The Long Haul

By Nevin Adams, EBRI


A recent long-distance family member move required that I rent a vehicle larger than the passenger cars that we generally rely on for transportation.  There were a number of considerations: cost, availability, the opportunity to drop off the vehicle on the other end, and the actual size of the vehicle.  I don’t really have much experience with such determinations; honestly, the carrying dimensions of the vehicle were posted, but I had no real idea how to equate what I needed to transport with those criteria.  I knew the individual pieces (certainly the large ones), but as you might imagine, they were of various shapes, sizes and weights, and worse, what needed to be carried was in multiple locations, which made it even more difficult to make a proper estimation. 

That said, I made my best guess – chose one that seemed big enough to handle the load but that was still small enough for me to handle comfortably – reserved the vehicle and waited for the pickup day to arrive.

The day before I was due to pick up the vehicle, I got an email from the rental company telling me that they had decided to upgrade my rental to a larger vehicle, at no additional cost to me.  Now, I’m sure they felt they had done me a big favor.  But what they had actually done, despite my very careful planning – and just 24 hours prior to the move – was to give me a vehicle that was not only larger than I needed, but one that was very likely beyond my driving capabilities, certainly over the distances I had to travel.

Planning for retirement is often compared to preparing for a big trip – trying to figure out what you’ll need for the journey, estimating the fuel you’ll need – but ultimately not being precisely sure at the outset how long the trip will last.  Those who sit down to make the calculation – and, according to the Retirement Confidence Survey1, many still haven’t – may find it hard to match the components of their retirement income with the needs of their retirement journey, certainly without the assistance of a retirement planning calculator (such as the Ballpark E$timate®2) or a professional advisor’s expertise.  Indeed, recent EBRI research indicates that individuals who take advantage of either resource set more adequate savings goals3.

Still, things change, and life has a way of throwing unexpected things in our path; even the well-laid plans of a few years ago are well-served by revisiting both the underlying assumptions and the projected needs.  Because, after all, you never know what you’ll have to deal with over the long haul.


1 Workers often guess how much they will need to accumulate (45 percent), rather than doing a systematic, retirement needs calculation, according to the RCS, while 18 percent indicated they did their own estimate, another 18 percent asked a financial advisor, 8 percent used an on-line calculator, and another 8 percent read or heard how much was needed.

2 A great place to start figuring out what you’ll need is the Ballpark E$timate®, available online at  Organizations interested in building/reinforcing a workplace savings campaign can find a variety of free resources there, courtesy of the American Savings Education Council (ASEC).  Choose to Save® is sponsored by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute Education and Research Fund (EBRI-ERF) and one of its programs, the American Savings Education Council (ASEC). The website and materials development have been underwritten through generous grants and additional support from EBRI Members and ASEC Partner institutions.

3 See “A Little Help: The Impact of On-line Calculators and Financial Advisors on Setting Adequate Retirement-Savings Targets: Evidence from the 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey,” online here

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President and CEO, EBRI

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