money so they can reinvest it. When you look at other companies that may not be financial institutions, there are benefits, but most of those benefits are also tied to locking up our money so can’t we use it for things we want today.
Sauer: But people don’t want to work forever. Isn’t it important to have that nest egg for retirement?
West: We do need that nest egg, but we have options as far as where we put that money, and (in traditional models) it’s not always in a way that allows us to live the way that we want today. It’s about understanding how money works.
A lot of people’s problems with retirement is they’re so focused on retirement, but that tomorrow never happens because today was never taken care of.
The (traditional) concept of retirement does not address lifestyle challenges. We’re sold on the idea that if you put this money away and save every month, then you’re going to have this money when you retire, even though the actual person is not in control of how their money is invested.
It becomes an excuse for financial pressure. We’re taught to be passive … with the (retirement) myth we get stuck in these different cycles, like we never truly get out of debt, (and) we don’t understand how to protect our income and assets. So by time we get to 65, we find ourselves short.
If the goal is to be financially free — a big part of that process is not so much tomorrow — you’ve got to take care of today first.
Indirectly, what we’re taught is that we don’t have to work someday, but a lot of people don’t want to retire. If you’re happy monetizing what you love and you’re making money, why would you want to stop?
If you’re working in the right way, you can make money while you’re traveling or while you sleep.
West: Just positioning people somewhere that they didn’t believe they could be.
That’s part of the problem: Retirement’s been going on for almost a couple hundred years, but with technology, with the global economy nowadays and being in America — where even when we think things are pretty bad, we’re still pretty well-off compared to rest of the world — there’s a ton of possibility.
It’s empowering people to think, what is the root of the problem. If we put our objectives first and our financial concerns first, we wouldn’t want to retire. We would want to be able to do what we want today, and then when we’re 65, still be able to be in that position.
I think the underlying theme with retirement is we have to wait, we have to have this magical number before get to do what we want to do. But you don’t have to miss life today.
When you’re able to do what you actually want today, you’re excited to learn and get educated about how money and time work, and when you see your friends doing it, then you want to be a part of that process, too.
Sauer: It seems like a lot of this is contingent on making a lot of money. What if you don’t make $200,000 a year, what if you’re making $40,000 or $50,000?
West: It doesn’t matter what your income is, it starts with your ability to save money and getting financial stability.
So, how we make that very simple for a lot of people is we understand that there’s this thought process that I may be embarrassed because I don’t have the outfits I need or I don’t have the income, you’ve seen some things on the news that may not be so great…
It’s about the ability to save money, accumulating liquid assets where there are no taxes or penalties, having some protection planning for income and assets.
Once people have those steps in place, if you’re saving a couple hundred dollars a month and all of a sudden can turn that into a thousand a month, once you’re doing that consistently then people find themselves feeling lot different about what they can do today.
Sauer: How does this work? Are we talking about not buying an expensive coffee every day, or downsizing houses? Not getting that new car? What are these steps to saving this money?
West: It’s really understanding how you’re influenced a lot of times, just teaching one or two things based on what we see with a snapshot of where the money’s going. There’s always a story. Sometimes it’s habit, sometimes it’s utilizing money differently.
When we know that the problem is how we’re conditioned and taught about money, then it’s really easy to find solutions. If we know that you’re over-paying in taxes and maybe going to the Starbucks — overspending, just not really understanding how debt really works. It’s about getting ourselves into positions to pay things off quicker or more methodically.
We make sure we go through that with individuals. It’s not something that for most people, if they’re not really saving a lot of money right now, if they’re not working with some kind of professional or getting educated, it’s going to be challenging.
We look at what the weaknesses are as far as what there is to leverage, as far as someone getting ahead, but also what are the real risks, what are the challenges.
They could be saving, mitigating their taxes, they could be doing well on their budget, but have way more debt than is necessary. It’s just surprising to people — oh, I’m doing really well putting money into my 401(k), but debt is accumulating. This is just a difference of where you put your money.
When you look at it five years from now, 10 years from now, what is it you want? Two years from now?
We don’t want to make retirement sound so bad, but there’s this underlying theme of deferring time, money and passion, and it doesn’t have to be that way.