Saving for retirement isn't something that can be accomplished overnight. It takes decades of planning and consistent saving to grow a robust and healthy nest egg.
That can seem like an insurmountable task, so it's easy to push it to another day. Most people would rather tackle doing the dishes, folding laundry, or the dozens of other things on their to-do lists before thinking about saving hundreds of thousands of dollars for retirement. However, considering the fact that around 42% of baby boomers have nothing saved for retirement, according to a report from the Insured Retirement Institute, too many people are putting off saving for far too long.
The longer you put off saving, the more challenging it is to catch-up. When you start early, you can take advantage of compounding growth -- which helps your savings grow exponentially faster the more time your money has to grow.
That said, it's not impossible to catch-up if you're already behind. It's always better to save a little than to save nothing, and the sooner you begin, the easier it will be to accumulate a significant amount in savings. And it's easier than you may think to get started if you follow a few simple steps.
1. Set (attainable) goals
Do you know how much you'll need to save by the time you retire to ensure your money lasts the rest of your life? There's no set number you should be aiming for because everyone will need a different amount. While one person may be able to easily make a couple of hundred thousand dollars to last the rest of their life, another retiree may need well over $1 million to make ends meet.
It all depends on what your retirement lifestyle will look like. You may be spending more or less each year than you're spending now, so think about what you want your retirement to look like and how much more or less that retirement will cost compared to your current expenses.
Based on this information, there are several ways to determine your retirement number, but one of the easiest is to use a retirement calculator. A calculator will help you determine how much you'll need to save by retirement, as well as how much you should be saving each month to reach that goal. Some calculators will even let you factor in Social Security benefits, giving you a more accurate idea of what you'll need to save on your own. It's a good idea, though, to plug your information into several different online calculators, as each one might provide slightly different results.
Another key factor to consider is the age at which you plan to retire. Although you may want to retire sooner rather than later, you may need to delay retirement by a few years if you're behind on your savings and only have a decade or two to save a significant amount of money. Be realistic with your goals because setting them too high will make them unachievable -- which, in turn, will make it all the more likely that you'll eventually abandon them.
2. Revamp your budget
Once you know how much you should be saving each month to reach your goal, make saving a priority in your budget. Rather than thinking of saving for retirement as an afterthought -- or something you'll do if you have any leftover cash at the end of the month -- consider it an essential expense that you have to pay each month.
This may involve making cuts in other areas of your budget, but it doesn't need to be painful. First, map out all of your expenses and decide which ones are truly necessary. You may be surprised at how much you're spending on unnecessary expenses, and those costs should be the first to go. Next, take a look at your essential costs and see if there are ways to cut down. For instance, could you switch cable providers to save some extra money each month? Or maybe you could start carpooling to work a few times each week with a nearby co-worker to save on gas.
After you've trimmed the fat from your budget, work on cutting back on discretionary spending. This is often the toughest part of slashing expenses, but it may not be as challenging as you think.
Instead of completely eliminating one category of your budget (such as dining out or yearly family vacations), try to scale back in several areas. Take just one vacation per year instead of two, for example, or dine out once per week instead of three times per week. By saving a little bit across many different categories of your budget, the cuts won't be so noticeable because you're not eliminating anything you love -- you're just enjoying it in smaller doses.
3. Track your progress and make adjustments as needed
Saving for retirement isn't a "set it and forget it" situation. You don't need to micromanage your savings and constantly check how much they've grown -- in fact, that may just lead to more stress if it doesn't seem like they're growing fast enough. However, you should check in on your goals every so often to make sure you're still on track.
After you've been saving for a year or two, take a look at how much you've saved in that time period and measure it against your goal. Did you save as much as you planned every month? If not, you may need to increase your savings going forward to make up for it.
If you're not on track after a year or two, don't think of it as not reaching your goals. Instead, consider it an opportunity to make adjustments so that you can reach your ultimate goal of having enough saved by the time you retire. It's much easier to make changes now than to not even realize you're off track until you retire -- at which point it's too late to do much about it.
Also, consider whether your overarching goal is still the same as it was when you first started saving. If your financial situation has changed, and you think you'll need more or less to last through retirement, it will affect how much you should be saving now. Similarly, if you have reason to believe you may not be able to work as long as you'd planned (for example, if health issues have cropped up), you might need to save more now to prepare for the risk that you could be forced into an early retirement.
Planning for retirement is playing the long game, and it's not always easy. But it may not be as difficult as you think, especially if you break it down into manageable pieces. By taking it one step at a time, you'll be on your way to reaching your goals and living your dream retirement.