by Brett Kittredge
Do you have enough money saved for your retirement? Do you even know how much you will need to retire comfortably?
If you are unsure, you are not alone. A recent study found that only 10% of Americans feel confident that they have enough saved for retirement and 45% are afraid they may run out of money in retirement. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be a part of that statistic.
Being broke in normal. Being unsure about the future is normal. You don’t want to be normal. And you don’t want to rely on social security to pay your bills. Start your retirement plans by not relying on social security. Instead, treat it like a bonus in your retirement years – if it is still around.
If you want to live the retirement you have in your dreams, take control and don’t rely on the government to get by. Because that is all you do if social security is your only income – just get by.
While too few people are not saving enough for retirement, or maybe aren’t even thinking about retirement, it does not have to be like that for you. Regardless of how old you are, what you already have saved, and what you annual income is, you can, and must, save for retirement. It is only difficult in the sense that it takes commitment and a willingness to sacrifice today.
The best day to start saving was yesterday. The second best day is today. Don’t let another day go by. But at the same time, make sure you have a plan in place. Whether you are doing this on your own or with a financial advisor, make sure you don’t miss any steps.
Here are 7 tips to help you get started.
Know your why
The idea of saving and putting money aside – rather than spending it today to buy the newest product on the market – can be difficult for some. We really want that newer, bigger television, or maybe it’s something flashier like a new truck.
And it is easier when you don’t have a real understanding or purpose for saving. That is where your “why” comes in. Why are you doing this? What do you want your retirement to look like? Is it traveling around the world, spending time with your grandchildren, or just pointing your rocking chair toward the west? We all have individual goals in life. What it is doesn’t matter as much as understanding your why.
Saving will take sacrifice. There are things you’re not going to be able to do today or tomorrow. Are you going to be able to temporarily pass on something today because you have plans for your future? If you don’t know why you are doing something, it is much harder to make sense of sacrifice. This is a fun exercise to get you going. Do this first so you will know your why and start dreaming about retirement today.
Begin putting money aside as early as possible
Because of the beauty of compound interest, you are rewarded for putting money aside as early as possible. That is why you need to begin saving today.
Consider this, if you put $400 a month away each month from the time you are 22 until your retirement at 67, your retirement savings will be nearly $3.8 million (assuming a 10% return). Now, what if you wait just 10 years? Keep in mind, you will still be saving for 35 years. Your retirement account will be just $1.4 million, a full $2.4 million less. To reach that same $3.8 million by starting at 32, you will have to put aside more than $1,000 a month. At the same time, this requires you to double your contribution toward retirement.
Regardless of where you are in life, you need to begin saving today to get the most growth in your retirement over time. And as the numbers show, the earlier the better.
Put 15% into your retirement account
How much do you need to save each month? Your why can give you a good general idea for what you want to do, but a good general rule, if you are looking for a flat number, is 15% of your income. Here is why Fidelity recommends that amount.
That may seem like a difficult hill to climb, especially if you are not contributing anything today or if you have a low income without much wiggle room. But it’s possible. It just may require you to adjust your budget. Put retirement near the top, along with housing, transportation, food, and other key expenses.
And, it could vary based on where you are and your age. Certainly, the younger you are, the less you have to put away. And the reverse is true if you are older. Also, consider your retirement and what it looks like. Some people can live comfortably with half the retirement account of others. So while these principles are general, each retirement should be individualized.
Also, the government encourages you to save through the tax code. Your contributions, whether they are through work or a private account, can be made pre-tax, lowering your taxable income. And by extension, saving you money with every dollar you invest.
You may also choose to contribute to your retirement with post-tax contributions. You don’t receive the deduction up front in this case but can withdraw your funds tax-free in the future.
How do you know which is the best option? If your goal is to lower your taxable income today, and potentially help you qualify for additional tax breaks, or if you believe your tax rate will be lower when you are drawing retirement, which it will almost assuredly be, the pre-tax option is likely the way to go.
And the great part about saving for retirement is anyone can do it, and receive the same tax benefits. You don’t need a company-sponsored 401(k). You can open an individual retirement account, or an IRA, today, and begin saving immediately.
