When you envision your retirement, what do you see yourself doing: Traveling to faraway places? Indulging in hobbies you didn’t have time to enjoy while you were working? Or pinching pennies just to cover the bills?
The latter is probably not your ideal retirement, but it will likely be the reality for most people. More than half of Americans are at risk of being unable to cover essential living expenses, according to a survey by Fidelity Investments. That’s because they’re not saving enough now for their future.
Sure, it’s easy to put off saving for a retirement that’s years away. But if your nest egg isn’t big enough, you could spend 20 to 30 years struggling to make ends meet. "I’ve never heard anybody complain about having too much money in retirement," said Kathleen Hastings, a certified financial planner and portfolio manager with FBB Capital Partners. “It sucks to be old. It’s really bad when you have no money.”
Even if your savings aren’t on track, you don’t have to resign yourself to a life of poverty in retirement. In fact, you can retire rich enough to have a comfortable lifestyle by following these strategies. Click through to find out what they are.
1. Eliminate Unnecessary Spending
You might have more room in your budget to save for retirement than you think. That’s because there might be expenses that could easily be eliminated.
“Look at your bank statement and credit card statement every month,” said Tom Corley, a certified financial planner and author of "Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals." “You’ll uncover certain expenses for things you are not even using, such as club memberships, subscriptions, automatic charges for services you’ve never used.”
Also, periodically re-shop your wireless service, cable TV, internet and other services to see if you can get a better rate. Then, boost your retirement contributions by the amount you save by getting better rates and cutting unnecessary expenses.
2. Start Saving Early
One of the best ways to retire rich is to start saving money as soon as you start earning it. Thanks to the power of compound interest, even small monthly contributions to a retirement account can grow over time to a sizable nest egg. The more time you have, the more your money will grow.
For example, if someone started saving $350 a month at age 25, increased that amount by 2.5 percent each year and earned 7 percent annually, he would have about $1.4 million at age 67. But if that person waited until 35 to start saving, he would have about $654,000 at age 67.
“You give up a lot of money down the road by not saving early,” Hastings said.
3. Don’t Let Saving Be a Choice
“Make sure your retirement savings is happening every week or month automatically, without thought or questions,” said Michael Hardy, a certified financial planner with Mollot & Hardy.
Make contributions to a workplace retirement account, such as a 401k withdrawn from your paycheck. Or, set up automatic deposits into an individual account such as an IRA or brokerage account from your checking account. “This eliminates the chance that you stop putting money into your retirement accounts and also helps to dollar cost average into your investments over time,” Hardy said.
4. Save at Least 10 Percent Annually
Americans who are saving for retirement are setting aside, on average, 8.5 percent of their income annually, according to Fidelity's retirement preparedness study. But most retirement experts recommend setting aside at least 10 percent — ideally 15 percent — to live comfortably in retirement.
If you can't set aside that much when you're starting out, make sure you increase the amount you're contributing as your income rises so you get to a 15 percent savings rate.
5. Take Advantage of the Employer Match
If your employer matches contributions you make to your workplace retirement plan, make sure you’re contributing enough to get the full match. Otherwise, you’re losing out on free money.
The most common type of match is 50 cents to every $1 contributed by an employee up to a certain percentage of pay — typically 6 percent, according to 401khelpcenter.com.
6. Save Your Raise — Don’t Spend It
A pay raise can give you more wiggle room in your budget. But if you’re already making ends meet on your current salary, put any extra you get from a raise into your retirement account rather than your bank account.
“Try not to expand your lifestyle if your salary grows,” said John Sweeney, executive vice president of retirement and investment strategies at Fidelity Investments. “Put all that away instead of deciding to buy a nicer car or bigger home.” Then, you won’t have to sacrifice your standard of living in retirement.
7. Make Catch-Up Contributions
Even if retirement isn’t too far off, you still have a chance of saving enough if you take advantage of catch-up contributions. In 2016, you can add an extra $6,000 to a 401k, 403(b) or 457 plan for a maximum contribution of $24,000 if you're 50 and older.
And, you can boost IRA contributions by $1,000, bringing the total amount you can set aside in these individual retirement accounts to $6,500.
8. Be Willing to Take Some Risk
“For most people, the key to investment success comes down to three words: Save, save, save,” said Ken Weber, president of Weber Asset Management and author of "Dear Investor, What the Hell Are You Doing?" However, you can't just stash your cash in a savings account. “You’ve got to take some risk for the reward later on,” he said.
Weber said that for each stage of life, you should be invested with as much risk as you can tolerate. Ideally, you should be putting most of your retirement savings into stock mutual funds when you’re in your 20s and 30s. As you get closer to retirement age, you can lower your risk by investing in fixed-income assets, such as bond funds, in addition to stocks. Or, consider a target-date fund that will automatically adjust your allocation of stocks and bonds as your approach retirement.
