Meager Savings Set Up Not-So Golden Years The 2010 survey on retirement confidence from the Employee Benefit Research Institute indicates many working Americans have less than $1,000 set aside for retirement. And fewer than half of workers have tried to calculate how much they'll need to retire comfortably.
NPR logo

Meager Savings Set Up Not-So Golden Years

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Meager Savings Set Up Not-So Golden Years

Meager Savings Set Up Not-So Golden Years

Meager Savings Set Up Not-So Golden Years

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The 2010 survey on retirement confidence from the Employee Benefit Research Institute indicates many working Americans have less than $1,000 set aside for retirement. And fewer than half of workers have tried to calculate how much they'll need to retire comfortably.


Jack Vanderhi, research director at the Defined Contribution Research Program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute
Michelle Singletary, Washington Post business writer


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

The latest survey on Americans' expectations and plans for retirement, suggest that many of us just don't want to think about it. Sure, we know that Social Security is unlikely to be enough, but more than half never sat down to calculate how much they're going to need. Nearly a quarter have less than $1,000 set aside for retirement, and about half, less than $25,000.

If that's you, we want to hear from you today with questions about retirement. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, And you can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, revenge gets the green light from NASCAR, but first what may not be what may be not-so-golden years. Those scary numbers I mentioned just a moment ago, come from the Employee Benefit Research Institute's annual survey. One of the co-authors, Jack Vanderhi, joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you with us on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. JACK VANDERHI (Research Director, Defined Contribution Research Program, Employee Benefit Research Institute):

CONAN: And a growing number of people report no significant retirement savings at all.

Mr. VANDERHI: That's true, unfortunately, but the promising thing is that finally, it appears, that many of the workers are finally realizing that they're going to have to take steps.

In fact, in the last year alone, 24 percent of the workers we surveyed have now decided they're going to have to increase their expected retirement age. Obviously, that's one way of dealing with this. It's also very risky, though, because every time we interview retirees, we find that 40 percent of them find that they had to retire earlier than they wanted to either because of their health status, their spouse's health status, or perhaps they've been outsized.

CONAN: Well, we had a clip of tape in the opening of the program, the billboard, where somebody from TIAA-CREF says, you know, a lot of people are going to find their short about $250,000, a quarter of a million dollars, and you hear a number like that, and it's just overwhelming. You know, how are you going to make up a quarter mil?

Mr. VANDERHI: Well, obviously it depends on what your current age is. The one thing people need to understand, it's never too late to try to do something for retirement age, and obviously, the earlier you can get into a situation, the better it's going to be.

But unfortunately for many individuals, about the only opportunity they're going to have is to retire later.

CONAN: And we should point out the economy, we mentioned the ravages of the recession, sure hasn't help, but these numbers are not significantly different or tremendously different from what they were before.

Mr. VANDERHI: Well, actually, it was worse this year than last year. Last year, there were 65 percent of the workers who were currently saving for retirement. It actually fell to 60 percent. A lot of that is due to obviously the recession. Another thing that has happened to a large degree is that employers have temporarily suspended their matching contributions to 401(k) plans, taken away the incentives for employees to contribute.

The good news is many of those employers have already resumed them, and we have found out when they are resumed, employees tend to come back and contribute even at higher levels than they were before.

CONAN: To make up a little. Those were belt-tightening measures at the worst of the recession.

Mr. VANDERHI: Exactly.

CONAN: Now, I wonder, younger workers, are they saving more than they were a decade ago?

Mr. VANDERHI: Well, they are, but in essence, in large part it's because the traditional form of pension plan most people are aware of, the defined benefit plans, have become less and less likely to be there for these individuals as employers have frozen them or closed them to new employees. So in essence, they have no choice but to save on their own, through 401(k) or defined contribution plans to be able to supplement Social Security.

CONAN: The defined benefit plan that the old kind of well, we used to call it a pension plan.

Mr. VANDERHI: Exactly.

CONAN: And those are less and less common these days, and more and more people are in the 401(k)s, which depend on, as opposed to the company saying you are guaranteed that you will get X amount of money per year if you retire at X age, this is going to depend on whatever investments your 401(k) plan is invested in.

