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Issue: 63 - Mar 14, 2014
Is Your Retirement Doomed?
By: Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ
Dr. Phil Zeltzman1

Many of our (grand) parents had a nice little retirement deal going on.  It has been compared to a three-legged stool*: each leg represented a stream of income. For many, these were Social Security, Employer Pension, and Personal Savings.

But that was then. Most people with the slightest amount of financial knowledge are aware that Social Security is technically bankrupt.  This is not a political statement.  It’s just a fact of life in 2014.

Here is an interesting quote you might appreciate:

“We can never insure 100% of the population against 100% of the hazards and vicissitudes of life. But we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”

This is not a political statement either. This is a 1935 quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt, copied and pasted verbatim from the Social Security website (

So there you go, Social Security will be non-existent by the time most of us retire, or at best it may protect us against poverty-ridden old age.

As far as our second leg* of the retirement stool, Employer Pension… well good luck to find an employer that offers that in the veterinary world.  And please let me know if you know one, I might actually apply for a position.

Most companies have happily switched to 401 (k) and other similar plans that put the saving burden on the employee… which leads us to the third leg of our wobbly stool.

The third and only remaining leg* of our retirement stool is made up of Personal Savings. This includes retirement accounts such as 401 (k) and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), as well as countless types of taxable accounts.

Sadly, many Americans are counting on their 401 (k) to retire. Yet most live in la-la land… Here is the reality:

  • The average 401(k) has a balance of $45,519 (as of 2012).
  • About half of all 401(k) accounts have less than $10,000 (as of 2012).

You don’t need a PhD in finance to realize that you just can’t retire on that kind of money. At least not as most of us envision retirement: playing with the grand kids, playing golf, playing the banjo, playing bingo or playing it cool on the beach.

So what are we supposed to do?

The sooner you accept the fact that there will not be a white knight in shining armor to rescue you, the sooner you can start working on your one-legged stool*, i.e. through your personal savings.

Here is your 5 step plan to financial bliss – only to be followed if you don’t intend to work ‘til you drop:

1. Educate yourself in financial finance. Hint: it is not hidden in the 637th book of the Twilight saga.

2. Save like a maniac – at least 10% of your gross income. More is better.

3. Stop wasting money. This is such a personal and painful topic for most of us that I will cowardly skip this point.

4. Invest wisely.

5. Have an emergency fund. Most financial gurus recommend 3 to 6 months’ worth of expenses, which is probably reasonable.

That’s it.  Five little steps for your bank accounts.  One giant leap for your retirement.

See you at the beach.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

* I first read about this nifty analogy in the 2010 book “What Color is Your Parachute? For Retirement,” 2nd edition, found everywhere books are sold. The picture of the 3 legged stool is borrowed from the book. The picture of the 1 legged stool was painstakingly created by yours truly. It only took 3 hours.