Monday, March 25, 2013

Retirees Nervous about Size of Nest Egg

Retirement isn't what it used to be - if it ever was. Recently and soon-to-be retired Americans share a host of worrisome concerns and only 39% of them believe that they have or are building a sufficient nest egg to allow them to retire at all. (In fact, studies by Transamerica and others indicate that the real number is probably closer to 5%, but that is a story for another day.) More than half plan to work past the "traditional" retirement age of 65 in the hope of amassing more assets and slightly more than 50% say they will never be able to stop working entirely. As in not ever.

Future health-care costs are the most common worry, cited by 3-in-4 retirees. Not considering any expenses related to long-term care or nursing facilities, Fidelity Investments estimates that the average retired American faces medical costs of $240,000 with a 6% rate of annual inflation. When you consider that the average 64 year old American about to retire has total retirement savings of about $70,000 you can see why people are nervous.

The traditional advice to "save more" is valid of course, but much more so for the 25 year old than the 65 year old. Continuing to work "forever" is certainly an option. If a person has a job that they can still do. Perhaps its time for people to dust off those "network marketing pyramid schemes" and take another look. There is something to be said for a business that allows you to create a residual (i.e., ongoing) income that will last you the rest of your life.

Social Security or residual income? I know where my bet is going.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sneaky Salt

When the calendar flipped over to 2013, I made a decision to consume less sodium. This in turn was driven by the unexpected realization (I make a real effort to eat healthy) that I was routinely taking in 150% - 200% of the recommended level every day - and those percentages are based on the upper end of the recommended range.

Ok, no problem. I never add salt to anything anyway so I will just look at the food labels and buy things with less sodium. Woah! Did you ever DO that dude?

What I discovered was that many of the things I was eating had enough sodium in them that they probably ought to be considered poisons. Just a few of the more egregious offenders:

  • Campbells's regular Condensed soups. These things should just be labeled "liquid salt". One serving of Cream of Chicken soup sports a hefty 790mg of sodium. But "servings" are just one of the clever ways that food manufacturers manipulate the labeling. Who eats just one serving? Eat the entire can and you get 1,975mg - nearly a whole day's worth. If you must eat this stuff look for the their "Healthy Request" line. They still have 800mg - 900mg per can, but less is better.
  • Marie Callender's frozen pot pies. "Only" 800mg there. But wait, that's per serving again (half a pie). Eat the whole thing and you get 1,600mg - again just about your whole day's worth.
  • How about a can of chili while watching the game? 900mg. Oops! Per serving. Eat the whole can and plan on a heart pounding 1,800mg.
Are you starting to see how this works? Well it gets worse when you eat out and there are no labels. Olive Garden's "Tour of Italy" dinner ought to let you accumulate points toward a free bypass surgery, clocking in at an astounding 3,830mg of sodium. Thinking of just having the salad instead? Fugeddaboutit. If you put dressing on the salad (and who doesn't) you are wolfing down 1,530mg. Its easy to pick on McDonald's of course. But have a Big Mac and a large fries and you can plan on taking in 1,420mg. Just 1/4th of the "healthier" Tour of Italy.

What is the recommended amount? It depends who you ask. Food labels and the food industry suggest 2,400mg per day. The Center's for Disease Control and Prevention - who do not to my knowledge sell any food products - recommend "less than 2,300mg, with 1,500mg being a completely adequate level for most Americans". I'm shooting for 2,000mg.

I've been doing much better at limiting my sodium to under my 2,000mg target level, but its taken some detective work. Its also required eating a lot less canned and processed frozen foods and changing my choices when I do.

The lesson here is that you cannot rely on claims or even food labels to know whether what you are eating is truly good for you or not. (Lean Cuisine? Healthy Choice? Read the labels.) Its your body, and so far as I know we are all only issued one. You might want to start reading what you eat before you start chewing it.

Monday, March 11, 2013

"The less you know the better," say Dairy Industry Groups

"... milk flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners should be labeled as milk without further claims so that consumers can 'more easily identify its overall nutritional value.'"

This quote comes from a petition to the Food and Drug Administration by the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) in which they are proposing that artificial chemical sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose be included in the definition of "milk" so that they would no longer have to be listed as an ingredient on the nutritional labels. That's right. They are arguing that you and I would be able to make better food and nutritional choices for ourselves if the actual ingredients in the food we eat were kept hidden from us. The less consumers know, according to the dairy industry, the better off they will be.

If granted, the industry would have permission to add artificial sweetening agents not only to milk, but to 17 different dairy products including yogurt, cream, sour cream, eggnog and whipping cream. Legally, the very definition of "milk" would include the additives and so eliminate the requirement to inform consumers of their presence.

There is quite a public debate going on regarding the safety of these additives, as well as the suitability of milk and milk products themselves. Regardless of which side you take in these disputes, how can any reasonable person agree that withholding information from consumers helps them to make better choices?

The public comment period on this petition is open until May 31, 2013. If you do not agree that less is more when it comes to nutritional information on the foods you feed yourself and your family, this would be a good time to make your feelings known. You can provide your comments here, and you can review the content of the actual petition on that same page.

Here is a summary and editorialized report on the petition from