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4 Ways to Save More for Retirement Without Sacrificing Your Lifestyle

By Sam Swenson, CFA, CPA – Aug 22, 2021 at 7:14AM

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Extremely small changes today will make a big difference in the long run.

Everyone wants higher balances in their retirement accounts, but the reality is that socking more money away can force you to sacrifice your lifestyle today. Sometimes that sacrifice is necessary, but it's also a good idea to think about how you can get the best of both worlds. Below are five ways to save for retirement that shouldn't cause you to drastically change your lifestyle.

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

As the following chart demonstrates, a 1% change in contribution, especially when applied over a long time horizon, makes a tremendous difference in your projected retirement balance. These projections assume no beginning balance, a 30-year time horizon, and a $50,000 salary in all scenarios. 

Contribution (%) Contribution ($) Rate of Return Projected Balance
6% $3,000 8% $367,038
7% $3,500 8% $428,211
8% $4,000 8% $489,383

Calculations by author.

This is an oversimplification as you'll likely receive pay increases along the way, and stock returns fluctuate. But it's an easy way to see how even a 1% change in contribution to your employer plan can make a big difference over time. 

A 1% change is not going to require much of a change in your lifestyle, but it will most definitely affect your ability to live comfortably in retirement. 

2. Front-load your Roth IRA

It's good practice to contribute as much as you can to your Roth IRA as early in the year as realistically possible. This is true for two reasons:

First, the sooner you can get money into your Roth IRA, the sooner it will be able to compound tax-free. As we've established many times before, it's time in the market that matters, so the sooner you take advantage of tax-sheltered space, the better off you'll be in the long run. 

Second, there's a substantial psychological benefit to knowing you've already funded your Roth IRA for the year. This means there's no longer any need to budget for it, and you don't need to sacrifice future nights out to ensure your retirement account is where it needs to be. 

Several people at a dinner party.

Image source: Getty Images.

3. Invest as cheaply as possible

Another way to ensure you're well-set for retirement is to save on fees wherever you can. Commonly, young investors inadvertently purchase investments with high expense ratios or costly front-load fees. Steep expenses are unnecessary and should be cut from your investment portfolio as soon as possible. 

Most broad market index funds can be had at low or zero cost, so it makes sense to read the fine print and know exactly how much you're paying for every investment you own. Research generally indicates that low-cost index funds tend to outperform most actively managed funds anyway, so you're not missing out by going the inexpensive route! 

4. Look into a Solo 401(k)

If you're earning an income outside of your primary job -- or if freelancing is your primary job --  a Solo 401(k) can help you save even more for retirement. While acting as both the employee and employer, those under 50 are eligible to contribute up to a maximum of $58,000 to a Solo 401(k) in 2021, while a traditional employer 401(k) will only allow annual contributions of $19,500. The limits for those 50 or older are $64,500 and $26,000 respectively.

Freelancing can bring a number of enhancements to your lifestyle, but you'll need to be incredibly disciplined and driven if you choose this route. By focusing on Solo 401(k) contributions, you'll have a chance to save more for retirement while also lowering your current year tax liability.

Retirement: So far but yet so close

Retirement may seem like a long time from now, but it will come faster than you think. This is why it's especially important to take advantage of every opportunity you have to save and to begin as soon as possible. By making a few small adjustments -- and thinking outside the box -- you'll be able to put yourself in a strong position when your golden years finally arrive.

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