Saving for retirement is a lifelong challenge, and there's never a perfect time in life to save. When you're young and just starting out in your career, you may not have much extra money to set aside for the future. Then as you get older, the bills start piling up and it becomes difficult to balance retirement saving with a mortgage, kids, and a long list of other financial responsibilities. Before you know it, you're nearing retirement age with little to nothing socked away.
It may not be easy to save for retirement, but it is crucial if you want to enjoy your golden years comfortably. The average person age 65 and over spends nearly $46,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, yet the average Social Security beneficiary receives around $17,500 per year in benefits. So unless you're willing to make some serious lifestyle changes in retirement, you'll need a significant amount in personal savings to close that gap.
Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do right now to start saving more.
1. Set up automatic transfers to your retirement account
When retirement is decades away, it's easy to push that financial goal to the bottom of your priority list. Even if you're diligently trying to save, it's tempting to skip a month or two to put your money toward other goals. But if you get into a habit of not saving regularly, it can quickly cause you to fall behind. Additionally, it's best to start saving for retirement when you're younger because your savings have more time to enjoy compounding growth in the stock market and they'll be bigger when you need them. The bottom line is: Don't put it off.
By automatically transferring money to your retirement account every week or month, you force yourself to save regularly -- which means you'll end up with a stronger nest egg when it's time to retire.
If you're stashing your money in a 401(k), you can transfer a portion of every paycheck straight to your retirement fund before the money hits your bank account. When you don't ever see that cash, it's easier to put it toward your savings. Even if you don't have a 401(k), you can still set up automatic transfers from your bank account to your retirement fund on a recurring basis.
The goal is to make saving for retirement an effortless activity so that it becomes part of your financial routine. Think of retirement saving as if it's another bill you absolutely have to pay. You're not allowed to skip paying rent even if you have other financial responsibilities, so think of saving for retirement the same way. While there may not be any short-term consequences to not saving, the longer you put it off, the harder it will be to catch up.
2. Contribute a set percentage of your income
Automatically transferring a portion of your income to your retirement fund makes saving easy and effortless, but it's still important to regularly adjust how much you're saving. When you first start saving, you may not have much to set aside. But as your income increases, your retirement contributions should increase accordingly.
One easy way to increase your retirement savings is to contribute a certain percentage of your income. Then when you get a raise or a bonus, your retirement savings will see a boost too.
Exactly what percentage of your wages you should save depends on your age, how much you already have in savings, and what age you plan to retire. Generally, financial experts recommend saving between 10% and 15% of your salary, but you may need to save more if you're off to a late start. If you're 35 years old and just starting to save, you'll need to set aside between 15% and 20% of your income to retire by age 65, according to a report from the Stanford Center on Longevity. Wait until your mid-40s to begin saving, and you'll need to save around 25% to 27% of your wages to retire by 65.
3. Write down your financial goals
Setting financial goals is one thing, but actually achieving them is another. Especially when you're setting a lofty goal of saving enough for retirement, it can be challenging to stick to it throughout your whole working life. But research shows that one easy way to help yourself reach your goals is to write those goals down.
More than three-quarters of people who established goals, wrote down action steps to achieve them, and sent a progress report to a friend were able to either achieve their goals or make significant progress in achieving them, a study from the Dominican University of California found. In contrast, only 43% of those who simply thought about their goals made the same progress.
Because saving for retirement is such a significant undertaking, it can sometimes be overwhelming to think about how much you need to save by the time you retire. But if you break it down into smaller, more manageable goals, it makes your big goal easier to achieve.
For example, say you've run your numbers through a retirement calculator and have a goal of saving $1 million by the time you retire. One million dollars is an intimidating figure, but if you determine that to achieve that goal you need to save $500 per month, it's less scary-sounding. You can also break it down further by telling yourself you only need to save $125 per week, or just $17 per day. Write down those goals, create an action plan to reach them, and celebrate when you achieve them. If you do this consistently, you'll be on your way to reaching your retirement goals.
No matter what stage of life you're in or how much money you're earning, saving for retirement can be challenging. But it doesn't have to be as difficult as it seems. By taking it one step at a time and making small lifestyle adjustments, you can set yourself up for financial success.