Financial experts traditionally recommended saving 10% of your annual income for retirement. However, with longer life spans and lower interest rates, you probably need to save about 15% if you hope to be comfortable as a senior.
Unfortunately, this may seem impossible. In fact, many families struggle to save anything for retirement at all. If this sounds like you, figuring out a way to boost your savings rate is essential. After all, Social Security can't support you by itself, and while you may plan on working late into traditional retirement years, that isn't always possible.
So, how can you increase the amount you're saving? Here are five things to try.
1. Start small, but start with something
When you see advice recommending you save 15% of your income for retirement, it may feel out of reach. You may decide you simply can't afford to save right now, so you do nothing at all. But the reality is that it's better to save something than nothing, even if it's just a very small amount of money.
If you don't think you have the cash to save, start by contributing just 1% of your income to a 401(k) or IRA via automated contributions on payday. One percent is a small enough amount that you probably won't even notice the cash is gone.
And while it may not seem like investing such a small sum would matter, getting started ASAP makes a difference because the sooner you get started, the sooner the magic of compound interest starts working. Compound interest helps small sums grow into big ones over time because you earn returns not just on your initial investment but also on investment gains -- so your money actually earns you money. And it earns you a little more every year.
As you adjust to your paycheck minus the 1% you're saving, you can slowly increase your savings rate. If you move up to 2%, then 3%, and so on, you'll only have to make incremental changes to your lifestyle -- and over time, you can hopefully get up to the recommended amount of between 10% and 15%.
2. Use found money to save
Many people build their budgets and plan their spending around the paychecks they receive. That's good news if you're paid biweekly, because there are two months during the year when you'll get three paychecks instead of two. When you get these bonus checks, don't spend the money -- deposit it into a retirement savings account instead.
If you get a tax refund, you can contribute this money to your retirement account as well. And if you get any bonuses at work or cash gifts for special occasions, you can also add these funds. Larger windfalls, such as inheritances, can be saved for retirement too -- although there are annual contribution limits to keep in mind.
When you have extra cash, it's easy to move the money into an IRA -- you can just transfer the funds from your bank account to your brokerage account. With a 401(k), you'll need to temporarily change your contribution preferences so the right amount can be withheld from your paychecks and deposited. Fortunately, many employers allow you to manage your contributions online so increasing your contributions to account for windfalls is easy.
By saving the extra cash you receive at various times throughout the year, you should be able to put away several thousand dollars per year for retirement without making changes to your lifestyle at all.
3. Bank all your raises
When you get a raise, allocate it to retirement savings immediately. For example, if you get a 2% pay bump, set up automated contributions of 2% of your income to a 401(k) or IRA on payday.
If you never enjoy the increased income in your checks, you can't get used to spending it or become reliant upon it. You won't miss it at all if you contribute it to retirement savings from day one. And, if your employer matches 401(k) contributions and you weren't contributing enough to max out your match before, banking your raises will have an even bigger impact on your savings rate because you'll get more free money from your employer.
4. Cut some big stuff out of your budget
Cutting a ton of small expenses from your budget can help you save for retirement, but it can also strip all the fun from your life and make your budget impossible to stick to.
While it's a good idea to see if you have areas where you can limit your spending without affecting your lifestyle in major ways, it can be a lot easier to make big, one-time cuts such as downsizing to a less expensive home, finding a roommate who can help cover mortgage or rent costs, switching to a cheaper vehicle, or even getting rid of one of your cars altogether.
If you cut big stuff, you can increase retirement savings by a meaningful amount. And you'll only have to make the change once and adjust to your new normal, rather than continuing to deprive yourself of everything you enjoy by living on a bare-bones budget for years.
5. Consider a side gig
Sometimes, the income from your job truly does not stretch far enough to give you any money to save. If that's your situation, think about looking into a side hustle and using all of the proceeds to fund your retirement.
There are lots of options for side hustles, including driving for a ride sharing service, tutoring kids to selling crafts online, walking dogs, and writing blog content for the web. The right option will depend on your interests and your talents.
Working any type of side gig even a few hours a week could give you a few hundred dollars a month to save and could make all the difference in your ability to fund a secure future for yourself.
Saving for retirement is essential, so try these tips for getting started
You don't want to reach the end of your working years and have nothing in retirement accounts to see you through for the rest of your life. As hard as it is, you need to act now to make sure that doesn't happen to you. Try to follow these five tips to get started saving -- and hopefully save as much as possible -- so your retirement won't be filled with financial worry.