9. Diversify Your Investments
You shouldn’t put your entire retirement nest egg in one basket, Hardy said. In other words, don’t invest all of your money into a single stock. If you do, you could lose your savings if that stock takes a nose dive. Diversify your portfolio with a mix of stocks and bonds — or, better yet, mutual funds that hold a variety of stocks or bonds or both.
10. Don’t Let Fees Eat Into Your Investment Returns
If you invest in mutual funds, make sure you pay attention to the fees and expenses charged by those funds because they can eat into your returns and reduce the amount of money you’ll have for retirement. For example, if fees and expenses on your account are 1.5 percent, your balance will be 28 percent smaller at retirement than if the fees had been just 0.50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The investments offered in your 401k might have varying fees, so consider switching to lower-fee investments — but only as long as they fit your investment objectives and risk tolerance.
11. Stay the Course
You might think you’re protecting your nest egg by pulling your money out of the stock market during downturns. But what you’re really doing is locking in losses by selling when stocks are down and missing out on opportunities for your investments to rebound.
“A well-constructed financial plan takes market gyrations into consideration,” Weber said. “If you have full faith in your plan, it becomes easy to ride through market choppiness.”
12. Get Tax-Free Retirement Income With a Roth
Contributing to a Roth IRA is a great way to create a pool of money you can tap in retirement tax-free. You have to pay taxes on withdrawals from other retirement accounts, such as a 401k or traditional IRA, leaving you with less money to spend. But all the money you withdraw from a Roth in retirement escapes taxes.
13. Invest in Income-Generating Real Estate
Another way to make sure you have money in retirement is to buy income-generating real estate. The key is to purchase and finance it carefully, said Todd Tresidder, a financial coach and founder of FinancialMentor.com.
For example, one former casino card dealer Tresidder knew worked the graveyard shift by night to pay the bills. But, he bought and improved homes by day to grow equity. He retired early in his 50s with five rental homes and more than $5,000 per month in passive income.
14. Get a Side Gig
You can boost your income — and funnel that extra cash into retirement savings — by getting a second job, doing freelance work or turning a hobby into a money-making venture.
If your side gig is considered self-employment, you might be able to make contributions to a solo 401k or a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan. And, those contributions could be tax-deductible. You can set up either type of account through an investment firm with low fees, such as Fidelity or Charles Schwab.
15. Downsize Before Retirement
“A lot of people live in a myth that they should buy as much house as they can afford” and end up buying too much house, Tresidder said. With the big house often comes a big mortgage payment and high insurance, utility and maintenance costs. "All these things take away from your savings capability," he said. “Often, it’s enough to fund a retirement.“
If you have a bigger home than you need, don’t wait until retirement to downsize. Cut your costs now, and save the difference.
16. Relocate for a Lower Cost of Living
Living abroad or moving to a state with a low cost of living is one way to keep down expenses in retirement. But if you do it while you’re still working, you can beef up your savings to have an even richer retirement. Tresidder said he has clients who have taken jobs with U.S. companies that relocated them to other countries where the cost of living is low. As a result, they’ve been able to sock away a lot for retirement.
17. Find an Employer With a Better Retirement Plan
An employer that offers a 401k match is good, but one that provides a pension that creates a lifetime stream of income in retirement is even better, Tresidder said. Although many employers have shifted away from these so-called defined benefit plans, about a quarter of Fortune 500 companies still offer them to new hires, according to a study by professional services company Tower Watson.
A job with a pension plan can actually beat one with a slightly higher salary, Tresidder said. “If you’re short on retirement, that’s a smart way to go,” he said.
18. Don’t Try to Keep Up With the Joneses
Your friends and neighbors might appear to be rich now with all that they have, and you might be thinking that you deserve those things as well. But spending to keep up with the Joneses will likely hurt your chances of being rich in retirement.
“Establish a lifestyle where you put savings first,” Sweeney said. And find a group of friends who also value saving so you don’t feel pressured to spend.
19. Get Professional Help
Hiring a financial advisor doesn’t guarantee that you’ll retire rich, but it might help increase your chances. The right professional can help you create a comprehensive financial plan and stick to it.
Look for professionals with designations such as certified financial planner (CFP), chartered financial analyst (CFA) and chartered financial consultant (ChFC), to name a few. These individuals must meet strict standards to receive these designations and must abide by ethical codes.
20. Play the Lottery
Actually, buying lottery tickets isn’t a trick to retire rich. In fact, you’re just tricking yourself if you think it is because the odds of winning enough money for a comfortable retirement are so slim.
But if you aren’t going to be responsible for your financial future, then you might as well take your chances on hitting it big, Hardy said. “Without a big win or a sufficient amount of savings, you are going to find yourself working the rest of your life,” he said.
Keep Reading: 30 Things You Need to Do Before You Retire