Saturday, May 17, 2008

How Much Should You Save Each Year?

The 'Million Dollar Question': what should you be doing now when you're young to make sure you can live in style when you stop working?

Did you ever notice that almost every bank or finance advertisement features the same recurring elements and themes? They're always trying to explain retirement and savings with the same tired comparisons. It's usually 'training for a marathon' with investments that pan out over time, rather than a 'short sprint' with huge initial returns that fizzle.

Don't forget those large noble elk roaming around the forest looking very wise and stately with their financial planning advice. My favorites were always all those sailing-themed commercials. Apparently Wedding Crashers was right, 'Sailing's like sex to these people. They love it.'

But really what it all boils down to is the one big question: how much of my yearly income should I sacrifice for the greater cause of my 'savings'? That's all I really want to know. Give me a number, a percentage, and I'll just plug away at it until my ripe old age of 65. At which point I will hopefully be able to retire somewhere and steal small items from stores without fear of incurring any consequences for my actions.

Apparently that number is a very elusive figure to get a hold of. There's practically an entire industry dedicated to keeping it a big secret. Between financial planners, retirement specialists, savings experts, and market analysts, you may have to fork over some serious dough to get the answers you're looking for.

One thing that may help you is a handy social security calculator. Find out exactly how much you'll be getting from those social security checks when you retire. If you are in your 20s and 30s now, a safe bet might be to not count on social security handouts paying any of your expenses.

These figures can be argued, but one could use them as guidelines for an estimate:
  • a steady 3% salary increase each year (lucky)
  • a 3% inflation rate increase (likely)
  • Then if you invest in stocks, you might hope for something like a 10% return on them annually (not counting any future recessions)
If you saved 15% of your pre-tax income for 35 years, that would put someone in their late 20s at 80% of their annual income upon retirement.

Also, this is not including anything you might put into a 401k or company matching retirement plan. You also might want to try and figure out how long you have to live. If you plan on dying very soon, maybe retirement isn't for you?

There are also plenty of people out there who would be bored by retiring early and would rather keep working at a job they enjoy. Are you one of those people?

But to give you a general guideline, if you decided to save between 10% and 15% of your annual income, that would be a great start. Considering that almost no one in the United States believes in long-term savings, it would put you significantly ahead of the curve.

And who knows, maybe one day when you die you could screw your bratty kids out of your massive inheritance? We can all dream big, right?
Original here

US soldier refuses to serve in "illegal Iraq war"

Matthis Chiroux is the kind of young American US military recruiters love.

"I was from a poor, white family from the south, and I did badly in school," the now 24-year-old told AFP.

"I was 'filet mignon' for recruiters. They started phoning me when I was in 10th grade," or around 16 years old, he added.

Chiroux joined the US army straight out of high school nearly six years ago, and worked his way up from private to sergeant.

He served in Afghanistan, Germany, Japan, and the Philippines and was due to be deployed next month in Iraq.

On Thursday, he refused to go, saying he considers Iraq an illegal war.

"I stand before you today with the strength and clarity and resolve to declare to the military, my government and the world that this soldier will not be deploying to Iraq," Chiroux said in the sun-filled rotunda of a congressional building in Washington.

"My decision is based on my desire to no longer continue violating my core values to support an illegal and unconstitutional occupation... I refuse to participate in the Iraq occupation," he said, as a dozen veterans of the five-year-old Iraq war looked on.

Minutes earlier, Chiroux had cried openly as he listened to former comrades-in-arms testify before members of Congress about the failings of the Iraq war.

The testimonies were the first before Congress by Iraq veterans who have turned against the five-year-old war.

Former army sergeant Kristofer Goldsmith told a half-dozen US lawmakers and scores of people who packed into a small hearing room of "lawless murders, looting and the abuse of countless Iraqis."

He spoke of the psychologically fragile men and women who return from Iraq, to find little help or treatment offered from official circles.

Goldsmith said he had "self-medicated" for several months to treat the wounds of the war.

Another soldier told AFP he had to boost his dosage of medication to treat anxiety and social agoraphobia -- two of many lingering mental wounds he carries since his deployments in Iraq -- before testifying.

Some 300,000 of the 1.6 million US soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from the psychological traumas of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or both, an independent study showed last month.

A group of veterans sitting in the hearing room gazed blankly as their comrades' testimonies shattered the official version that the US effort in Iraq is succeeding.

Almost to a man, the soldiers who testified denounced serious flaws in the chain of command in Iraq.

Luis Montalvan, a former army captain, accused high-ranking US officers of numerous failures in Iraq, including turning a blind eye to massive fraud on the part of US contractors.

Ex-Marine Jason Lemieux told how a senior officer had altered a report he had written because it slammed US troops of using excessive force, firing off thousands of rounds of machine gun fire and hundreds of grenades in the face of a feeble four rounds of enemy fire.

Goldsmith accused US officials of censorship.

"Everyone who manages a blog, Facebook or Myspace out of Iraq has to register every video, picture, document of any event they do on mission," Goldsmith told AFP after the hearing.

"You're almost always denied before you are allowed to send them home."

Officials take "hard facts and slice them into small pieces to make them presentable to the secretary of state or the president -- and all with the intent of furthering the occupation of Iraq," Goldsmith added.

Chiroux is one of thousands of US soldiers who have deserted since the Iraq war began in 2003, according to figures issued last year by the US army.

But while many seek refuge in Canada, the young soldier vowed to stay in the United States to fight "whatever charges the army levels at me."

The US army defines a deserter as someone who has been absent without leave for 30 days.

Chiroux stood fast in his resolve to not report for duty on June 15.

"I cannot deploy to Iraq, carry a weapon and not be part of the problem," he told AFP.

Original here