If you wish you'd started saving for retirement earlier, you're in good company. But don't be discouraged. Start from where you are right now, and craft a plan to set yourself up for a comfortable future. To get you started, here are three things you can begin working on right now.
1. Claim your 401(k) match for the year
Everyone who qualifies for a 401(k) match should attempt to claim it if they can afford to do so. This money is a bonus that could be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars this year, and potentially tens of thousands after it has spent a few decades invested in your retirement account. But you only get it if you contribute money to your 401(k) first.
Check with your company's HR department if you're unsure how your company's matching formula works or how much of your match you've already claimed for the year. If you haven't claimed the whole thing, see if you can up your retirement contributions for the rest of 2021. You may have to cut back your spending in other areas to make this possible.
2. Pay off your high-interest debt
Paying off high-interest credit card or payday loan debt might seem unrelated to retirement planning, but it actually helps your retirement preparedness. High-interest debt can balloon quickly, making it increasingly difficult to pay back. If you carry it into retirement, you risk draining your savings prematurely. Paying it off before retirement prevents this issue. It also frees up more cash you can put toward your future once you're debt-free.
There are a few ways you can go about this. You could open up a balance transfer card if you feel confident you can pay off your credit card debt within the 0% introductory APR period. Or you could try a personal loan. This gives you a predictable monthly payment and doesn't require collateral like other types of loans, so it's a good choice for those with a large amount of debt.
Once you're out of debt, craft a new budget to ensure you don't fall back into the same patterns again, and direct any cash you had been putting toward debt repayment to your retirement instead.
3. Develop a safe withdrawal strategy
Setting aside money for retirement is only half the task. You also need to determine how much you can safely withdraw from your accounts each year to ensure your money lasts for your full retirement. What constitutes a safe withdrawal rate varies from one person to the next.
You may have heard of the 4% rule, which says you can safely withdraw 4% of your retirement savings during the first year and then adjust this amount for inflation every year thereafter. But this isn't a good strategy for everyone. It doesn't account for the fact some people spend more money earlier on in their retirement when they're more active and less as they age. It could also cause some people to run out of money prematurely.
Some people choose to withdraw 3% of their savings in the first year of retirement to play it safe, while others choose to come up with a custom withdrawal strategy that better matches their spending patterns. There is no right answer. Consider how your spending habits will change in retirement, and explore a few different options until you find a withdrawal strategy that works for you.
Don't forget to factor in money you'll receive from Social Security, a pension, or other sources. And if you can't figure out any approach that seems to provide you with enough money to cover all your retirement expenses, you may have to consider delaying your retirement and working longer. It's not ideal, but it's better than running out of money too soon.
Once you've come up with a solid retirement plan, don't forget to check in with yourself at least once per year. Make sure you're on track for your goals, and brainstorm any additional steps you can take, like the ones outlined above, to increase your financial preparedness. Doing this will increase your confidence, and keep you heading in the direction you want to go.