Trash All Your Resolutions! You Only Need This One.

Read between the lines.

There are more people who write about how to make resolutions than there are people who actually make resolutions. Undaunted, it is my duty to pour out my thoughts and create the most dramatic headlines possible because we writers know everything and, damn, panic-in-the-streets headlines attract your attention. Doesn’t matter whether the headline is true or, for that matter, has anything to do with the story. I’m going to attract clicks.

But I digress. You may need more than one resolution or you may not need any. I don’t know you and neither do most writers announcing their live-life-better recipes for the world to follow. There are, however, a few things we can resolve to do that might benefit most of us.   One of them is to read between the lines.  

Believe them! No believe them!

Why is this important? I write primarily about financial issues, which are wonderful fodder for dueling storylines. Whatever the subject or audience, the use of a survey or statistic can provide a spectacular headline. Dueling statistics from multiple surveys, however, do nothing but confuse us.

Vitamin supplements lengthen our lives, says one survey. No, they cause cancer, says another.   Americans’ health is going steadily downhill.

Yet, we purchase more organic food and fitness equipment, and the U.S. Census Bureau says we’re living longer than ever. Pass me an extra large cola with extra sugar, please!

We despise Democrats, says one survey. No, it’s Republicans we loathe, says another . . . . Okay, maybe they’re both right.

Retirement a Million Miles Away . . . or Maybe Not

Because I write about financial topics, let’s talk about one of them–retirement. News flash! Millennials don’t save for retirement. Little more than half of Millennials surveyed for the 2014 Wells Fargo Millennial Study save for retirement, leaving about half who haven’t put a dollar toward it. That’s a lot of people putting off an important savings goal. Or maybe it doesn’t seem important right now.

But, wait a second—Millennials are saving at an unprecedented pace. The 15th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey of Workers found that 70% of Millennials it surveyed who work in for-profit companies began saving for retirement at a median age of 22. They contribute 10% of their paychecks to a 401(k) or similar plan when their employers match some of their contributions.

There are scores of other surveys conducted by retirement services providers, investment companies and polling firms. Some say this, others say that. Each has its own criteria. What should you believe?

Read between the lines and find out for yourself.

Learn Something That Benefits You

For one, you’re not everybody else. Captain Obvious here. As scientific as these polls are, you probably weren’t among the people polled. Transamerica polled 1,021 Millennials and Wells Fargo received responses from 1,639 in the approximate age bracket. They’re solid surveys, but they may not represent you.

Polls, surveys and studies are representative of their polling universe. Respondents may or may not work, they may work only for large companies or for-profit companies, or they include only people of a certain economic class. Consider that only three in four Americans working in non-government jobs have access to a workplace retirement plan. The smaller your company, the less likely you have a plan.

We can’t even agree what age group Millennials comprise. Generally, you can’t be older than 35, but some say you don’t qualify unless you’re 33.

Where does all this competing data leave you? Read between the lines. Take a survey’s findings and use them as a warning if you fall short, a reinforcement of good habits if you don’t.

And it’s not the end of the world if you rank other goals more highly. The Great Recession delayed many a career beginning, Millennials carry more student debt than any other generation and they have little to no belief in Social Security to help out.

Yet, Millennials aren’t that much different than past generations. Young people have always felt immortal and always believed they can delay long-term goals indefinitely. If you’re in this group, do yourself a favor and learn how much you need to save for retirement. Do some math. For example, if you’re 25 and you think you’ll wait until 35 before starting to save, the cost of waiting might shock you.

Waiting Really Hurts Let’s assume you’ll retire at age 67. If you go to insurer USAA’s retirement calculator (or any other reputable source), you’ll find that saving a modest $300 monthly starting at age 25 would give you $913,112 at retirement if your money returned 7% annually.

Wait until age 35? It’s not as simple as making up what you didn’t contribute the previous 10 years. Using the same numbers, you would accumulate $428,523, because your money had a decade less to compound. To build the same $900,000 or so, you would need to contribute about $640 per month at an age when you likely will have more expenses, even if you’re making more money.

So, yes, retirement may seem a million years away. College debt and underemployment may stagger you and you don’t have a dime to spare. Look again. Sacrifice one $4 latte per week and put the money into a retirement account. Over 42 years, you’ll have saved a little over $10,000, but accumulated six times as much. Small steps mean a lot.

That’s what reading between the lines is all about.

And it’s your prerogative if you read between the lines and still want to stay the course. Just do yourself a favor and ask the millions of Baby Boomers who are woefully short on retirement resources if they would do it all over again if they could.