Envision that perfect, comfortable retirement: You’re on the beach, soaking up 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. Daydreaming about retirement is easy, but saving for it, however, takes time and effort — and is something a lot of Americans struggle with.
You might think it’s difficult saving for retirement with bills and other priorities eating up your earnings, but there are strategies that can help make the process easier. Find out how you can catch up on your 401(k), increase your savings and retire with wealth and peace of mind.
Last updated: Aug. 21, 2019
Eliminate Unnecessary Expenses
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.
Start Saving Early
One of the best ways to retire rich is to start saving money as soon as you earn it. Thanks to the power of compound interest, even small monthly contributions to a retirement account or other high-interest account can grow over time to a sizable nest egg. The more time you have, the more your money will grow.
If you take advantage of something like a 12-month CD from SunTrust, you can capitalize off its high interest rate. By locking in an interest rate, you guarantee that your savings will grow whether you want to put your money away for short-term or long-term goals. Let your money work for you by saving sooner.
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, CFP and vice president of Mollot & Hardy, Inc.
Have contributions to your 401(k) or other retirement accounts automatically withdrawn each month or from every paycheck. “This eliminates the chance that you stop putting money into your retirement accounts,” Hardy said.
Save at Least 10% Annually
Many retirement experts recommend setting aside at least 10% — ideally, 15% — each year 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% every year. Put those funds into an account that allows you to be rewarded for being a saver. The SunTrust Select Savings account is ideal when you’re beginning your savings journey.
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 for every $1 contributed by an employee up to a certain percentage of pay — typically 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, head of wealth and asset management at Figure. “Put all that away instead of deciding to buy a nicer car or (a) bigger home.” Then, you won’t have to sacrifice your standard of living in retirement.
Make Catch-Up Contributions
If retirement isn’t far off, use catch-up contributions to, well, catch up on retirement savings. In 2019, you can add an extra $6,000 to a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan if you’re 50 or older. You can also boost IRA contributions by $1,000.
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.
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.
And if you want some safer options to add to the mix while still increasing your savings, do use high-interest savings accounts like the SunTrust Advantage Money Market Savings account. You only need $100 to open the account, and with balances of $10,000 or more, you’ll receive a competitive interest rate. Your money will grow while it is also easily available to you should you need it in an emergency.
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%, your balance will be 28% lower at retirement than if the fees had been 0.5%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The investments offered in your 401(k) likely have varying fees, though, so consider switching to lower-fee savings options.
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.
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 401(k).
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.
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 401(k) 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.
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.
If you have a bigger home than you need, don’t wait until retirement to downsize. Cut your costs now, and save the difference.
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.
Find an Employer With a Better Retirement Plan
An employer that offers a 401(k) 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, 16% of Fortune 500 companies still offer them to new hires, according to a 2018 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.
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.
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.
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 strategy to save for retirement. Come your golden years, you’ll be set with retirement savings that last.
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About the Author
Cameron Huddleston is an award-winning journalist with more than 18 years of experience writing about personal finance. Her work has appeared in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Business Insider, Chicago Tribune, Fortune, MSN, USA Today and many more print and online publications. She also is the author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances.
U.S. News & World Report named her one of the top personal finance experts to follow on Twitter, and AOL Daily Finance named her one of the top 20 personal finance influencers to follow on Twitter. She has appeared on CNBC, CNN, MSNBC and “Fox & Friends” and has been a guest on ABC News Radio, Wall Street Journal Radio, NPR, WTOP in Washington, D.C., KGO in San Francisco and other personal finance radio shows nationwide. She also has been interviewed and quoted as an expert in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch and more.
She has an MA in economic journalism from American University and BA in journalism and Russian studies from Washington & Lee University.