Don’t panic if you’re getting a late start saving for retirement and are playing catch-up. Here are six strategic moves that can help you ramp up your retirement outlook in short order.
Set a savings goal. To help you focus and get inspired to step up your savings, tap into a retirement calculator to get an idea if where you’re headed. A good place to start is TIAA’s free online calculator. If you are within 5 years of retirement, you may want to try TIAA’s Retirement Profile tool. The tool looks at your retirement savings to date while helping you review your retirement lifestyle goals and estimated expenses. This can help you get a general idea of whether your savings will last to and through your retirement years. Suggestions for you to consider with regard to addressing savings gaps come when you generate your own Retirement Profile.
Slash expenses. I’m not talking about cutting down on meals out and shuttering magazine subscriptions. Let’s look at some big-ticket items you can whack that can really have an impact on freeing up cash for savings. For example, consider downsizing. If you really want to save some serious dough for retirement, consider moving into a smaller place.
The reduced mortgage payment, property taxes and utility bills, for instance, will allow more of your monthly budget to be diverted to your retirement account. Moreover, depending on the locale and the house you move to, you might be able to eliminate your mortgage all together. If you rent, moving to a smaller apartment can quickly shift those funds to savings.
You might also be able to save a few hundred dollars a year by switching to another car insurance provider, or a new mobile phone plan or cable-TV provider.
Another option is to think about the possibility of refinancing your mortgage or car loan. Finally, put the pedal to the metal to pay down and clear any high-interest credit card balances. This can take some time, but I feel strongly that you’ll benefit when making paying off debt a priority.
Meantime, if you’re willing to make a more drastic change, depending on your work and life situation, you might consider relocating to an area with lower living costs now to help you save more and where you can get a bigger bang for your retirement buck down the road. Again, this one is not for the faint of heart and does take time to research carefully.
Max out your retirement contributions. Contribute enough to receive your employer’s match, if there is one. The contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is $18,000 in 2016, but due to the “catch-up” rules, employees 50 and older can put in an extra $6,000, or $24,000 in total.
The limit on annual contributions to an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) is $5,500. The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment is $1,000.
If that amount feels like too much right now, some employer workplace programs offer automatic annual increases, which raises savings one percent each year and can help you achieve this goal.
Consider investing in stocks and stock mutual funds. There’s extra risk by investing in the stock market, but not having enough socked away for retirement is perhaps more unnerving. When you’re late to the retirement savings party, you may need to step away from the comfort zone of low-interest bank CDs and money market accounts. Portfolios with a bigger percentage of stocks have more risk and therefore often have a greater fluctuation in value over the short-term, but they have historically provided a higher return over time. While no one can predict the future, over the long run, U.S. stocks have historically gained close to 7 percentage points a year above inflation. That said, it’s perhaps more accurate today to expect stocks to return around 4 points a year above inflation, in my opinion. My suggestion is to subtract your age from 110 and use the resulting number as a target percentage to have invested in stocks.
Pay attention to investment fees. Focus on low-cost investment options. By sticking to low-cost choices such as index funds and ETFs, you can lower your annual investment expenses to, say, 0.25 percent a year instead of 1 percent. Over time, those fractions add up to more money saved in your accounts.
Earn more money. If you’re serious about jump starting your savings, raise your hand and ask for a raise. If that’s not possible right now, explore options for working overtime, or moonlighting with a side gig.
These six suggestions are just a place to get started, but I encourage you to take some sort of action if you think you are behind in your retirement savings. I also hope you (and all our readers) will consider sharing your own ideas in the comments section below.
You should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses carefully before investing. Please contact your financial advisor for underlying product and fund prospectuses that contain this and other information. Please read the prospectuses carefully before investing.