THE BLOG

Zombies, Peanut Butter, Jam and Your Retirement Savings

02/19/2014 11:45 am ET | Updated Apr 21, 2014
  • Jerry Patterson Senior Vice President, Retirement and Income Solutions, Principal Financial Group

If you ever find yourself in Des Moines, IA (now the "wealthiest city in America," according to TODAY), a place you might want to try is Zombie Burger & Drink Lab. One of local restaurateur George Formaro's, many amazing creations, Zombie Burger, features a vast selection of "food and drink to-die-for." My favorite item is, without a doubt, the Undead Elvis. This burger features peanut butter, fried bananas, bacon, American cheese, a fried egg, and mayo. Hungry yet?

While everything on the menu looks amazing, I have never deviated from the Undead Elvis. It's a simple choice. I know what to expect. Decision made. So, there I was last week, staring at peanut butter and fried egg dripping down the side of my Undead Elvis Zombie Burger, and I started thinking about whether I should have made a different choice. The Dead Moines? Trailer Trash Zombie? The Flamethrower? Each one has its own unique flavor and appeal.

That makes me think of a study about jam that was published by Sheena S. Iyengar of Columbia and Mark R. Lepper of Stanford in 2000. In the study, researchers offered six varieties of jam at one table and 24 varieties of jam at another. Guess which table sold way more jam? Bingo! The table with six choices. Apparently, many of us have a jam choice shut down mechanism within us that forces us to retreat and sometimes choose nothing when faced with too many choices.

In all seriousness, it's clear from this study and many others that people are quick to say they want more choices and options when asked about nearly anything. In reality, people often respond more effectively and make better decisions when the choices are limited and straightforward.

This thinking can go a long way in retirement savings as well. We often hear that the biggest struggle people have when it comes to decision making around saving in a retirement plan, like a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, is around what to invest the money in.

That's why target date investment options have become increasingly popular in retirement plans. Many Do-it-for-me investors only make one decision: "Around what year do I think I will retire?" Target Date investments are designed to provide a diversified portfolio that is managed toward a specific retirement date. They also offer automatic rebalancing intended to keep the investment allocations in line with a level of risk deemed appropriate to the ultimate retirement date and in some cases beyond. While they are definitely not for everyone, target date investments seek to simplify the asset allocation decision-making process -- helpful for many and especially for those who struggle and shut down when faced with too many choices.

By the way, if you're ever in a jam about jam, pick blueberry, especially if the blueberries are from Maine. Quick. Easy. All you need to know.

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Jerry Patterson is senior vice president of Retirement and Investor Services with the Principal Financial Group.

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