Approximately 71% of Americans say their financial planning skills could use some improvement, according to a 2020 survey from Northwestern Mutual. Regardless of whether or not you set New Year's resolutions, the beginning of the year is the perfect time to set goals and get your finances on track.
Saving for retirement is a critical goal, and whether you're nearing retirement age or still have decades to go, it's important to save as much as you can. Here are a few painless ways to give your savings a boost in 2021.
1. Max out your employer match
If you're fortunate enough to have a 401(k) that offers employer matching contributions, it's wise to take full advantage of them. Matching contributions can potentially double your savings with next to no effort on your part, and if you're not saving enough to earn the full match, you're missing out on free money.
The average employer match is around 3.5% of a worker's wages, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you're earning, say, $50,000 per year, that amounts to $1,750 per year in free money from your employer.
2. Take advantage of catch-up contributions
Whether you're investing in a 401(k) or IRA, there are limits to how much you can save each year. In 2021, you can contribute up to $19,500 per year to your 401(k) and $6,000 per year to your IRA.
However, if you're age 50 or older, you're eligible to make catch-up contributions. Catch-up contributions allow you to save more than the typical worker. As of 2021, those age 50 and older can save an additional $6,500 per year in a 401(k) and an extra $1,000 per year in an IRA. If you're falling behind on your savings, these higher contribution limits can help get your finances back on track.
3. Automate your savings
It's easy to push retirement saving to the back burner, only saving whatever cash is left in your budget at the end of the month. But with this strategy, you may end up saving inconsistently or not saving as much as you should each month.
By automating your savings, though, you can save a set amount each and every month. Think of it like paying yourself first. When you set aside a certain amount in your budget specifically for retirement, it's easier to keep your savings on track.
It's possible to automate your savings whether you have a 401(k) or an IRA. With a 401(k), you may be able to set up automatic transfers so that a portion of each paycheck goes straight to your retirement fund. With an IRA, you can set up transfers from your bank account to your retirement account on the schedule you choose.
4. Make sure you're investing aggressively enough
Most investors have their money spread throughout a variety of stocks and bonds. Stocks are more aggressive because they're riskier, but they also see higher average returns. Bonds carry less risk, but they experience lower rates of return on average.
When you have years or even decades left to save, you should aim to invest more aggressively so your savings grows as quickly as possible. While stocks are inherently riskier than bonds, your money has plenty of time to recover if the market does experience a downturn.
A common rule of thumb to consider is the rule of 110, which states that when you subtract your age from 110, the result is the percentage of your portfolio that should be invested in stocks. So if you're say, 35 years old, you should aim to invest 75% of your portfolio in stocks and 25% in bonds.
5. Aim to save just 1% more
You don't need to make significant life changes to save more. In fact, boosting your savings rate by just 1% can add up over time.
According to research from Fidelity Investments, a 35-year-old earning a salary of $60,000 per year can save an additional $85,000 by retirement age simply by increasing their contribution rate by 1%. That comes out to just $12 more per week.
It's never a bad time to save more for retirement. With these strategies in place, you can start the year off on the right foot and give your savings a boost.