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5 Top Habits of the Best Retirement Savers

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® – Updated Jul 14, 2017 at 8:04AM

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Here's what you can learn from people who max out their retirement accounts.

The majority of Americans aren't saving nearly enough for retirement, but millions of younger workers are greatly concerned with not having enough money to provide the financial security they'll need to eventually leave the workforce. A survey by Principal Financial Group took a closer look at the habits of the most effective retirement savers, and found that there are a few key habits that many people in this group have in common.

Top habits of retirement super savers

Principal Financial surveyed more than 2,400 retirement-plan participants in the 23-51 years old age group who are actively contributing at least 90% of the IRS's maximum for elective deferrals. This means that all of the individuals surveyed are contributing at a rate of at least $16,200 per year to their retirement accounts, and that's not including any matching contributions from their employers.

Saving money in a piggy bank.

Image Source: Getty Images.

Many of the survey participants aren't stopping with high 401(k) contributions either. Fifty-six percent of the super savers in the survey reported that they plan to save $20,000 or more this year, meaning that some are likely saving for retirement in IRAs, self-employed retirement plans, and standard brokerage accounts, just to name a few options.

Individuals in the survey group were asked about their habits that allowed them to save so much money. What sacrifices are they making? Are they working longer hours or taking second jobs?

Most aren't taking a second job, despite the popular perception that you need a "side hustle" if you want money to save. In fact, only 4% of survey participants reported working a second job in order to boost their savings. However, there are some habits that many super savers have in common. Here are the top five:


Percentage of Super Savers Who Do It

Drive older vehicles


Live in a more modest home


Travel less than they'd prefer


Put up with work-related stress


Put in extra hours at work


Data Source: Principal Financial Group.

In addition to these, many survey participants also reported telling their family and/or friends "no" in situations where they would end up spending money, not saving as much as they'd like for future college expenses, and waiting longer to start a family.

There are a couple of other factors that most super savers have in common. For one thing, the vast majority (89%) own their homes. Eighty percent of the top retirement savers are married, and 64% report having no household student-loan debt whatsoever.

Why save so much?

When asked why they were determined to save so much, the most common answer, by far, is that they want a good lifestyle in retirement. Seventy-two percent of respondents said that this was one of their main motivating factors.

This isn't surprising. Experts suggest that you'll need roughly 80% of your pre-retirement income in order to maintain the same standard of living after retirement. If you plan on indulging in frequent vacations, or want money to spend on expensive hobbies, you should plan to need even more.

Nearly half of the super savers say that a desire to travel, or a desire for disposable income in retirement to pursue their passions, are motivating factors, which makes sense since this group is on track to build pretty big nest eggs.

Another common motivation among the best savers is a desire to retire early. Forty-seven percent of survey respondents, including 57% of millennials with high savings rates, say that they want to retire at an early age.

How to use this information in your own savings strategy

The point here is to get you thinking about making retirement saving a priority, and finding some ways to cut back in order to save more. You don't necessarily need to integrate all of the habits mentioned here, or make significant changes to your lifestyle. After all, if 47% of super savers drive older vehicles, this means that 53% drive newer cars. If 42% travel less than they'd like, 58% don't sacrifice travel to save.

However, by choosing just one or two areas to cut back on, you may be surprised at the difference it makes in your ability to save. Seemingly small increases in your savings rate now could pay off tremendously down the road in terms of financial security in retirement, so take a look at the areas of your life where you might be able to find a little more money to put away for your future.

Matthew Frankel has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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