5 Simple Habits That Will Help You Save for Retirement

Shot of a young woman using a laptop and credit card on the sofa at home.
Delmaine Donson / iStock.com

Saving for retirement can be a struggle. You might have many years left in your career, and it can seem almost impossible to save the necessary hundreds of thousands or even a million dollars. While a million dollars is still a lot of money, there are some simple habits you can start today that will help you save for retirement.

Everyone has different goals, of course, and you may not quite be aiming for a million bucks. Whatever dollar amount you have your sights set on, the basic principles for retirement savings are the same. Put the right systems in place, and you won’t even have to think about it very much.

Let’s dive into five simple, yet effective ways to get started on your retirement savings.

Start Investing at Work

For most of us, the first way to start investing is to do so at work. If your employer offers a retirement plan (or multiple plans), be sure to contribute to those plans monthly. Some employers may opt you in automatically, but double-check to ensure you are contributing. Retirement plans are tax-advantaged, so they will make your money go further.

Are You Retirement Ready?

Richard Tatum, president of retirement services at Vestwell, recommends opening an IRA if you don’t have a 401(k) or a similar plan at work. “If your employer doesn’t offer one, ask your financial advisor about opening an IRA (individual retirement account), which is also a tax-advantaged retirement savings account, but it doesn’t require a company to sponsor the account to open one.”

Take Advantage of Employer Matching

Employer-sponsored retirement plans such as the 401(k) often come with employer matching, and that’s something everyone should maximize. No matter what your retirement goals may be, employer matching is one of the easiest ways to increase how much you save.

The way employer matching works is simple: any time you contribute to your retirement plan, your employer matches that contribution. There are usually limits on how much they will match and the percentage may be different in some cases, but you are guaranteed to have extra retirement savings if you take advantage.

Are You Retirement Ready?

“Employers will often match a certain percentage of your retirement plan contributions,” says Tatum. “Make sure you’re putting in enough to at least get the maximum they will contribute — it’s free money!”

Save Money Before Anyone Knows You Have It

Let’s face it: getting paid can be very exciting. You see your paycheck come through and you immediately start thinking about all the things you can buy with it. A new phone, some new clothes, or whatever it is that interests you. But if you never see that money come through, you’ll probably be less tempted to spend it!

“Try bumping up your 401(k) contribution by just $50 to $100 each paycheck,” says Paul Tyler, chief marketing officer at Nassau Financial Group. “If anyone is watching the bank deposits, they probably won’t notice. But you will be surprised even in the first year how much faster your account will grow.”

Build Up a Cash Stockpile

One of the most important principles of retirement savings is to invest early, and invest often. In other words, you’ll want to be sure you are regularly contributing to a retirement plan so you have enough when it’s time to call it quits.

Are You Retirement Ready?

That includes building up a cash stockpile so you know where you stand, says Ben McLaughlin, president at SaveBetter. “It is also important to save a certain percentage of your paycheck (again, as much as you can) so that you can build up your cash (or cash alternative) stockpile, which you determine based on how far away you are from retirement and on your risk tolerance,” McLaughlin says.

McLaughlin recommends investing in low-cost, diversified investments, even after investing in your 401(k). Low-cost funds such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs) will give you broad market exposure while minimizing fees.

Make It Automatic

One of the most useful tools available to savers these days is the ability to transfer funds automatically, on a schedule. For example, you can set up monthly transfers to a savings account or automatically transfer money into a 401(k) or IRA every time you get paid.

You can opt to contribute $500 to your Roth IRA every time you get paid or transfer $250 to your high-yield savings account every month. Of course, you can also do both; there is no limit to the variety of ways you can set up your automatic savings.

Are You Retirement Ready?

However you decide to set things up, make it automatic. Not only will you not have to manually make those transfers, but you won’t even have to think about them. That means you won’t forget or put it off or decide you’d rather spend your money.

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About the Author

Bob Haegele is a personal finance writer who specializes in topics such as investing, banking and credit cards. He left his day job in 2019 to pursue his passion for helping people get out of debt and build wealth. You can find his work at outlets such as Business Insider, Forbes Advisor and SoFi.
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