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Guest columnist
Lee Eisenberg   Expert: Author Lee Eisenberg
Facing nasty questions
Why are people reluctant to talk about their Numbers?
Guest columnist

Number anxiety

There's a large crowd gathered at the intersection of Easy Street and Middle Age Boulevard.

Financial planners, tax preparers, estate lawyers, assisted-living and nursing-home developers, urologists, proctologists, cosmetic surgeons, pharmaceutical companies, AARP, the Weather Channel, makers of ocular implants and magnifying glasses, Sun Belt chambers of commerce, politicians and restaurants with early bird specials are among the interested parties vying for prime storefront locations on the corner of Easy and Middle Age. Chances are, you're on the way there, too, facing some nasty questions you'd just as soon duck.

What are the chances that you'll live out your days in comfort? Do you have what it takes right now? What happens if you don't make it to your Number? And, assuming you're not fighting for sheer survival, what are you prepared to give up? Are you open-minded about living in a place that's about the size of your family room?

Are you ready for the good news and bad news that's around the bend? That you'll live longer than you ever figured, which is the good news. And that you'll live longer than you ever figured, which is also the bad news. Are you up for the challenge that this extended stay will call for a great deal of planning, and you'll be the sole proprietor of that effort? Do you have a plan for all this?

A spendthrift nation
Just a handful of statistics will confirm that America may be a nation of red states, but decidedly not a nation of Little Red Hens. Forty percent of those asked say they are saving nothing for the future. Americans put aside barely a penny out of every dollar they earn. In 2004 the national savings rate was the lowest since 1959. Instead, these people are spending money like crazy. They're spending on things they need, things they want. Groceries and prescription drugs. Beer and cigarettes. Ralph Lauren Purple Label and Christmas in Cabo.

Of workers 55 and older, only one in four has invested assets of more than $100,000; one in three has less than $50,000. One out of every two baby boomers will not have accumulated enough to match their current standard of living. Nearly one of two boomers say they are less than confident they will outlive their money.

If there are sleepless nights associated with these numbers, I don't hear people talking about them. If there's anxiety, I can't detect it with the naked eye. The folks I see on airplanes are confident and relaxed and seem to have their acts together. Just about everybody is happily attached to an iPod. Recently I sat near a woman who had hers tucked away in a little Gucci case trimmed in silver and leather. If she can afford $195 to wrap her music player in a honeycomb of double Gs, can we assume she has a handle on debt, a tidy bundle in her retirement plan? That she isn't losing sleep over the Social Security trust fund?

The numbers in my file suggest that she and many others must be feeling the heat. They indicate that Gucci-toting street-jammers are likely to be carrying five-figure debt loads just on their credit cards, that they have little more than fumes in their 401(k)s, and that they probably know more about the details of Paris Hilton's trust fund than about Social Security's. No, I take that back. Maybe they know more now. Social Security has been in the news quite a lot, almost nudging the Hilton sisters off the front page.

Next: Clients are terrified of Lifestyle Relapse. ...
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