Take advantage of the company match
Most of us who don’t work for the government, don’t have the defined pension plans that were commonplace a few decades ago. But many companies do offer matches. What does that mean? Your employer will match what you put in your company-sponsored retirement account.
These may vary, whether it is dollar-for-dollar or 50 cents for every dollar you contribute. Most will also have caps at a certain percentage. But just imagine if you had an extra $100 or $200 every month in your retirement account. It all adds up and will help you reach your goal.
If your company offers anything, take advantage of it and make sure you are maximizing your contribution so you can maximize your match. The phrase free money gets thrown around too often, but for you, this is free money. So if you don’t take advantage of it, you are essentially throwing money down the drain. Everyone should be investing regardless of their income, so there is no reason to miss this opportunity.
Set a budget
A monthly household budget is one of the most valuable financial planning tools. But too many people ignore this crucial step. Everyone should have a budget, and it is should be regularly reviewed. And if you are married, make sure you are going over these numbers with your spouse, even if one partner generally handles bills or other financial matters. You’re a family, do this as a family.
With your budget, you tell your money where it should go each month. Start with your income, and then calculate your expenses. Your most important expenses – housing, food, transportation – will be at the top.
And if you aren’t saving for retirement yet, or you aren’t saving enough, this is where retirement fits in.
Are you saving 15% of your income? Plug it into your budget before you begin adding other items. You don’t need to sacrifice to the point that you can never eat out a restaurant for 40 years, but a budget is about prioritizing.
If you have a variable income, you can still budget. Just look at your monthly income over the past year, and assess what you brought home each month. You’re probably better to err on the side of caution so look at the lower months to give you a baseline. Meaning, what you know you will make each month even if sales are down or a bonus doesn’t come in. Use the baseline to set your priority items, and then pay for everything else after that.
But by putting it on paper (or a spreadsheet or in an app), you now have greater accountability with your money.
The trick is following your budget. One easy feature available with most online bill pay and retirement accounts is the automatic deposit. This makes these responsibilities easier and limits your ability to decide to do something else with that money.
When the money goes directly from your bank account to your retirement account, you will be less likely to notice the money leaving your account. If you aren’t disciplined enough right now, it makes sense to take advantage of this option.
Your age will dictate how aggressive you can be with your investments. But as long as you are 10 or so years from drawing on your retirement, take advantage of the interest you will earn in the market.
A conservative plan makes sense in the later stages, and there are some who are just uncomfortable with those years when your retirement goes down 20% or so, but the numbers don’t lie. Because if you are not in the market, you will never do much more than keeping up with inflation and will certainly not have enough for retirement.
But over time, the market will average 8-10% a year if your money is in high-growth, long-term funds. As long as you stick with it and don’t decide to sell the moment it looks like the market is heading south. In fact, that is the time you should be buying more.
Look at it as if stocks are on sale. So if there is a dip, know it will come back and you will be better off because you took advantage of it rather than backing out.
Just remember to start aggressive and remain aggressive. And don’t bother checking your account every day, every week, or even every month. You will likely get some type of quarterly report that you can review. But don’t stress when you lose 3% in one day. Better yet, don’t even look. After all, you’re not spending it tomorrow. It’s about the future.
Don’t go into debt
The best way to build wealth is to not be paying interest to the bank, especially on items that depreciate. Translation: avoid debt, except for your mortgage.
If you are in debt today, work tirelessly to pay it off as quickly as possible. Whether it’s student loan, credit card debt, a car, or something else, the money you are spending on that is money you can’t be sent to your retirement.
Car payments may seem like the norm, but they don’t have to be. Here is a number that will hopefully help you see what you are giving up by making a car payment every month. If you had a car payment of $400 per month for 40 years, you could have invested that money and would have upwards of $2 million in a retirement account.
Also, make it your goal to have your house paid off by the day you retire. It will just make retirement that much easier to not have that hanging over your head at that stage in your life.
Retirement should be an enjoyable time, not a time that is full of worry because of money. So begin today to make sure you have the retirement you always dreamed of.
Disclaimer: We are not financial advisers and this article should not be taken as financial advice. This is what has worked for us and might or might not work for you.