Mr. VANDERHI: Well, actually, you will probably have the choice on where that's going to be invested, but it's going to require the employee to participate in the first place, contribute a sufficient amount of money and the employee to decide on an intelligent investment asset allocation.

CONAN: And that's sort of interesting that half of the people you surveyed here, or who answered the survey, said they never sat down and calculated how much they're going to need for retirement.

Mr. VANDERHI: Well, unfortunately, there's a huge correlation between whether or not your employment offers a retirement plan and whether you've done that calculation.

So if you bifurcate the population to those working for employers who sponsor a plan and those not, you're going to find a situation that oftentimes, the workers without any kind of retirement plan have no idea at all what they're supposed to save.

CONAN: We want to hear from those of you, and it's half of the people surveyed here had they had less than $25,000 saved for retirement. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, And Tom's(ph) on the line from Banister in Michigan.

TOM (Caller): Hi there.

CONAN: Hi, Tom.

TOM: How are you today?

CONAN: I'm well, thanks.

TOM: We're not so great. With the economy the way it is and my having been out of work for a year and a half and what we've had to do with our mortgages, we're about $20,000 underwater. We have no 40(k)s. We have nothing. We're hoping I'm 57. We're hoping we just make it until we can both get enough Social Security to live in a cheap apartment in some city somewhere.

CONAN: That's discouraging, Tom. I'm sorry to hear that.

TOM: Well, actually, I'm astounded that more people don't hear more about this. It's the vast majority of us. When you say that half of the people have under $25,000. I would say it's more like three-quarters of the people. I don't know anybody who's got any money put aside, no one.

CONAN: Michigan, a state that's been especially hard-hit, even before this recession.

TOM: Exactly, and the recession has just it's just knocked it out of the park for us. We were as I say, we're looking at cheap apartments in Chicago, and if we can find something cheap, then maybe we'll get to eat something other than dog food for lunch.

CONAN: And Tom, presumably you're going to elect for social security at the first age you could do that, which is what, I think 62 and a half, 63?

Mr. VANDERHI: Sixty-two.

TOM: I'm going to have to do that if I can't get another job. I mean, I've been as I said, I've been out of work for a year and a half. So, I mean, technically, most people would think I'm retired already, but I'm not.

CONAN: Not anybody's idea of retirement, I don't think.

TOM: No, it's not. It certainly isn't.

CONAN: Thanks. Tom, we wish you the best of luck.

TOM: Well, thanks very much.

CONAN: Good luck finding a job. And obviously, the reason if you go for Social Security earlier than 62 and a half, you're going to get much less of a benefit than if you could hang on until 67. Isn't that right, Tom?

Mr. VANDERHI: If you have the opportunity now obviously, in Tom's case, this isn't the situation but for people closing in on age 62, which is the earliest you can start your Social Security benefits, instead of naturally assuming that's the age you want to get out, I would plead with them to seek financial advice to make sure they're going to have significant money to make it through retirement.

It is so much easier to work a few more years while you're currently working than to retire, after a few years find out you don't have adequate resources, and then try to get back into the job market.

CONAN: But obviously, Tom finds himself in an unfortunate situation, and Michigan is very, very hard hit. So again, we wish him the best of luck.

Joining us now, Michelle Singletary, Washington Post syndicated personal finance columnist. She joins us from a studio there at the Post. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. MICHELLE SINGLETARY (Business Writer, Washington Post): Oh, it's my pleasure.

CONAN: And I know that you would agree with something Jack Vanderhi said a few moments ago. It's never too late to start saving.

Ms. SINGLETARY: It's never too late. You know, you hear stories like Tom's story, and you sort of you know, lots of people want to throw their hands up and say that's it, I'm done. But you can't be done. Even Tom can start to still try to save because, you know, the life expectancy for us now is we're living longer and longer.

I think for men, it's the early 80s, and women, it's, you know, mid-80s to late 80s. So he's still got, you know, 20-plus years to still invest and save for retirement. So if you're listening, don't give up. And the sooner you get back into investing, even if you've had a job loss, the better off you'll be.

CONAN: And that's that was did you look at these statistics and wonder at the number of people - and Jack was talking about the correlation between numbers of companies that offer a retirement plan and the numbers of people who sat down to do the simple calculation of how much am I going to need?

