Though many workers look forward to retirement, it can also be a scary prospect. For the first time in your life, you'll go from earning a steady paycheck to relying on Social Security and, ideally, your savings to make ends meet. But while retirement should be a welcome change in theory, a growing number of Americans are more concerned about it than anything else.
In a newly released study by COUNTRY Financial, 67% of Americans say they're worried about their financial future. Many, in fact, fear they won't actually manage to retire at all given their financial circumstances.
It's data that's far from shocking. The Economic Policy Institute reports that nearly half of Americans have no retirement savings at all, and more than 50% of those surveyed admit that they don't actually include retirement when mapping out their financial goals.
Why does retirement so frequently get pushed to the back burner? Often, workers have no choice but to focus on more pressing priorities, like managing their short-term bills. In the aforementioned study, 44% of respondents said they're more focused on finding ways to deal with unplanned expenses than retirement. Meanwhile, 41% are more fixated on dealing with their healthcare costs.
Now it's true that you can't ignore your immediate obligations just to save for retirement. After all, if your roof collapses to the tune of a $5,000 repair or you're hit with a $5,000 medical bill, you can't just ignore those expenses in order to stick that money in your IRA or 401(k). That said, many workers can do better when it comes to saving for retirement. It's just a matter of getting their priorities straight.
There's more room for savings than you think
A large number of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and spend every last penny they earn on their day-to-day expenses. But not everyone who lives this way actually has to. While there are countless Americans working multiple jobs and still living below the poverty line, others who aren't saving do have the ability to change their ways -- if they're willing to make sacrifices.
How do you know which category you fall into? It's simple. Take a look at your budget and see if there's anything you're currently spending money on that you don't actually need. Your cable package, for example, is a reasonable thing to want, but you don't actually need it the same way you need food, housing, and a means of getting to and from work.
Once you've identified those nonessentials, you'll need to work on eliminating at least some of them. Will it be easy or pleasant? Probably not. But if you don't start finding ways to put money aside for retirement, you'll risk having inadequate income at a time in your life when you're older and far more vulnerable. Or, worse yet, you'll join the ranks of people who never actually manage to retire at all.
Small savings can go a long way
Another reason so many people don't save for retirement is that the idea just seems daunting. After all, if you're already living paycheck to paycheck, whether by choice or out of necessity, how on earth are you supposed to come up with, say, a $200,000 nest egg?
Here's the thing, though: If you're willing to put a small amount of money aside each month, and you invest that money wisely, you can turn a series of minor contributions into something major over time. It's a concept known as compounding, and it basically means earning interest on top of interest so that your savings keep growing.
Say you're able to save $100 a month for 30 years but not a penny more. If you were to take that money and put it in a checking account paying no interest, you'd have just $36,000 in time for retirement (which, incidentally, is more than what many near-retirees have but still not enough). On the other hand, if you were to invest that money at an average annual 7% return, which is actually a couple of points below the stock market's average, you'd end up with roughly $113,000 -- a far more comforting number. In fact, if you were to somehow manage to sock away $500 a month for 30 years and generate that same return, you'd have well over $500,000 to work with in retirement.
Nobody ever said that saving for retirement would be easy, but rather than spend your time worrying about your financial future, you can, and should, take steps to fix it. Attaining financial security in retirement often boils down to living below your means during your working years and being vigilant about saving. And if you're willing to make the effort, you may come to change your outlook to one that's far less bleak.