It's an unfortunate fact that many older Americans are woefully unprepared for retirement. A recent GoBankingRates survey confirms that roughly 30% of those 55 and over have nothing saved for retirement. Zero. Meanwhile, 26% of near-retirees admit to having less than $50,000 saved.
While the amount of money you'll ultimately need for retirement depends on a number of factors -- namely, your health and lifestyle choices -- it should go without saying that saving little or no money for retirement means leaving yourself financially vulnerable once you exit the workforce. If a financially secure retirement is important to you, be sure to avoid these three habits that can derail your long-term savings.
1. Living without a budget
Sticking to a budget isn't all fun and games. You need to track your expenses, update spreadsheets (or whatever system you use to keep tabs on your cash flow), and -- gasp -- limit your leisure spending when things don't go your way. But if you don't create and adhere to a budget, you run the risk of spending more money than you should, and when that happens, saving typically falls by the wayside.
Imagine you bring home $4,000 a month. Without a budget, you might have no idea where that money goes. Sure, you might recall writing out a $1,000 rent check, and you'll probably acknowledge your $300 monthly car payment. But will you remember all those times you went grocery shopping, paid for takeout, or refueled at the gas station? Probably not.
By writing up a budget and sticking to it, you stand a much better chance of managing your spending and finding ways to save. In fact, your budget should include a line item specifically for savings. If your take-home pay is $4,000 a month, you should aim to save at least $400 of it. Think it's not possible? Examine your various spending categories and find ways to cut corners. You might be amazed at how much room you have for saving if you really commit to staying disciplined.
2. Passing up free money
If you're not taking advantage of your employer's retirement savings plan, there's a good chance you're passing up free money. First of all, when you contribute to a 401(k), the money you put in is tax-free, which is a form of savings unto itself. Secondly, if your employer offers a matching program, you'll get a certain amount of free money for every dollar you put in.
Say you make $50,000 a year and your company is willing to match 100% of your total contributions up to 5% of your salary. By forgoing that match, you're effectively losing $2,500 a year in free money. Also don't forget that when you fail to collect those employer matching dollars, you're also missing out on the growth potential of that money. So in our example, you're not just losing $2,500 a year; you're losing out on the ability to invest that $2,500 and turn it into even more.
3. Carrying bad debt
Charging up a storm on your credit card can compromise your credit score, but worse yet, it can also making saving for retirement even more of a challenge. The reason? The longer it takes you to pay off your debt, the more money you'll lose to interest charges -- money that could otherwise serve the very important purpose of helping you build up a nest egg.
Let's say it takes you five years to pay off a $10,000 credit card balance. At 12% interest, which is what many cards might charge today, you're talking about wasting over $3,300 in interest fees. If you were to invest that $3,300 instead, leave it alone, and generate an average annual return of 8% (which is feasible for a stock-heavy portfolio), over the course of 30 years, you could grow that total to over $33,000 without having to add another dime along the way. Plus, if your debt load impacts your credit, it could get more expensive for you to borrow money going forward, thus kicking off a cycle of paying more interest and having less money available to save and invest.
If you're serious about securing a comfortable retirement, you'll need to make a lifelong commitment to being financially responsible. It might take work and a whole lot of discipline, but it'll be well worth it once you reach your retirement savings goals.