Thursday, December 24, 2015

Naughty or Nice?

A few years back — when my kids still believed in the reality of Santa Claus — we discovered an ingenious website.

This was a website that purported to offer a real-time assessment of your “naughty or nice” status.

Now, as Christmas approached, it was not uncommon for us to caution our occasionally misbehaving brood that they had best be attentive to how those actions might be viewed by the big guy at the North Pole. But nothing ever had the impact of that website — if not on their behaviors (they were kids, after all), then certainly on the level of their concern about the consequences.

In fact, in one of his final years as a “believer,” my son (who, it must be acknowledged, had been particularly naughty that year, and he knew it) was on the verge of tears, worried that he’d find nothing under the Christmas tree but the nuggets of coal in his stocking he so surely deserved.

Bad Behaviors?

With so many reports purporting to chronicle the sorry state of retirement confidence and lack of preparations (think the two might be connected?) among Americans, it seems that many participants act as though some kind of benevolent elf will drop down their chimney with a bag full of cold cash from the North Pole on retirement’s eve. They behave as though, somehow, their bad savings behaviors — and incessant warnings — throughout the year(s) notwithstanding, they’ll be able to pull the wool over the eyes of a myopic, portly gentleman in a red snow suit.

Ultimately, the volume of presents under our Christmas tree never really had anything to do with our kids’ behavior, of course. As parents, we nurtured their belief in Santa Claus as long as we thought we could (without subjecting them to the ridicule of their classmates), not because we expected it to modify their behavior (though we hoped so from time to time), but because we believed that kids should have a chance to believe, if only for a little while, in those kinds of possibilities.

We all live in a world of possibilities, of course. But as adults we realize — or should realize — that those possibilities are frequently bounded in by the reality of our behaviors, be they “naughty” or nice. This is a season of giving, of coming together, of sharing with others. However, it is also a time of year when we should all be making a list and checking it twice — taking note, and making changes to what is naughty and nice about our savings behaviors.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus — but he looks a lot like you, assisted by “helpers” like the employer match, your financial adviser, investment markets and the tax incentives that encourage workplace retirement plans and your ability to save.

Happy Holidays!

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

p.s. The Naughty or Nice site is still online (at, and it now includes suggestions for how to improve your standing, should that be required. Those looking for suggestions on how to improve your savings standings can check out, along with the Ballpark E$timate, to see how you’re doing!

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