Conventional wisdom tells us we should start saving for retirement in our 20s in order to maximize the benefits of it. The last thing we want is to have to keep working well past when we should just so we have enough money to survive. But not everyone thought about retirement savings in their 20s, or there were much more pressing and immediate concerns that needed to be paid for. So what happens when you are in your 30s, 40s, or even 50s or 60s…is it too late to start saving?
Short answer: it’s never too late to start doing something that could benefit you years down the road. Here are some quick tips to get started if you haven’t already:
- Look in your office. Many employers have retirement options set up for employees. If you started working and didn’t think they were important at the time, now is time to change your mind. Check on their 401(k) or other retirement benefits in place. If you already did start here, increase your contribution: just a little more each month will go a long way.
- Set up your own fund. Even if you do have work options, get personal with it. Talk to a financial planner who can get you set up with an IRA or SEP (for self-employed folks) to start contributing outside of your employer fund as well. Look for low-cost investment funds and make sure you’re using accounts with tax advantages so that you don’t owe as much throughout the course of your life.
- Don’t cash out. Cashing out of your 401(k) or IRA earlier than intended has unfortunate tax consequences and could hurt you in the long run. It’s better to keep your money there and have an emergency fund set up for other unforeseen expenses. Try putting away 10% of each paycheck into your emergency fund and you should be able to leave your retirement funds untouched.
- Automate your investment. First, make sure that you’ve taken all the aforementioned tips, and then get them automated. Set up your bank to automatically move money from checking to savings, whether that happens every time you make a deposit or you use your debit card. If your IRA/SEP or 401(k) contributions aren’t maximized or automated, do that as well.
- Don’t get on the spending treadmill. Often, when people in their 30s and 40s get raises at work, that leads to bigger, better, more: don’t fall into that trap. Give yourself a little bonus, and put the rest of that raise back into your savings or contribute more to your IRA. You can also use that money to invest in the stock market and try to increase your return.
- Maximize your contributions. If you’re not already maxed out, work toward that point. That extra money toward your fund each month will help in big ways with interest over time.
- Separate wheat from chaff. Look around at unnecessary expenses, to include insurance policies that don’t make sense. If you don’t already have a financial planner, talk to a few of them and learn about when some of these insurance policies are truly needed, on average, and given your life circumstances and health.
- Get started. If you haven’t already started saving for retirement, or you know you can do more, just stop fretting and start somewhere. Take a look at the tips for those in their 30s and 40s and start there in every way you are able. Your future self will thank you.
- Evaluate your house. Look at your home as an asset–it could be your greatest one. Though it may be hard to do from a sentimental standpoint, if you’re able to downsize and sell, it’s a wise move. You may be able to get a large return on a house sale and you can immediately put all of that into a retirement fund, getting a head start on a big chunk at a time, instead of slowly chipping away.
- Get really real about savings. After you’ve opened accounts, maxed out contributions or caught up on them, eliminated expenses, and really viewed your house as an asset, take the extra money leftover and throw it all into your savings account. Though typical savings accounts don’t provide as great of a return as home sales, retirement accounts, or even sometimes playing the stock market, it is your safety net if you need it.
- Know it’s not too late. Yes, you’re nearing retirement age. No, it’s not too late to start thinking about it. The important thing is that you take steps now to make it a little easier on yourself later. Look at the tips above and do whatever you can to get started.
- Know you may work longer. You could end up having to postpone retirement a bit, or as Dave Ramsey suggests, “walk into retirement.” You could reduce your hours or go to a couple of part-time opportunities to ease your way in while still bringing in a check.
- Time for life insurance. This is an option that could end up saving you nearly six figures a year if done at the right time. Shop around with financial planners until you find one that works for you.
The best answer about when to start saving retirement is easy: it’s right now. Use all these tips to pull your funds together so you can retire with a little less stress and a lot more ease!