Planning out your retirement savings doesn't have to be difficult or complicated. Actually, the trickiest part comes next – when you have to consistently contribute the amount specified in your plan to your retirement savings accounts. Even the best retirement plan won't do you any good if you don't make regular contributions, which is why more than half of all Americans have less than $10,000 in their retirement savings accounts. If you're having trouble sticking to your contribution schedule and don't want to retire broke, try these helpful tips.
Pay yourself first
Expenses are like goldfish: They'll grow to fill whatever container you put them in. In this case, the "container" is your disposable income. You've probably noticed that any time you get a bump to your income, such as a raise or a better-paying job, the extra money disappears into your daily expenses quite rapidly. However, you can get around this financial predicament by simply paying yourself first. In other words, when your paycheck comes in, the first thing you do is take the amount specified in your retirement savings plan and stick it into your IRA. If you set a lower priority on contributing to your retirement savings, other expenses will inevitably gobble up all your income before you can get to it.
You can make paying yourself first even easier by automating the process. This works best if your paycheck is on a set, predictable schedule – say, the 15th and 30th of every month. Most banks will happily set up an automatic transfer for you so that the money will pop out of your checking account and into your retirement savings account the same day that your paycheck comes in. Automatic transfers get rid of the procrastination trap and force you to pay yourself first.
Use auto escalation
If you're lucky enough to have a 401(k) account through your employer, then the pay-yourself-first and automatic transfer suggestions are built right into the contribution process: your savings will come out of pre-tax dollars and disappear from your paycheck before you even see the money. However, the danger of 401(k)s is that it's easy to start at a low contribution level and never get around to raising it. Auto escalation plans solve this problem by gradually raising your contribution percentage over time until you hit a certain level, usually 10% or 15%. This is a great way to ease into saving enough for retirement while avoiding a sudden and drastic drop in your disposable income.
Reward yourself for hitting goals
The inherent challenge of saving for retirement is that when you start saving the money, retirement is usually decades away. It's hard to keep spending more and more money on something that won't occur for another 30 or 40 years. That's why mini-goals can really help to motivate you to keep on saving for retirement despite the long time window. Rather than setting just one goal of saving some enormous amount of money by the time you hit age 65, set mini-goals along the way and reward yourself each time you hit one of them. For example, your first mini-goal might be to reach a balance of $5,000 in your retirement savings account, and the reward might be dinner in your favorite restaurant.
Keep calm and carry on
The frenzy of everyday life (and its associated expenses) can often get in the way of saving for retirement. When you need money now, it's hard to keep pouring money into a future destination. But it's the early contributions that will have the most time to grow and become big money by the time you retire. Regular, consistent contributions are the key to retiring with a comfortable income.
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