The man sitting across the table from me remained unmoved. Itried to mimic his calm innocent demeanor. Inside, though, my mindraced. This man was heading towards a precipice, going sixty, withno brakes. And he had no idea.

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Related: A fiduciary can help retirement savers winby not losing

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I struggled to find the right words. I wanted to help him, but Ididn’t want to scare him. He needed to stare at this reality in acool, deliberate manner. Sort of like he was acting right now.

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But there was hope. I’d seen, however, many similar cases,albeit not as acute as this one. This man appeared healthy, and hewas relatively young.

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Related: Time to rethink the retirementparadigm

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He didn’t need to retire, he merely wanted to retire. He hadbarely any savings, he didn’t seem concerned about saving more thanhe was, and he was determined to claim Social Security as early aspossible; thus, dooming himself to a lifetime of suboptimalpayments.

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Related: 10 fund families in401(k)s

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So I took a deep breath, looked him in the eye, and took thesubtle path. “OK, I just ran through your projected retirementincome numbers,” I began, “and it looks like you’ve got about$16,000 in annual income.” I didn’t outright say that number wastoo low, but the tone of my voice certainly implied it. I expectedhim to “get it.” Instead, his response floored me.

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“$16,000,” he looked shocked, “that’s more than I thought,” hesaid with a satisfied smile. “I was figuring on only $10,000.”

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Now it was my turn to be shocked. “Are you telling me you canlive on $10,000 a year?” I said. I really wanted to say “Are youtelling me you EXPECT to live on ONLY $10,000 a year” but I didn’twant to be that condescending.

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Truth be told, I was familiar with the cost of living spectrumfor the area. I knew the low end was low, but I refused to believeit was that low. I just couldn’t imagine it.

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Then the man sitting across to me explained it. He meticulouslyoutlined the expenses he expected. It was quite comprehensive.

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The only assumption I could question was his “black swan”emergency fund. Sure it was a low probability item, but I tend tobe conservative in that way. That’s a personal thing, and this guywas comfortable with his assumptions.

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This little vignette occurred years ago and forever changed myperception of the so-called “retirement crisis.” I’m not the onlyone with this assessment (see “Retirement Readiness: Are We Using the RightMetric?FiduciaryNews.com, November 22, 2016).

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Indeed, any statistician could tell you that just because you’rebelow average doesn’t mean you can’t succeed (and, likewise, justbecause you’re above average doesn’t guarantee you’ll be asuccess). There are just too many variables beyond the easy datapoints we can measure.

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Here’s a clear way to understand it. New York City boasts thehighest cost of living within the United States. You can save morethan the average America and retire with more than an average sizedretirement fund. And you still might not be able to afford to livethe lifestyle you want in New York City.

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At the same time, with a below average-sized retirement fund,you will find you could live that very same lifestyle – if not agreater one – just a few hours down the Southern Tier Expresswaywest of New York City. And you don’t even have to escape the hightax haven of New York State.

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Same lifestyle. Opposite sides of the “retirement crisis” mean.Yet the person with more money can’t live that lifestyle in NewYork City, while the person with less money can live that lifestylein the Greater Western New York Region.

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So, do we change national policy to appease the New York Cityretiree and potentially place the retirement of the Western NewYork retiree at risk?

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Before we embrace these “one size fits all” analyses, perhaps weneed to hear from 401k participants who shouldn’t be able to retirein comfort but do.

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Who knows? Maybe we’ll discover you can survive on SocialSecurity all by itself.

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Christopher Carosa

Chris Carosa has been writing a weekly article and monthly column for BenefitsPRO online and BenefitsPRO Magazine since 2011 and is a nationally recognized award-winning writer, researcher and speaker. He’s written seven books, including From Cradle to Retire: The Child IRA; Hey! What’s My Number? – How to Increase the Odds You Will Retire in Comfort; A Pizza The Action: Everything I Ever Learned About Business I Learned By Working in a Pizza Stand at the Erie County Fair; and the widely acclaimed 401(k) Fiduciary Solutions. Carosa is also Chief Contributing Editor of the authoritative trade journal FiduciaryNews.com and publisher of the Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, a weekly community newspaper he founded in 1989. Currently serving as President of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and with more than 1,000 articles published in various publications, he appears regularly in the national media. A “parallel” entrepreneur, he actively runs a handful of businesses, including a small boutique investment adviser, providing hands-on experience for his writing. A trained astrophysicist, he also holds an MBA and has been designated a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. Share your thoughts and story ideas with him through Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christophercarosa/)and Twitter (https://twitter.com/ChrisCarosa).