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5 Simple Moves to Shift Your Retirement Savings Into Overdrive

By Sam Swenson, CFA, CPA - Apr 13, 2021 at 5:32AM

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Small changes can have outsized effects over long periods of time.

When it comes to managing your retirement savings, you'll find that grabbing the low-hanging fruit goes a very long way in terms of your long-term results. Five simple moves will ultimately make a substantial difference in the amount you're able to save, so make these incremental changes and reap the benefits.

1. Increase your 401(k) contributions by 1%

Even a 1% increase can make a tremendous difference in the ultimate size of your retirement savings balance. For simplicity, let's assume you earn $100,000 annually and currently contribute 6% of your salary to your company's 401(k) plan. Let's also assume you'll never get another raise again and your contribution percentage stays consistent throughout your working career. 

Contribution Percentage Annual Dollar Contribution  Assumed Rate of Return Time to Retirement Ending Balance at Retirement
5% $5,000 8% 30 years $611,729
6% $6,000 8% 30 years $734,075
7% $7,000 8% 30 years $856,421

Calculations by author.

There's a significant difference in your ending retirement balance by simply requesting a 1% increase of your annual contribution percentage. It's easy to talk to your employer to bump up your contributions in just a few minutes.

2. Open a Roth IRA

Supplementing a workplace retirement plan is another very simple way to shorten your timeline to retirement. A popular way to do this is by opening a Roth IRA. In contrast to a pre-tax 401(k), money that goes into a Roth IRA is considered "post-tax." Once deposited, it will likely never be taxed again -- even when you withdraw the money in retirement.

Roth IRAs also offer great peace of mind in that you know the entire balance is all yours (by its tax-free nature), unlike a 401(k) or other pre-tax plan that carries an embedded tax liability in retirement. 

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Image source: Getty Images.

3. Become a do-it-yourself investor

Investing and saving for retirement is simpler than you think. It's useful to learn the basic mechanics of how it all works so you can do it on your own. By avoiding exorbitant recurring fees charged by advisors or product salesmen, you'll allow your retirement funds to grow unimpeded.

Think of it this way: Just like an airplane travels much faster when it doesn't have a gusting headwind right at its nose, your portfolio grows faster when you're not paying through the nose for fees. A minimal fee is one thing, but most investment products worth their while should be practically or literally free.

4. Leave it alone

Trying to "time the market" or "trade the market" will, in all likelihood, reduce your balance as opposed to grow it. Only a small number of people can beat the market consistently over time through short-term investing. Playing the ups and downs and acting on emotion is exactly the wrong strategy for long-term investing.

This is one of the few avenues where the less work you do, the better off you'll be. Choose a few low-cost index funds, invest regularly, leave the funds alone, and enjoy your retirement when the time comes. 

5. Roll over if necessary

After you leave a job, you may be wondering what to do with the money in your former employer's retirement plan. One option is to roll it over to an IRA, which might offer lower expenses and more investment options.

Sometimes, 401(k) plan providers can be unnecessarily costly and/or restrictive, so it's best to check on the specifics of your plan, as well as your rollover options. It may sound a bit complicated, but it's a very simple process that gives you more flexibility. 

Small changes matter

By making a series of very minor changes to your mindset and your accounts, you will set yourself up for long-term success. It's really amazing to learn how impactful some of these decisions are, but they're worthwhile to investigate and activate. Keep these tips in mind as you continue on your wealth-building path. 

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