Ms. SINGLETARY: Yeah, you know, the things about it is, and I think a lot of people don't sit down and think about it because they the number is so huge when you do those calculators. It scares the bejesus out of you.

And so, you know, a lot of people don't want to see that huge number, and I think a lot of people got the message, you've got to save for retirement. Now we've got to get them to that next step, to actually count the costs so that you can see where you are right now and how much longer you may have to work or how much more you have to save or what you have to cut back so that you can save.

So we've got them to sort of understand. Even those who aren't investing know I've got to invest. Now we've got to get them to take that next step, to say: How much do I have when I combine, if I'm lucky enough to have an old pension plan, Social Security, 401(k), my savings and so on.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Doug(ph), Doug with us from Fort Myers.

DOUG (Caller): How are you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

DOUG: Well, I'm 52, and any money I had set aside for retirement gone's to being laid off in construction or a couple of divorces. But I think we miss the point. You know, we are living longer. We are living healthier. I'm lucky enough to love what I do. I don't work any more than I have to or need to. I volunteer in the community with the extension service and the Y, and I'm blessed with loving what I do.

And I'm fine with working well past the typical retirement age, and you know, I have a friend who I grew up with that just passed away with retirement and health insurance at 52 from a heart valve issue.

And he had a civil job, and he was waiting for his retirement, but you know, like I said, I'm lucky enough to take the time to volunteer in the community and do the things I like to do, and...

CONAN: And Doug, you mentioned your friend, and yes, any of us can get hit by a bus, and all the savings doesn't matter if that happens. You can also get emphysema or some other problem that's going to make it impossible for you to work.

DOUG: Well, that's why a government health care plan might be a good idea.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Keep a close eye on Congress there, Doug.

DOUG: Yeah, thank you.

CONAN: Good luck. Thanks very much for the call, and we're delighted to hear from somebody who loves so much what they do. We're talking with Jack Vanderhi who is research director at the Defined Contribution Research Program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute and with Michelle Singletary, Washington Post business writer and national syndicated personal finance columnist, author of "The Color of Money and the Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom."

If you're in that group of, well, about half of those who answered this survey said they had put aside less than $25,000 for retirement. If that's you, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

We're not saving enough for retirement. That's the message from the latest survey on retirement confidence by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Fewer say they've stated saving anything at all. Less than half of workers reported even trying to calculate how much money they'll need for a comfortable retirement. The full survey is available through a link on our Web site.

(Soundbite of coughing)

CONAN: Excuse me. That's at You can also find out more about the state of retirement, including a look at the pitfalls of 401(k)s. We've put a link to John Ydstie's recent series of reports, again, Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

The survey tells us the scope of the problem. Our focus today: what can you do to change it? Our guests are Jack Vanderhi with the Employment Benefit Research Institute, and Michelle Singletary, the syndicated columnist at the Washington Post. 800-989-8255. Email us,

And here's an email that we got from Megan(ph) in Berkeley, California. I'm wondering if anybody's looked into a correlation between lifelong average salary and retirement savings? Perhaps most of the people who don't have a large savings most of the people who don't have a large savings haven't made much money over their lifetimes. If this is true, then there might be a more serious problem in our society. Wages do not include a consideration for retirement savings.

Jack Vanderhi, have you looked into that?

Mr. VANDERHI: Yes, and theres absolutely no doubt that there's a correlation. One of the very promising things from a public policy standpoint, though, is that in 2006, a new law was enacted that made something called automatic enrollment much more convenient for employers to sponsor 401(k) plans.

And what this does is instead of giving employees a choice of contributing, actually puts you in automatically. You can opt out if you want, but the very nice thing about this is even if you have relatively low income, they start you out typically at something around three percent of compensation. They match it, and then they automatically escalate the contributions very gradually over time to get you up to the point where you need. And from everything we've seen thus far, it definitely has a tendency to increase overall savings for low-income workers.

CONAN: All right. We're getting a lot of emails along these lines, and these are for you, Michelle Singletary, this one from Martha(ph). I haven't calculated how much money my husband and I will need in retirement because I'm overwhelmed by the idea that it would be way more money than we could even hope to accumulate in our 401(k). We set aside money each month but there isn't room in the budget to set aside more than we already are. Why do the calculations if it's just going to make us panic?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SINGLETARY: That's like, you know, not putting on your glasses because you can't see. You know, I mean, the fact of the matter is you've got to put on the glasses. You have to see where you're going because what it'll do is, it'll allow you to maybe make some changes.

