Now that 2008 is behind us, you should focus on how to improve your investing results for 2009 and beyond. In order to get off on the right foot, you've got to make sure you have as much in the game as possible.

One way to jump-start your investing is to avoid the procrastination to which many investors fall victim. Especially with long-term goals like retirement, it's tempting to let saving slide when times are tough. But if you make an effort to catch up on your retirement saving now, the dividends it'll pay over time will be enormous.

Don't wait for deadlines
Waiting until the last possible moment to contribute to a retirement account is obviously better than never contributing at all. So if you haven't had a chance to make a contribution for 2008 yet, knowing that you have until mid-April to find money that'll qualify for the previous year and open an IRA or make a deposit to an existing account can make you feel more confident that you'll get it done.

But ideally, you should think instead about your first opportunity to make a contribution. Today, for instance, is the first day you can make contributions for 2009. By getting your money in quickly, you can enjoy the benefits of tax-deferred growth that much sooner.

What a difference a year makes
Of course, in the past year, procrastinators have gotten rewarded with falling stock prices. But typically, the longer you wait to invest, the more gains you give up. As an example, consider the table below:


Value if Contributing Early

Value if Contributing Late







Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD)



General Mills (NYSE:GIS)



McDonald's (NYSE:MCD)



Rohm & Haas (NYSE:ROH)



Southwestern Energy (NYSE:SWN)



Source: Yahoo! Finance.

In the example, two investors made IRA contributions each year from 2003 to 2008. One investor always waited until the last possible moment to contribute to an IRA for the previous year. The other investor rushed to get money into the IRA as soon as possible after Jan. 1 for the current year.

In essence, the first investor lost more than 15 months' worth of appreciation on purchases through lack of contributions in the January-April time frame -- and as the example shows, that can cost you plenty over time.

Other benefits
In addition to the obvious benefit of making more money, there are other reasons why making your IRA contribution early makes sense:

  • No scurrying. Many IRA providers don't handle contributions made close to the deadline well. By getting your money to them well in advance of any deadlines, you give yourself extra time to handle any mistakes or other problems that may arise.
  • Budgeting. It's hard to come up with $5,000 all at once. By spacing out contributions throughout the year, however, you can save in more manageable chunks -- making it more likely that you'll get as much money into your retirement accounts as you can.
  • Better investments. When you leave your IRA contribution to the last minute, you don't leave yourself much time to figure out which investments might work best for you. Early contributions give you the leisure to pick the best investments for your retirement portfolio.

Given how easy it is to open an IRA, there's no excuse for waiting even one more minute. Get your 2009 off to a great start by boosting your retirement savings today -- your future self will thank you.

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