Envision your perfect retirement: You're on the beach, soaking in the sun and sipping on a cocktail. Or, maybe, you're at home indulging in hobbies, taking long morning walks and spending time with friends. But while daydreaming about retirement is easy — saving for it takes time and effort. And sadly, Americans don't have a lot of money saved.
You might think it's difficult saving for retirement with bills and other prioritizes soaking up your earnings. But not only can you catch up on your 401k and IRA, you can get ahead to retire rich. Here's how.
1. Eliminate Unnecessary Spending
You might have more room in your budget to save for retirement than you think. Tom Corley, CFP and author of "Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals," recommends reviewing bank statements for any unnecessary spending. "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," he said.
Don't forget to check competitor pricing on your cable, internet and other services to see if you can get a better rate. Once you lower your monthly expenses, boost your retirement contributions by the same amount.
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 starts saving $350 a month at age 25, increased that amount by 2.5 percent each year and earned 7 percent annually, he will have about $1.4 million by age 67. If he waits until age 35 to start saving, however, he will only have about $654,000 by age 67.
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 CFP with Mollot & Hardy. Have contributions to your 401k or other retirement account automatically withdrawn each month or from every paycheck. "This eliminates the chance that you stop putting money into your retirement accounts," Hardy said.
4. Save at Least 10 Percent Annually
A Fidelity study found that the median savings rate among Americans is 8.5 percent. But many 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, start small and increase your savings rate over time, such as by 1 percent every year.
5. Take Advantage of Your 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.
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, 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
If retirement isn't far off, use catch-up contributions to, well, catch up on retirement savings. In 2017, you can add an extra $6,000 to a 401k, 403b or 457 plan if you're 50 or older. You can also boost IRA contributions by $1,000.
8. Don’t Fear 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 invest 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 you approach retirement.
9. Diversify Your Investments
Don't invest all of your money in a single stock. If you do, you could lose your savings if that stock takes a nosedive. Diversify your portfolio with a mix of stocks and bonds — or better yet, mutual funds.
10. Watch Out for High Fees
If you invest in mutual funds, make sure high fees aren't eating into your returns. If fees and expenses on your account are 1.5 percent, your balance will be 28 percent lower at retirement than if the fees had been 0.50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The investments offered in your 401k likely have varying fees though, so consider switching to lower-fee options.
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." The takeaway? Don't let emotions kill your investments.
12. Invest in a Roth IRA for Tax-Free Retirement Income
Contributing to a Roth IRA is a great way to pool money you can access tax-free in retirement. You can't do the same with other retirement vehicles, like a traditional IRA or 401k.
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 Financial Mentor.
One former casino card dealer Tresidder knew worked the graveyard shift to pay bills. By day, he bought and renovated homes 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 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," Tresidder said. But a big house often comes with a fat mortgage payment and high insurance, utility and maintenance costs. "All these things take away from your savings capability," he added. "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 expenses down in retirement. But if you move 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 relocate them to other countries where the cost of living is low. As a result, they are able to sock away a lot more 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, 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies still offer them to new hires, according to a study by professional services company Willis Towers 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 Keep Up With the Joneses
Your friends and neighbors might appear to be rich with all that they have, and you might be thinking 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 you'll retire rich, but it can increase your chances. The right professional can help you create a comprehensive financial plan and stick to it.
Look for professionals with designations like certified financial planner, chartered financial analyst or chartered financial consultant. These individuals must meet strict standards to receive these designations and abide by ethical codes.
20. Don’t Gamble on Your Future
Buying lottery tickets isn't a trick to retiring rich — neither is ignoring your retirement savings. Rather than hope you hit it big someday, establish a hard and fast strategy to save for retirement. Come golden years, you'll be set with retirement savings that last.