When you're trying to balance multiple financial responsibilities at the same time, saving for retirement may seem like a lesser priority than your other tasks. In fact, 42% of workers say they don't want to think about retirement planning until they get closer to retirement age, a survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found.
Although retirement planning is not the most exciting topic to think about, you should be thinking about it long before you actually leave your job. If you put off saving or don't know whether you're on track, by the time you realize you're behind, it might be too late to do anything about it.
However, if you want to ensure you're as prepared as possible for retirement, there's one simple thing you can do every year: Give your savings a checkup.
Why annual (financial) checkups are crucial
If you're saving anything at all for retirement, it's easy to feel like you're on the right track simply because you're doing something. But if you're blindly throwing money in your 401(k) or IRA without knowing whether that's going to be enough to retire comfortably, you may be putting your financial future in jeopardy.
Saving for the future isn't a set-it-and-forget-it situation. To make sure you're doing enough to prepare, you'll need to check in on your savings at least once a year, then make any necessary adjustments to ensure you'll reach your goal by retirement age.
What exactly does a yearly checkup look like, though? To start, double-check that your retirement goal hasn't changed. Even if you've already calculated the amount you should have saved by the time you retire, that number isn't set in stone. Your annual living expenses could increase, meaning you'll need to save more for retirement to keep up your current lifestyle. Or you might decide you're going to move to a more expensive city once you retire, which can completely change how much you'll be spending each year in retirement.
Run your numbers through a retirement calculator to get an estimate of how much you should be saving, as well as what you'll have to save each month to reach that goal. If your overall retirement goal has changed, you might find you need to be saving more or less each month. It's better to find that out early while you still have time to adjust your plan rather than wait until you reach retirement age and realize you don't have enough saved to live comfortably.
What to do if you're already behind on your savings
Say you're performing your yearly checkup and realize you'll need to start saving more than you can afford if you want to reach your goal. It may be tempting to give up, thinking that there's nothing you can do now to catch up. But it's still important to save what you can, even if it's not much.
The hard truth is that depending on just how far behind you are, it might not be possible to save as much as you need. If you're in your 50s with nothing saved, for example, you likely won't be able to save $1 million in the next 10 or 15 years. However, that doesn't mean you can't save anything, and having even a little saved for retirement is far better than nothing.
If you're behind on your savings, you'll need to set a new, more realistic retirement goal. Think about your future expenses in retirement and consider whether there are ways to reduce them. If you'd planned on taking several expensive vacations, for instance, consider nixing those and finding more affordable ways to entertain yourself in retirement. Or if you're currently living in an expensive city, it might be worthwhile to think about moving to dramatically lower your everyday living expenses. Of course, you can't predict all your future costs, especially when retirement is still decades away. But by planning on living a more frugal lifestyle, you can get by on less during your golden years.
Next, see if there are ways you can start saving more now. If you don't already, begin tracking your spending to determine if there are areas of your budget where you can cut back. Even if you feel like you don't have a penny to spare for retirement, you might be surprised by how much room you have in your budget if you look for it. Saving even a few dollars per week in each spending category can potentially amount to hundreds of dollars per month, so it may not be as painful as it sounds to cut costs.
Finally, make sure you're investing your money wisely. When you don't have much extra cash to put toward retirement, every dollar counts. If you're throwing your money in a savings account earning 1% annual interest, your savings won't go nearly as far as if you're investing it in a 401(k) or IRA earning a, say, 8% annual rate of return.
Managing your money can be tough, but it's even more challenging when you don't know whether you're on the right track to reach your goals. To ensure your financial situation is as healthy as possible, make sure you're regularly giving yourself a checkup. It can’ only help you save more for retirement, but it can also give you peace of mind that your finances are in order and that you're doing everything possible to be successful.