Lack of savings no laughing matter

NEW YORK — Ben Stein wants you to have your own money.

The actor, comedian and star of the game show "Win Ben Stein’s Money" is the honorary chairman of National Retirement Planning Week, which started Monday.

Retirement planning, he says, is not a good topic for the humor he’s famous for.

"It is not funny to be poor and old," he said in an interview. "It’s not the slightest bit funny to say, ‘You’re not going to like the taste of cat food if you’re poor and old.’ "

Stein is trying to try to get across the message that Americans aren’t saving enough. He’s taken over from former Sen. Bob Dole, who was last year’s chairman.

The average worker has less than $50,000 put away for retirement, and that just isn’t enough to supplement Social Security and pension payouts, he said. That’s especially true because people are living so much longer.

"People need to save," Stein said. "It’s vital that people make provisions for their own retirement."

Stein, 58, an economist and lawyer by training, has written 21 books, including nine about finance and ethical and social issues in finance. His late father, Herb Stein, led the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

Stein offers several suggestions to get people started on retirement saving.

Begin by trying to figure out how much you’ll need in retirement, "which is often not a lot less than you need now." There’s a calculator at the campaign’s Web site at that can help.

Next, take advantage of company-sponsored retirement plans. If your company doesn’t have one, lobby for it, he said. Or start your own retirement savings accounts.

Savers should diversify to reduce risk, he added. They should hold a variety of stocks, bonds and cash and also consider investments in real estate and annuities.

Most important, he said, "don’t touch your savings" until you need them for retirement. That’s difficult, he acknowledged, noting that there are so many things to buy — cars and boats, a big-screen TV, trips to Europe.

"But nothing is more valuable than having the peace of mind of having provided for your own future," he said.

Copyright ©2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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