It's estimated that 79% of Americans work for employers that sponsor a 401(k). If you're one of them, then the upcoming year is a great time to get moving on your savings efforts. That's because come 2018, the annual 401(k) contribution limits are increasing to $18,500 for workers under 50 and $24,500 for those 50 and over. If you're hoping to ramp up your savings going forward, here are a few tips that'll help you accomplish that goal.
1. Bank your bonus and raise
If you're expecting some extra cash to come your way next year, be it in the form of a performance bonus or a raise, then one of the smartest things you can do is stick all of it directly into your 401(k). Think about it: That additional income isn't cash you've come to rely on to pay your living expenses, so if you put it into your retirement savings, you won't actually miss it. And this way, you'll avoid the temptation to blow that money on needless indulgences.
Remember, the more money you put into your 401(k), the more substantial a nest egg you stand to amass. Imagine you're getting a $2,500 raise this year, and that instead of spending it, you stash it away in your 401(k). If you then leave that sum alone for 30 years and your investments generate an average annual 8% return, that one move will result in an additional $25,000 of retirement income. Not too shabby.
2. Claim your full employer match
It's estimated that 92% of companies that sponsor a 401(k) plan also offer some type of matching incentives for employees who contribute at a certain level. So if you're not putting in enough of your own money to snag that match, you're essentially giving up free money.
A better bet for next year? Find out how much you'll need to put into your plan to claim that match, and pledge to contribute that much at the very least. The average employee who currently misses out on an employer match loses $1,336 per year. If you uphold that habit for 30 years, you'll end up with over $150,000 less in retirement income, assuming that money could've otherwise generated an average annual 8% return. And that's not the sort of payout you want to forgo.
3. Work a side gig
A big reason so many eligible workers don't contribute to their 401(k)s is that they need their entire paycheck to cover their living costs. But if you decide to work a side hustle to generate extra cash, you'll have the option to fund your 401(k) without having to slash your expenses.
Of the 44 million Americans who currently work a secondary gig on top of their primary job, 36% are able to bring in more than $500 extra per month. If you were to earn that much bonus cash for a single year, stick that money in your 401(k) and then leave it alone for 30 years, it would result in an additional $60,000, assuming the same average annual 8% return we've been working with all along. (And in case you were wondering, that sort of return is more than doable with a stock-heavy portfolio; it's actually a bit below the market's average.)
4. Rethink your budget
Just because your current budget doesn't leave much room for savings doesn't mean your 401(k) is doomed next year. If you aren't getting a raise and can't manage a side gig, you'll need to reexamine your spending and start cutting corners. This could mean lowering one major expense, like your rent or car payment, or making a series of smaller changes that work to free up cash.
Imagine you're able to curb your spending to the point where it frees up an extra $100 per month. If you were to stick that money into your 401(k), invest it at 8%, and leave it alone for 30 years, you'd end up with $12,000 extra to fund your golden years.
Notice a theme here? Any time you miss out on a critical savings opportunity, you don't just lose out on the sum you fail to contribute but also on its associated growth. And that's why it pays to get as much cash as you can into your 401(k) next year, even if you're unable to repeat that practice the following year or the year after that. Even a single year of savings could make a huge difference in the grand scheme of retirement, so as we approach 2018, pledge to do what it takes to make the most of your 401(k). You'll be more than grateful for it when you're older.
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