Your future self thinks you should save more

  @Money January 18, 2013: 4:18 PM ET
face retirement merrill lynch
NEW YORK (Money Magazine)

How do I convince my spender husband that it makes sense to contribute more to his 401(k)? -- G.L.

You've got a bit of an uphill battle for the simple reason that it's a lot more fun to spend than save. Still, I have a suggestion that may be able to help you convince your hubby to rein in his free-spending ways and throw a few more bucks into the old retirement account: Introduce your husband to his future self.

How, you may ask, can you do that? Before I tell you, you first need to know why such a meeting might spur your husband to save more.

Ultimately, saving comes down to foregoing spending money today so you can spend it (plus however much it earns) later in life.

Problem is, research shows that the present day you doesn't identify particularly well with the older you. Given that disconnect, you don't have much of an incentive to abstain from spending and the pleasure it can bring today to make life better for this stranger in the future.

But apparently there's a way to bridge the gap between our current and future selves.

Researchers at Stanford University conducted experiments in which they put two groups of students into virtual reality headgear and had them interact with realistic computer renderings of themselves. But one group was shown only images of themselves at their current age, while the other also saw age-morphed versions of how they may look in retirement.

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When each group was later asked how much they would save for retirement, the ones who saw their older selves said they would save twice as much on average as the other group. Apparently they felt more of a bond with their future self and thus were more disposed to do something today to help that person.

You can do a somewhat similar experiment with your hubby. Just have him go to Merrill Edge Face Retirement and click on "Meet the Future You." After entering his age and gender, he'll be able to snap an online photo of himself (assuming his computer has a built-in camera) to which the site applies facial-aging software. He'll then see a series of photos simulating what he might look like at different ages late in life.

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The idea is that seeing a version of himself at, say 77, may make him think more seriously about the fact that he'll still be around at that age and have to support himself in retirement.

The little factoids that accompany the photos at different ages -- Cost of a new car in 2034: $62,000; Cost of living increase from 2012 to 2054: 307% -- may also help drive home the point that he'll need a sizable nest egg if he hopes to maintain his lifestyle in retirement.

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I'm not saying that going through this exercise -- which, if only for kicks, you may want to try, too -- will lead your husband to immediately boost his 401(k) contribution by 50%. But it could get you both talking about retirement and whether you're adequately preparing for it.

Ideally, that discussion will lead you and your husband to take some other steps to advance your retirement planning. To get a sense of how you might actually live in retirement, you could check out Ready-2-Retire, a tool that allows you to sort through photos of different retirement activities (traveling, going back to school, etc.) and prioritize them based on how likely you are to engage in them. Once you have a decent idea of what kind of retirement lifestyle you aspire to, you can then go to a tool like our Retirement Planner to see how much you should be saving to achieve that goal.

See whether you're saving enough

If after checking out these tools you find that your husband is actually putting away enough to assure you'll both have a secure retirement, that's great. You can both feel reassured about that.

But if it turns out that your husband really does need to save more, then having him meet a digital version of his future self may be just the motivation he needs. To top of page



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