Get Something From Social Security

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Want to liven up a party? Yell something like "Social Security is the best thing the government ever invented," or "Social Security is a huge Ponzi scheme that is doomed to crash!" Either one will elicit cheers and jeers, at which point the partygoers will engage in well-thought-out discussions based on facts and evidence. Or attack each other with cheese knives.

Whatever happens, here's something all partygoers can agree on: No one should plan to retire on Social Security alone, even if benefits never get cut. As of June 2010, the average annual retirement benefit was $14,040. It would be tough to retire to Florida or buy an RV on that amount, let alone have enough to buy, like, food and stuff.

Less payroll pain (for now)
The Social Security program is paid for by a 6.2% tax on your paycheck (1.45% is also taken out for Medicare; employers kick in an equal amount for both). However, the tax deal done last December cut the Social Security tax that employees will pay throughout 2011 to 4.2%. The government would like you to spend that extra 2% of your income in order to stimulate the economy.

Don't fall for it.

Instead, use that money to increase your savings rate by 2% (more is even better!) and invest in retirement benefits that you, not politicians, control. In other words, use your bigger paycheck to buy stocks.

You might be saying, "How much can saving just 2% really do for my retirement?" That depends, of course, on how long it is until you retire, but here's one of those handy-dandy charts showing how much you could hypothetically have (assuming an 8% annual return):


5 years

10 years

15 years

20 years

25 years

30 years

$100 a month







$200 a month







Source: An Excel spreadsheet on my computer. Come take a look if you don't believe me. I dare you.

Impressed? If not, compare those amounts to how much more you'd have for retirement if you decide to spend the money rather than invest it:


5 years

10 years

15 years

20 years

25 years

30 years

Not Invest $100 a Month







Not Invest $200 a Month







Source: Author's estimates.

And yes, I'm assuming that you will not only save more this year thanks to lower payroll taxes, but also continue to save an extra Benjamin or two a month until you retire. After all, you'll inevitably see the wisdom of doing so, and the higher payroll taxes you pay in 2012 and onward will be offset by the (hopefully) at-least-2% raise you'll earn a year from now.

Where to put it
OK, so you've seen the financial wisdom of saving an extra $100 or $200 (or more!) a month. The next question: What to do with that money?

That's really two questions: 

  1. Which type of account, and 
  2. Which type of investments? 

Starting with the former, contribute to an employer-sponsored account -- such as a 401(k) -- up to the point where you take full advantage of a match. From there, it's worth considering an IRA, since you'll likely have more investment options and at lower costs. Of course, it's best to max out both an IRA and your 401(k), if you can. 

Don't forget: You still have time (until April 18, to be precise) to contribute to an IRA for 2010. So, if you want to earn that retirement-saving gold star, max out an IRA for 2010, then sign up for an automatic investment plan into an IRA for 2011. For help with choose the right discount broker for your IRA, visit the Fool's Broker Center.

As for which stocks to buy, that depends to some degree on how much you're investing. We at the Fool generally recommend that you keep transaction costs to 2% or less than the amount you're investing. So if you're investing $100 a month, your best bet might be a no-load mutual fund. With larger amounts, you can buy a few shares of stock each month without the commissions eating too much into your principal.

In my latest issue of Rule Your Retirement, I discussed how a lot of experts are extolling the cheapness of U.S. large-cap stocks these days. While it makes me nervous to be siding with a growing consensus, I also think blue chips from the Red, White, and Blue offer the best prospects. 

We've highlighted consumer giants Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB  ) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) as well as industrial blue-chip Waste Management (NYSE: WM  ) and payroll specialist Paychex (Nasdaq: PAYX  ) for their high dividend yields and dependable business models. If you're looking for mutual fund ideas, Amanda Kish, advisor for our Champion Funds service (a free bonus that comes with a Rule Your Retirement subscription), likes funds like Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX) that have a well-established track record and knowledgeable managers on board.

Whatever you do with the extra 2% you'll find in each paycheck this year, put it somewhere that will still be around many years from now. That way, when you get that $14,040 (or whatever) from Social Security in retirement, you'll be able to say, "Whew! I was glad I did that."

Johnson & Johnson, Paychex, and Waste Management are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, and Waste Management are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Johnson & Johnson. The Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson, Paychex, and Waste Management. Motley Fool Alpha owns shares of Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Robert Brokamp is the editor and lead advisor of Rule Your Retirement, which you can try free for 30 days. He owns shares of Johnson & Johnson and is always armed with a cheese knife. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2011, at 3:29 PM, AnthonyDuBon wrote:

    Great advice regarding savings. I love the chart that compares the benefits and returns of investing versus the $0 return of not investing. Whether you assume 4%, 6%, 8% or 10%, investment return, you are going to make some money.

    The question everyone wants to answer is where and in what should I invest. The Fool typically advises stocks, sometimes particular stocks. I believe that is exactly right for some people, and exactly wrong for others. Mutual Funds were created to diversify risk and take advantage of professional investment management decision making capability. If you can identify those funds that persistently deliver high returns at low risk, you can win without the need to constantly monitor your investments. A tool that can help you to find the best mutual funds is available for a free trial at Try it if you want to find the funds that will deliver.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2011, at 7:53 PM, NovaB wrote:

    If you will guarantee me an 8% return I will turn my entire portfolio over to you to manage. Anything extra you can keep.

    How about that for a retirement plan?

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