Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, should be in retirement-preparation mode now — if they aren’t already retired. That means it’s time to figure out sustainable ways to secure the upcoming decades of retirement. Developing good habits now can help you cement behaviors that will make saving for retirement consistent.
Recent research found that it takes about 66 days to change a habit, which isn’t long if you consider that these changes could benefit you for decades to come. If you’re between ages 52 and 70, here are nine things you can do now to build sufficient retirement savings for later.
1. Downsize Your Home
As boomers raised their families, the big house and spacious yard were perfect for those backyard soccer and football games. Now, with the kids grown and out of the house, chances are they’re paying for space that they probably aren’t using.
For most people, a home is the biggest expense. Add mortgage payments, utilities, property taxes and maintenance, and you’re shelling out a lot of cash. Even if the mortgage is paid off, the property taxes, repairs and maintenance never go away.
One of the best baby boomer saving tips is to downsize by moving to a smaller home, condo or possibly a rental apartment. But just downsizing isn’t enough. The baby boomer saver won’t benefit if she doesn’t do something smart with her savings.
You need to be deliberate and take the actual amount you’re saving, and put that money aside — in an IRA, Roth IRA, 401k or savings account — and designate it for retirement. If not, you’re likely to spend the savings, which won’t help your retirement at all.
2. Ditch the Luxury Car
The second-biggest money drain for most people is a vehicle, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Your vehicle drains an average of $8,558 each year from your budget, according to a recent AAA survey. In a year, you’ll shell out for car payments, insurance, gas, repairs and maintenance.
If you’re driving to impress with a lean retirement pocketbook, you might want to consider selling your vehicle for a low-cost-to-own model. Luxury cars are much more expensive to own than their non-luxury counterparts, according to vehicle valuation guide Kelly Blue Book.
The lowest cost-to-own luxury model was the Volvo S80 T5, at $52,104 for five years. In comparison, the 2016 Honda Accord LX was the lowest cost-to-own standard model, costing $31,587 over five years. That’s more than a $20,000 difference between a standard and a luxury model.
If you trade down to a standard-model vehicle, keep it a long time and you could save an average of $4,000 per year. That could help a 52-year-old baby boomer amass an extra $80,000 by age 72. If you invest that $4,000 every year in a balanced index fund that earns 7 percent annually, the savings would be worth $184,296 after 20 years.
3. Push the Kids Out of the Nest
We all love our kids, but if it’s a choice between living with them in old age or living on our own, consider which one you prefer. Most adult children would prefer that their parents live on their own in retirement.
Yet if you keep supporting your kids as they grow into adulthood, you’re potentially hurting them and yourself. You deprive yourself of the future retirement savings that could be going into your own account. Additionally, you’re possibly setting your kids up for more dependence and a potential future filled with care of Mom and Dad.
If you’re going to help the kids at all, budget a set amount that won’t sink your retirement plan — and stick with it, suggested accredited financial counselor Lacey Langford. Remember the compounding example from baby boomer savings tip No. 2. If you stop subsidizing the kids and take those dollars and invest them for your own future now, you’re likely to yield a much sweeter retirement.
4. Eliminate All Debt
For those who have credit card balances, commit to paying at least 10 percent of your income toward your debt, suggested Ilene Davis, certified financial planner, baby boomer and creator of the It’s Not Just For Retirement Calculator. In fact, auto-pay the debt so that you won’t have to make a decision every month about whether or not to pay.
It’s likely that with auto-pay, after a month or two, you won’t even miss the money coming out of your checking account. Creating a system of positive choices — including habits like this — can help you improve your wealth and your life, according to economist Richard Thaler and co-author Cass Sunstein, in their top-selling book “Nudge.”
5. Get Healthy
It’s no surprise that you’ll feel better if you’re healthier. But if you’re a baby boomer who’s serious about saving for retirement, there’s proof that getting healthy can help.
If you live a healthy lifestyle, you’re more likely to save money on a litany of costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Medical costs will decline, you’ll save money on expensive vices such as smoking and drinking, you’ll spend less money on prescription drugs and over-the-counter fixes and your food budget will drop. Start small with an app that has healthy eating tips, motivation and mini-workouts to keep you on track.
6. Aggressively Save for Retirement
If you didn’t save and invest when you were younger, forget about it. Concentrate instead on what you can do now, and max out every possible savings and investing option you have.
Even if you’re in your 50s and plan to retire in a decade or so, remember that you’ll still have many ensuing years for your money to grow and compound. It’s not as if you turn 66, quit your job and then immediately spend all of your savings. The spend-down portion of your retirement is gradual.
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You can take advantage of the “catch-up” provisions in your IRA and 401k accounts. You’re allowed to contribute an additional $6,000 extra in 2016 to your 401k if you’re over age 50, and up to $1,000 extra to a traditional or Roth IRA. By maxing out all of your retirement options, and letting those dollars grow and compound in the investment markets, you could boost your retirement pot substantially over the ensuing decades.
7. Pay Down Your Mortgage
You can pay your mortgage off faster if you add an extra principal payment to your mortgage sum monthly. This can ultimately help boost your retirement savings.
For example, say you have a $200,000 30-year mortgage, with a 3.9 percent fixed interest rate and 20 years remaining until the debt is paid off. If you add an extra $300 principal payment per month, you will save $23,910 in interest and pay off your mortgage six years and five months early.
It’s worth noting that using your mortgage to build wealth can be risky, especially if there’s a period of economic deflation, which could also hurt your home’s value, said Kirk Chisholm, principal and wealth manager of IAG Wealth. As homeowners discovered during the recent housing market crash, home prices don’t always go up, and market downturns mean you could be paying off a mortgage worth more than your home’s value.
8. Know When a Bargain Isn’t
Bargain hunting does have a dark side, said Brent Shelton, online shopping expert with FatWallet.com. “We get thousands of comments in our forums of consumers buying things they don’t need, but couldn’t resist the super-low cost,” he said.
Simply put: A bargain isn’t a deal if you don’t need it, already have it or won’t use it. “When it comes to consumer products, the majority of baby boomers have what they need, sometimes in duplicate,” he said. “So, to save money, simply don’t buy things you don’t need, or don’t buy more of what you already have.”
Ask yourself before pulling out your wallet: “Does this purchase add more value to my life today than a stress-free retirement tomorrow?”
9. Budget Hacks Can Save You Thousands
Even the smallest purchases can add up over time. And buying snacks from vending machines is one example of a bad habit that’s worth changing.
Buying snacks during the day can add up to $6.95 per day, but if you brought those same snacks from home, you’d spend about $2.25. Multiply the difference of $4.70 by 365 days, and you’d have $1,715 to invest.
Imagine investing that money each year in an index fund returning 7 percent. Over 20 years, that money is worth $70,307. That’s an extra couple of years of retirement money by changing just one habit.
Consider these ways to save; choose several to implement, practice and make new habits. After awhile, you won’t miss the extra spending, and you’ll realize greater wealth during your retirement years. Even if you’re already retired, it’s not too late to change.
Keep Reading: 20 Things Baby Boomers Can Save Money on in 2016