Whether or not you're a believer in New Year's resolutions, the beginning of the year is the perfect opportunity to look at your goals in a fresh new light.
If you're saving for retirement, 2021 may be your year to get your savings back on track. Even if your financial situation hasn't changed since 2020, there are a few things you can do to save more money in the new year.
1. Set up automatic contributions
It's easy to fall into the habit of paying all your bills and then throwing whatever money is left over each month into your retirement fund. While that strategy is better than saving nothing at all, you may not be saving as much as you should each month.
Setting up automatic contributions to your retirement fund helps make saving part of your monthly routine. By treating saving for retirement like it's just another bill you have to pay, it's easier to build it into your budget. This way, you're not just saving the scraps at the end of the month.
If you have access to a 401(k) through your employer, you may be able to set aside a certain percentage of your paycheck each month to go toward your retirement account. This will make saving even easier, because the money will be deposited into your 401(k) before you even see it in your bank account. If you have an IRA, you can set up automatic transfers on the schedule you choose, making it easier to save consistently.
2. Take advantage of matching 401(k) contributions
Employer-matching contributions are basically free money, and if you're not taking advantage of them, you could be leaving thousands of dollars on the table.
The average employer match is around 3.5% of a worker's salary, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you're earning a salary of, say, $60,000 per year, that's $2,100 per year in free money. While it may not sound like much now, if you're consistently earning the full match year after year, it can add up substantially.
Say you're earning $2,100 per year in matching contributions, and you're also earning an 8% annual rate of return on your investments. At that rate, those matching contributions would add up to close to $100,000 after 20 years. That's only the employer match, too. Once you factor in your own 401(k) contributions as well, you'll have double that amount.
3. Don't be too conservative with your investments
Finding money to save for retirement is only half the battle; you'll also need to make sure you're investing it in the right places.
More than half (53%) of workers are stashing at least a portion of their retirement savings in savings accounts, according to a survey from the Certified Financial Planner Board and Morning Consult. Savings accounts may seem like a safe place to park your cash, but they're riskier than you might think.
The highest interest rate you'll see with a savings account is usually around 1% to 2% per year, which may not even keep up with inflation. The S&P 500, on the other hand, has historically earned an average rate of return of 10% per year.
This isn't to say you should never use savings accounts, because they're still good options for short-term financial goals like building an emergency fund. But if you want to give yourself the best chance of reaching your long-term retirement goals, you can't afford to play it too safe.
You don't need to be wealthy to save more for retirement. No matter what your financial situation looks like, taking advantage of these strategies can help you start the new year off on the right foot.