You know, I do one-on-one sessions with people through a ministry at my church, and one of the hardest things I have is getting people to sit down and count the cost. And so if you know that you can't save this huge amount of money, then maybe you won't be buying a car every four years. Maybe your kid won't go out of state to college, they'll go in-state so you can use some of that extra money, if there is any, to boost up your retirement plan.

If you don't know, you don't know where you're going. To me, it's like taking a road trip without a map. Now we've got these GPS systems because we don't want to get lost, and it's the same thing with your retirement fund.

And I say that, and I want to add, but don't panic when you see this huge number because it will be huge, but you can do all kinds of things to still live nice and retire. My grandmother, Big Mama, retired with her Social Security pension and some savings. She had paid her house off. She lived 20 years in retirement. She still had that same $20,000 when she died.

So you may not be able to travel all around the world. You may not be able to travel two or three times a year to see your grandkids. Have them come to you. But you can't go blind into your retirement.

CONAN: There goes that yacht. I was counting on that. Anyway...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's go next to David(ph). David's calling us from Detroit.

DAVID (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, David.

DAVID: Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure. I'm 33 years old, a former worker of General Motors. I have two small children. I have no 401(k). What I did have is now gone. I now have a good job that I do like but I drive a very long distance to get to that does not offer a 401(k). I know a little bit about IRAs. I was just wondering, what can I do to set up a retirement?

CONAN: Well, Michelle, this is back to your bailiwick, I think.

Ms. SINGLETARY: You know, I'm glad he's asking this question because you asked it in a way that says, you know what, I don't have a lot but I know I need to do something. So you can do an individual retirement account. You can do a Roth. But do something, anything. And if you set it up automatically out of the paycheck that you're now getting, a lot of times you don't have to have a lot of money to set it up, and you can put listen, if we're talking $100 a month, and how are you going to eke that out? Well, you might not have premium cable. You might have a cell phone that has, like, 10 minutes on it, you know.

I mean, there are ways to eke things into your budget to still save for the future. And I think he said he had little kids. So, you know, we hope that you're still investing for them to go to college. They may have to stay at home, go to the community college.

DAVID: Oh, yes.

Ms. SINGLETARY: There are a lot of things you can do.

DAVID: Okay.

CONAN: Good luck, David.

DAVID: Thank you.

Ms. SINGLETARY: Don't get up hope. Please don't give up hope.

CONAN: And I'm interested, Jack Vanderhi, we've gotten a lot of calls so far some emails from women but all the calls from men. Is there a gender difference in - that you found in your survey?

Mr. VANDERHI: Well, there always appears to be a gender difference when it comes to saving in defined contribution plans. Typically, men are much more confident, perhaps overconfident, in investing, and the thing that you have to be very careful about is getting the appropriate asset allocation for your age.

You don't want to be on the verge of retirement and have virtually everything in equities, even though, as Michelle mentioned, there is probably about a 20-year horizon in your retirement span. But the one thing we saw going into the 2008 market correction is that about 40 percent of people between 55 and 64 had over 70 percent of their 401(k) balance invested in equities.

CONAN: As opposed to bonds or...

Mr. VANDERHI: Yes, and most financial professionals would suggest that was a bit too heavy. And I think anecdotally, you've heard many, many individuals saying they've lost a huge percentage of their 401(k) balance because of what happened. Unfortunately, many of them didn't stay in equities, and if they basically went off into something much more conservative, they didn't benefit from the rebound.

CONAN: I like the way you say market correction. It makes it sound so much better than crash, which is what a lot of people call it, though if we'd had a real crash, then we'd know.

Anyway, let's go next to Carol(ph), Carol calling us from Denver.

CAROL (Caller): Hi. I just turned 60 last September, and I lived in Los Angeles for about 10 years, got sick at work, lost my job. COBRAd my insurance for a year, it was about $550 a month just for that, went through my whole savings on medical bills, paying for my COBRA, paying for my rent, and then I had a lawsuit and got a settlement of $60,000.

