Finance professionals tell their clients to start saving for retirement as early as possible. Following this advice allows people to avoid playing catchup later in life, which can prove extremely challenging. Many people neglect retirement savings when they are young because they think it will hinder their ability to pursue other activities. Other people may avoid saving because they do not understand how to start in the first place. However, this guide can help anyone formulate a strategic plan. In the end, there is no single way or amount to save. The most important part of a strategy is starting now and being consistent into the future.
Here are some actions to consider when jumpstarting retirement savings:
Have a discussion with HR.
The best way to get started with retirement savings is to take advantage of any employer-sponsored plans. Employers can offer several different options, such as 401(k), 403(b), and 457. All of these numbers can seem overwhelming and confusing at first, which often discourages people from contributing to these accounts. However, HR departments are there to help sort through the issues and figure out the best personal strategy. Because limits exist to employer matching and to overall contributions for tax purposes, HR representatives can help employees figure out which general savings strategy makes the most sense for them. Often, the whole process is automated, with deductions from the employee’s paycheck made directly to the chosen account.
Make a thorough budget.
Sometimes, people do not save because they are simply unaware of their financial situation. Before understanding what kind of retirement savings makes the most sense, people need a clear sense of how much money they have coming in and how much they spend. This is where making a budget comes in. Even those who think they have a good grip on their finances can benefit from seeing the whole budget laid out. Often, this helps individuals see where they can make minor cutbacks to maximize savings without really affecting their daily experience. For example, a small change such as making coffee at home instead of stopping at a chain coffee shop on the way to work can free up a lot of money. Plus, budgeting apps make it very easy to create and stick to a budget.
Approach existing debt strategically.
Saving for retirement does not always involve putting money in a retirement account. Experts often tell clients to first tackle their existing debts, to put themselves in a better position to save more in the future. At the same time, holding off on all retirement savings until current debts are paid is not a good strategy, as it can ultimately leave retirees without much money. Strategic repayment involves looking at existing debts and prioritizing which ones to pay down while also setting aside some money for retirement, even if it is a small amount in the beginning. Once major debts are under control, more money can go to retirement funds.
Choose medium-risk investments.
Several different theories exist when it comes to retirement savings and risk. Some people believe that it is acceptable to put early retirement savings in high-risk ventures since there is always time to recover. Other people would argue that retirement savings should always be placed in low-risk options, like fixed income investments. Unfortunately, low-risk options produce such low returns that they may leave people feeling like their efforts are not worth the trouble. At the same time, high-risk options can do the same if someone loses all their savings overnight. A good compromise is to choose a middle-of-the-road investment, such as an index fund, which has reasonable growth and virtually zero odds of total loss.
Open an IRA or a Roth IRA.
Not everyone works for a company that has retirement savings programs. In this case, individuals can look into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Ideally, early savers can find an account that is low-stress without minimum contributions so that there is not a lot of pressure to save. Some people may qualify for a Roth IRA, which involves after-tax income and can save on taxes down the road. Plus, a Roth IRA does not have a required minimum distribution. Talking to a banking professional can people help get a better handle on what these accounts entail and which is best. This step does take a little bit of legwork, but one should never hesitate to call and ask questions. Often, starting at a home bank helps people feel more comfortable as they learn.
Save with an app.
The prospect of finding a bank at which to open an IRA can be overwhelming. If this is the case, individuals can actually start saving with an app (although eventually some type of retirement account, whether through work or a bank, will prove necessary). Apps like Motif and Acorn allow people to track their savings in real-time while making regular contributions. Some apps even help people compare retirement savings plans to figure out what is best for their specific situation, which can eliminate some uncomfortable conversations with HR representatives or bank employees. Individuals who choose this route should spend some time investigating options and choosing the one that they think makes the most sense for their current level of knowledge and future goals.