As estimated 43.5 million Americans owe money in student loan form. If you're one of them, those monthly payments no doubt monopolize a good chunk of your income. And that, clearly, is apt to make it more difficult to save for other goals.
You may decide to put off buying a home until your student loans are nicely whittled down. And you may even decide to hold off on having kids until you've managed to shed a larger chunk of your student debt.
But what about retirement savings? Should you start funding a nest egg while grappling with student loans? Or should you pump all of your extra money into those loans to shed that debt sooner?
Don't neglect your retirement savings
You may be inclined to focus on paying off your student loans before putting money into an IRA or 401(k) plan. But if you don't start setting money aside for retirement at a young-ish age, you might end up with a shortfall on your hands once your senior years roll around.
Let's say you begin funding your IRA or 401(k) to the tune of $200 a month starting at age 35, which is when you're finally free of your student loans. If you invest your money at an average annual 8% return, which is a bit below the stock market's average, you'll end up with a nest egg worth about $272,000 by age 65.
But look what happens when you start contributing $200 a month to your retirement savings 10 years earlier, at age 25. At that point, you're looking at a nest worth about $622,000 by age 65, assuming that same average yearly 8% return.
And that's why you shouldn't necessarily let your retirement savings fall by the wayside so you can focus on repaying your student loans and put more money into them. Sure, paying those loans off ahead of schedule might save you some money on interest. But you might, in turn, miss out on critical growth in your IRA or 401(k).
How to save for retirement while paying off student loans
It's not easy to find money for your IRA or 401(k) when you're writing a loan servicer a check every month. If you're eager to make a dent in your nest egg while managing your loans, make sure to set a budget that allows you to do both -- and stick to it.
To pull this off, you may need to cut some discretionary spending, like meals outside of the home and travel. But if you're willing to make that sacrifice, your future retired self might be truly appreciative.
You might also consider turning to the gig economy to give your income a boost. That could make it easier to manage your loan payments and fund your nest egg simultaneously.
In fact, depending on the amount you're able to earn, you might even land in a position where you're able to put extra money into your student loans while funding your nest egg so you can still achieve the goal of being debt-free sooner.