So I packed up and moved to Denver, thinking, oh, all my problems are solved. I wanted to go to law school. I figured Colorado was a great place to live and go to law school. I moved here in the summer of '08. I got here, the job market tanked about a month after I got here.

I've been out of work since I moved here. I'm a paralegal. I can't find work. I don't have medical insurance and my whole $60,000 settlement is just about gone. I have about $10,000 left. My monthly expenses are $2,000 a month, and now when I have to go to a doctor, I have to call them up, ask what they charge, whether they give discounts. And then if I go to a doctor and they don't help me, I get really upset and want to take them to court and sue them to get my money back.

I mean, it's terrible. I have to question everything now. I can't even go to a doctor without finding out which one I think is best for me. And if I don't get another unemployment extension, I really don't know what I'm going to do. I have no medical. I have no nothing. I'm single, and it's very depressing.

My dreams of law school are basically gone because I can't afford to even take, you know, the LSAT. I just can't afford the $200 or whatever it costs to sign up for that, take an LSAT prep class, and I'm someone who graduated from Smith College with honors back in 1940 and started law school, dropped out because I had a little boy and said, well, someday I'll go back.

Then I lost my job in L.A. in 2003 and, you know, then, well, my story's just a repeat of everything, lost everything because I'm on disability, had to pay my own medical, COBRA, and now I'm left with nothing, absolutely nothing.

CONAN: Michelle?

Ms. SINGLETARY: Yeah. So, Carol, can I ask you a question? Do you have any relatives? Where are your people? Where do they live?

CAROL: Mom lives with me. I mean, we're basically splitting the rent, but she's 88, and I don't know how much longer I'll have her. And she offers me a little bit of money for this and a little bit of money for that, but she's on a fixed income, and she doesn't have a lot, either. So the two of us...

Ms. SINGLETARY: So mom lives in Denver with you?

CAROL: Yes, she lives with me.

Ms. SINGLETARY: Right, and is it big enough to bring in another roommate perhaps?

CAROL: No, no. We're renting a two-bedroom house. We don't have room for a roommate.

Ms. SINGLETARY: Okay. So clearly, the major thing for you is to try to find a job. So for now, you are going to have to put off law school. Well, you know, you've got to find something. You've got to bring in some income somehow. You know, I would encourage you to go to the unemployment office, look for some retraining, look for some you know, even if it means taking some lower-level, entry-level jobs - because listen, in this little bit of time that we have with you, I can't solve obviously a lifetime of issues.

CAROL: Let me tell you something. I when I go on interviews wherever it is, and I ask them: how many responses did you get from your postings? One place told me 200.

Ms. SINGLETARY: Right, well, stop worrying about that because it's not going to change. So I want you to be as proactive as you possibly can. It sounds like you've already cut as much as you can cut. Cut more. And you know, I hope - is your child older or younger? Are you getting child support?

CAROL: I have a son in L.A. He's 31. He's fine.

CONAN: Good.

Ms. SINGLETARY: You know, so maybe your son can help. I mean, just continue to keep looking. There are a lot of Carols out there who are listening. And all we can offer you is to keep trying, because the alternative is to what? So there is another alternative other than to still hit that pavement and do what you can. And your dream of law school does have to be put off for a while.

CAROL: Well, at the age of 60, no one's going to give me any loans if I wait much longer because...

Ms. SINGLETARY: Well, you don't want to get into more debt. You know, just forget about that. Don't - you know, you can't afford it. Don't even worry about it. Just try to do the best that you can with what you have.

CONAN: Good luck, Carol.

CAROL: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Thanks for the call.

Lou in Novato, California emails: I was 17 in 1967 and lived a hippie life for way too long. Now I am 60 and nothing saved. What possibilities are there for a freelance sound engineer with low income when I can't lift speakers and do sound anymore? We're just barely getting by now.

Well, just listening to what Michelle was saying to our caller there from Denver, it's - you know, you may want to look for another line of work or do what you can and see if you can get by there.

But Jack VanDerhei, you know, the responses from your survey, we see the raw numbers and we're hearing stories like this, you know, one after another after another.

Dr. VANDERHEI: Well, it's true and it's unfortunate. And if employees are not working for employers who are currently sponsoring a retirement plan, we do find many situations where the savings, as you mentioned, is extraordinarily low. Michelle had a very good idea as far as starting your own IRA if you're not working for an employer who sponsors a plan.

