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Financial Planning

Q&A: Getting on Track for Retirement

For Amy Augenblick, a comfortable retirement simply means seeing her girls grow up and have families, whatever those may look like. See how she's getting on track for retirement and what really motivates her to save.

Articles by Sarah Kaufman

By Sarah Kaufman
Director of Brand and Content, Betterment  |  Published: April 30, 2015

Amy Augenblick swears she isn’t as traditional as she sounds.

She and her husband, Walton Smith, both 43, are saving for retirement together. They both go to the financial planning meetings with their financial advisor—they’ve known him for decades, she tells me—but, the truth is, she’s just not that interested.

“I don’t even know how to say this without sounding ridiculously 1950s about the whole thing,” she said, “but I do not pay much attention.”

It’s not that Augenblick doesn’t care or doesn’t get it—she does. It’s that, like so many other Americans, she’s got other things to do.

Augenblick runs Foundation for Families, an early childhood education consulting firm she started in 2000. Based in Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C., she and her husband have two daughters, 13-year-old Isabella and 11-year-old Elizabeth. She admits that, especially with having her own business, the entry point into retirement saving wasn’t always clear.

“There are a lot of easy ways to get it wrong,” she said. “Investing isn’t like opening a checking account. The stakes are higher, there’s more room for error, and it’s much more complicated. I’m plenty smart and competent, and I could do it myself, but I’m really glad I don’t have to.”

Our conversation with Augenblick was sparked by the launch of Betterment’s RetireGuide™, a tool that determines how much money you’ll really need in retirement. We wanted to know how she’s getting on track for retirement and what motivates her to save.

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Augenblick and her husband have a variety of retirement accounts: 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, and a non-IRA retirement account. “I don’t think we’re knocking it out of the park,” she says, “but I think we’re going to be fine.”

What motivates you to save for retirement?

Having comfortable, but not excessive, flexibility when the girls have kids is my core motivator. And that’s the positive motivator. The scary, scary motivator is that I think women live longer than men. The women in my family live a long time, and it gets expensive to get old, medically.

When you think of a comfortable retirement, what does that mean to you?

I want to be able to see the girls grow up and whatever it is that their families look like. I’d like to be able to travel, see friends and family, maybe occasionally go see something new. I want to be able to be responsible with our medical expenses, and I want to be responsible about whenever it’s time to get support and medical help as we age. It would be great if we could help the girls if they have kids do things they couldn’t do at that stage.

What stage do you mean?

If they have some sort of dream or passion where they want to live in some area with schools that aren’t great, I’d like to be able to help with private schools.

When it comes to retirement planning, what are the biggest unknowns?

I like to know that whoever is making the specific decisions about where the money is going is not only smart and responsible, but would play against my pretty risk-averse nature. I think my husband is less risk averse than I am and is broadly more open to taking a more aggressive approach. I look for smart and competent, and I am much more comfortable in a slow and steady mode, but I know that that’s not always necessarily best.

Investing isn’t like opening a checking account. The stakes are higher, there’s more room for error, and it’s much more complicated. I’m plenty smart and competent, and I could do it myself, but I’m really glad I don’t have to.

When do you plan on retiring?

Good grief. I bet my husband will work furiously and in a really traditional way probably ‘til age 60 or 65, and then he’d like to do something a little bit more creative and maybe riskier or with less income. I think I’ll probably do the same thing.

Are you on track for that?

I feel pretty good about where we are. I think that our goals are pretty modest, so I think it’s going to be okay.

What are your general feelings about saving for retirement?

Well, in general, I think it feels terrible. But I also feel like I’m in an unusually lucky situation, and I’m glad that we’ve got somebody we trust, I’m glad that my husband is interested in planning for retirement, I’m glad we have the same goals, and I think we’re doing okay.

How have you prepared?

We both have 401(k)s, we have some money in Roth IRAs, and we have a non-IRA retirement account. I don’t think we’re knocking it out of the park, I don’t think we’re lighting it on fire, but I think we’re going to be fine.

What excites you most about the thought of retirement?

I’m excited to get to take a nap every day, and go to the museums more, and play around in the garden, which I’m really bad at but like a lot. I’m excited to have permission to just slow down.

Amy Augenblick and Walton Smith are not Betterment customers.

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