1. Why do lottery winners go broke? 2. Why do so many profession­al athletes fall on hard times after earning tens of millions of dollars? 3. And why do so many “average Americans” fail in their retirement attempts? The answer to all three of these questio

- Peter Dunn is an author, speaker and radio host. Have a question? Email him at Pete@petethepla­ Peter Dunn Special for USA TODAY

The retirement industry mostly has been built on the idea that we need a bunch of money.

Alottery winner, a profession­al athlete and, arguably, you win or earn enough to create a sustainabl­e financial existence. What’s missing from the equation often is resourcefu­lness. The addition of resources in the face of a lack of resourcefu­lness almost always ends with a tragic story of waste and missed opportunit­y.

The perceived difference is the lottery winner and the profession­al athlete have a large influx of money over a short period of time. If a lack of resourcefu­lness exists, the wasteful habits are magnified by the number of resources. You and I are different. If we aren’t resourcefu­l, our financial struggles feel like a four-decade death march toward an unsuccessf­ul retirement attempt.

Resources don’t matter if you aren’t resourcefu­l.

It pokes at an elementary question: What’s better than having a bunch of money? I believe the answer to said question is: not needing a bunch of money.

The retirement industry mostly has been built on the idea that we need a bunch of money. While that may or may not be true, our dependency on our work income is what causes us to need a bunch of money in retirement. Dependency on high levels of income is synonymous with a lack of resourcefu­lness.

This is why I believe the most forgotten idea in retirement today is the elicit attempt to eliminate the need for a bunch of money. If you choose this path, which you should, it’s only natural to identify the largest expenses in your life. Our debts are often our largest ongoing obligation­s. From mortgage debt to Parent PLUS student loans, being debt free in retirement can prevent you from needing a bunch of money.

But debt is not the only culprit. Lifestyle creep can hamstring retirement plans as well.

As you sit and read this, it’s quite possible your retirement shortcomin­gs aren’t necessaril­y your lack of retirement assets, but instead your challenges may be based on a wanton need for money.

Years ago when I was a financial adviser I had a client who earned in excess of $500,000 per year. His plan was to retire with an income of $100,000 per year. This seems reasonable, no? Well, it wasn’t. For the better part of 30 years, he and his wife had spent every dime they earned, no matter what their income was. When they were making $100,000 30 years ago, they spent it. When they earned $200,000 20 years ago, they spent it. Not only did they spend these healthy incomes, but they used the incomes to create new obligation­s — boat payments, car payments and house payments. When one obligation was nearly vanquished, they upgraded and created another one.

When the idea of retirement came knocking, they blindly assumed they could reduce their income dependency by 80%, with no prior successful track record of doing so. Did I mention they had a bunch of money? They had $1.5 million. And it didn’t matter. As we progress toward income independen­ce (retirement), it’s important that we keep in mind our need to become independen­t of our work incomes.

The best advice to prevent you from becoming too dependent on your work income is to start ignoring dollars and start respecting percentage­s. It’s great if you saved/invested more dollars this year than you did last year, but if your income increase surpassed your savings increase, you may have saved a lower percentage of your income. In this instance, you actually created more dependency on your income. Absorbing pay increases leads to more dependency.

You simply need to break your dependency over time. You cannot, under any circumstan­ce, increase your financial obligation­s down the stretch of retirement. You don’t want to need a bunch of money.

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