But the thing I would absolutely try to convince every single worker who has a retirement plan, has some kind of matching contribution offered by the employer, at least put in as much as it takes to get the maximum match from the employer. It will leverage your contributions and it will put you much further along on the way to an adequate retirement income.

CONAN: Our guest, Jack VanDerhei, you just heard, research director of the Defined Contribution Research Program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute. And again, if you'd like to take a look at the full survey - they just completed their annual survey - you can go to our Web site at And also with us is Michelle Singletary, author of "The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom," also a syndicated columnist at the Washington Post.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's go next to Ron. Ron with us from Oakridge in Oregon.

RON (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Ron. Go ahead, please.

RON: Yeah. I listen to your radio shows a lot. I'm retired for 20 years. When I thought about retiring, I made the decision to retire because I had a stressful job and I made a good decision. The first 10 years of my retirement, I just enjoyed my retirement. And the last 10 years, I've been doing a lot of memoirs and writing. But actually, when I retired, I had a lot of hobbies. I used to take care of - and I still do - stray animals and...

CONAN: And Ron, that's great. But we're trying to get to the financial aspects of this today.

RON: Yeah. I did not have any money actually saved up. But I saved quite a bit after I retired because I cut back on all the extravagant things. I didn't live expense - you know, I didn't spend a lot of money. And I just - I saved more money after I retired than I even thought about before because I just cut out all the things that I didn't need.

Right now, I made another decision about five years ago. I gave up my car. I don't use a car, and that's a lot of money I saved on insurance and all other things. And I just live very frugal and I do what I like to do, but I don't go on cruises and I got rid of all my bad habits.

So I think the most important thing is not money. The most important thing is, like I did, I retired and I kept getting involved saving animals that had been abandoned. And that to me - I did all through my years of working as a schoolteacher. But...

Ms. SINGLETARY: Hey, Ron, are you married?

RON: I was married and I got divorced in 1972. And maybe that's the reason why I have a lot of money now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RON: She used to...

CONAN: That's a terrible thing to say, Ron.

Ms. SINGLETARY: No, don't say that, Ron. I was just thinking you'd be a good catch, a good saver.

RON: You would understand what I'm talking about.

CONAN: Michelle, he raises an interesting point that's - raises an interesting point in that savings does not have to end at retirement.

Ms. SINGLETARY: That's exactly right. I mean, when you look at the EBRI study -and I really would encourage people to look at what EBRI does - you know, I'm a big huge fan of theirs because they look behind the numbers and they give people hope because, you know, when these studies come out, they don't say no, just stop it. It's - you're never going to make it.

And I think what Ron is saying is that, look, even in retirement, you still can save and live a happy retirement. And I think he's an encouragement to a lot of people who think I need, you know, a quarter of a million dollars or I'm done. And he sounds healthy, he sounds like he's going to have a lot more years to go and sounds like a great catch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SINGLETARY: He's very frugal.

CONAN: Just hope he doesn't cut back on that radio.

Ms. SINGLETARY: I know. I know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SINGLETARY: So I think he gives a lot of hope to people in retirement. My grandmother was a great saver. She saved before retirement and she saved afterwards.

CONAN: When Michelle Singletary mentioned EBRI - that's the Employee Benefit Research Institute, where our other guest, Jack Vanderhi, is the research director of the Defined Contribution Research Program. Just a few seconds left, Jack. Any last message for our listeners?

Mr. VANDERHI: Well, I would definitely say if you are looking to see if you're on track, there are many, many free Web sites out there that are very helpful. One very quick one to mention, It has something called the Ballpark Estimate. It's free. You go, you answer 12 questions within two to three minutes. It not only tells you whether you're on track, but if you're not on track, it tells you what percentage of your compensation you should be saving to get to the retirement goal you have at the retirement age you want.

CONAN: Jack Vanderhi, thanks very much for your time today.

Mr. VANDERHI: Thank you.

CONAN: We appreciate it. And Michelle, nice to have you on the program as always.

Ms. SINGLETARY: Oh, it's my pleasure.

CONAN: Michelle Singletary at the Washington Post.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.