A recent study by Citizens Financial Group found that nearly two-thirds of parents with children ages 15 to 17 worry that college costs will affect their ability to save for their own retirement. While it may seem harsh, funding your retirement has to come first no matter what other expenses come along -- whether it's saving for college or that big family vacation everyone's looking forward to. In fact, making yourself your No. 1 priority can really pay off in retirement.
Let me show you how.
Stash away some of your work raises now to increase your retirement income later
A September 2013 survey of 900 mid- to large-size companies showed that employers planned to dish out raises averaging 3% in 2014 . If you make $50,000 annually, a 3% raise translates to a $1,500 pre-tax increase. While you might be tempted to splurge with a salary increase (or bonus), there's a better use for some of those extra funds.
By all means, reward yourself for a job well done by earmarking half of your additional income ($750 in our example) for something special, whether that's a vacation or a new gadget you've had your eye on. You work hard, and you deserve to reap the benefits. But put the other half of that additional cash flow to work by increasing your retirement account contributions. By pocketing $750 and throwing the other $750 straight into your 401(k), you'll reward both your current and future selves. And if you keep it up and earn a reasonable return of 8% per year, your nest egg could increase by more than $120,000 over 30 years.
Make good health a priority now to limit health care costs later
It's easy to assume Medicare will pay for your health care needs in retirement. But according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), Medicare covered only 62% of health care expenses in 2010 -- and that percentage is expected to go down in the future.
Not only will maintaining a healthy lifestyle help you make the most of your retirement years, but it will help you avoid spending most of your savings on health-related expenses. According to EBRI, a 65-year-old couple who retired in 2013 and have median prescription-drug expenses needed $255,000 to have a 90% chance of being able to pay all their medical bills throughout retirement.
Because healthier people usually pay lower Medicare premiums, it's important to make your health and well-being a priority long before you enter retirement. Here's what you can do:
- Focus on a nutritious diet. Keep track of the food you eat and monitor your weight to make sure you're within a healthy range for your age and body type.
- Exercise often. Walking is a good choice for beginners and doesn't require any special equipment to get started. Of course, consult with a doctor before beginning any exercise regimen.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule and limit stress as much as possible.
- Take advantage of preventive screenings, many of which could be covered by employer-provided health coverage.
Staying healthy now can help keep your health care costs in retirement more manageable. That being said, you must include health care expenses in your retirement planning to make sure you have the money you'll need should unexpected issues arise after you leave the workforce. Retiree health care estimates can vary, so start with annual average coverage costs adjusted by age and then make adjustments for additional variables, such as employer-provided retiree benefits and income. Medicare or your private insurance company should be able to provide these numbers.
Don't sacrifice your retirement savings now to pay for your child's college education later
An education is a solid investment, but attending college isn't getting any cheaper. Helping your children pay for a college education is admirable, but you need to protect your retirement savings, too.
- Estimate the costs of certain schools using online calculators, of which there are many. The U.S. Department of Education website can help you find out the costs of attending specific colleges and universities. Keep in mind that these institutions' estimates do not account for college cost inflation, which has averaged 6% to 7% for decades. The College Board's online calculator can provide a quick and dirty estimate of your child's future college costs, accounting for inflation. Once you have an idea of the true costs of college, it's easier to determine how much you'll need to save in order to make up for what financial aid won't cover. The good news is that 85% of students attending private schools don't pay the full "sticker price" of tuition. The same goes for about two-thirds of students at public and state schools.
- Take advantage of tax credits and deductions, which can help offset college costs by potentially reducing your income tax. You might be eligible for the American Opportunity Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, or a tuition and fees deduction based on income and other factors.
- Whatever you do, don't stop contributing to your retirement savings. While your child will likely have access to scholarships, grants, and loans to help bridge the tuition funding gap, there are no similar resources for your retirement years. Retirement accounts aren't considered when determining your child's eligibility for financial aid, so continuing to build your nest egg won't affect how much assistance they receive.
By sacrificing a little now and keeping your eye on the prize, you can stay the course toward a secure future and still enjoy the ride to get there.
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