Planning for retirement can be stressful, particularly now that workers need to save more than ever. Retirement is only getting more and more expensive, and it's a rare employer who still offers a workplace pension. And with Social Security on shaky ground, you may not be able to rely on your benefits as much as you'd hoped in retirement.
In other words, most of your retirement income will likely need to come from your personal savings. That requires a lifetime of hard work and consistent saving, and if you've gotten off to a late start, you may be struggling to catch up.
If this scene feels familiar, you're not alone. Only 27% of workers say they feel very confident they'll be able to live a financially secure retirement, according to a survey from TIAA. However, there is good news: Arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible can help boost your retirement confidence.
Knowledge is key when it comes to saving more
Workers who rank their investing abilities highly are approximately three times as likely to feel confident about their ability to remain financially secure in retirement, the TIAA survey found. That makes sense, considering that those who know more about how to invest their money tend to make smarter investment choices, thus increasing their savings.
However, you don't need to be a Wall Street whiz to make smart investment choices. In fact, one of the best things you can do to save more for the future is to ensure you know the basics of retirement planning.
First, set a goal for how much you'd like to save by retirement age. This number will be different for everyone, so don't just set an arbitrary goal of $500,000 or $1 million and assume that since it's a big number, it will be enough to get through retirement. Run your information through a retirement calculator to get an idea of how much retirement will cost, as well as determine what you'll need to save each month to achieve that goal.
The next step is where many people tend to feel overwhelmed. If you're behind on your savings, you might find that you need to save several hundred or even thousands of dollars per month to reach your retirement goal. That may seem impossible, especially if money is tight. But that doesn't mean it's impossible to save more.
If you haven't already done so, create a budget and list all your necessary expenses each month. Then start making cuts. Every little bit counts, and saving even a few dollars in each spending category can add up significantly over time.
Make sure you're investing in the right places
Once you've made some budget cuts and have more cash to allocate to your retirement fund, make sure your money is working as hard as possible by investing it in the right places.
While you don't want to be too risky with your money by investing all of it in that trendy new tech stock you think will make you a billionaire, you also don't want to play it too safe by stashing it in accounts that offer low rates of return. Savings accounts, certificates of deposit (CDs), and money market funds may be tempting because they seem safer than the stock market, but if you're only earning a 2% or 3% rate of return on your investments, it's unlikely you'll be able to save as much as you need.
Instead, consider index funds and mutual funds, which can offer higher rates of return but still let you choose your preferred level of risk. Many index funds and mutual funds contain dozens or hundreds of different stocks, so you can easily diversify your investments and reduce your risk of losing money -- because if a few stocks in the fund take a nosedive, it won't significantly impact your total investments.
Many stock-based index funds, for example, have generated average annual returns in the 6% to 10% range over time. The more time you have to save, the more risk you can typically afford to take on (and the greater rewards you can potentially earn) because if the market does take a dip, you still have plenty of years to make up for it. Even with market fluctuations, you can still stand to accumulate far more in savings by investing in the stock market than by playing it too safe.
Saving for retirement can be overwhelming, but having a basic knowledge of how to set retirement goals and invest in a way to achieve them can make it a little easier. The more you know about making smart investment choices, the more confident you'll be that you can save enough to retire comfortably.