Long-Term Savings: Planning for Retirement

When should you start saving for retirement and other long-term financial goals? How should you do it? There are so many day-to-day expenses and concerns that it can sometimes be easy to let long-term plans fall by the wayside. The great news is that technology and access allow everyone ample opportunity to start saving as soon as they are ready and in easy ways to make sure that plans are in place for later in life!

When to save for retirement?

We all would love to save as much as possible as early as possible, but there are a number of things to make sure you take care of first:

  1. Do you have an Emergency Fund?
  2. Have you eliminated Credit Card and Personal Student Loans debt?
  3. If you have kids, are you saving appropriately for future school plans? See our post on Saving for College and 529 Plans

The general rule of thumb is to start saving as early as you can. The reality is that’s not achievable for everyone- but it’s not too late! Regardless of when you plan on retiring (for most people, it’s around age 65-70), every month and year investing your money is better than not, assuming your situation allows for it. Most checking and savings accounts at your bank offer very little interest (under 1% per year) and don’t bode well for growing your money over a long period of time, so finding a way to save something on a consistent basis that earns a little more has a lot of potential.

Many people live by the rule of thumb that you should be saving 10% of your pre-tax income for your own retirement. If you were to earn an average of 3% per year (a modest return, given Bonds have had an annual return of 4.62% over the last 10 years) from your investments and invest $1,000 per month, here’s what that potential could look like ( http://www.helpfulcalculators.com/compound-interest-calculator):

Over 10 years, with your $120,000 of automatic deposits, you will have earned over $19,500. Over 30 years, you will have earned over $220,000 with your consistent monthly deposit!

How to save for retirement?

I was extremely fortunate to come out of college and be able to save within the first few years. My plan is to retire around the typical age, so I could have over 40 years of investments! What I love is how everything has an auto-withdrawal directly from my paycheck, so I never see the money and it goes directly into an account to start saving. I have lived by the general rule of thumb, so 10% of my pre-tax paycheck per month goes into retirement savings. Here are some of my favorite ways to save and invest for retirement:

401(k)

One of the simplest and most appealing options is a 401(k) plan. This is typically offered by your employer and many will match a percentage of your contributions as a way to incent you to save- that’s free money!

Usually, they will say, “We’ll match up to 4% for your contribution.” For example, if you make $75,000 per year, and you save 10% every month toward 401(k), then your employer could match the first 4% of that, so that’s $3,000 every year of additional money they are giving you to invest! 401(k) investments go in pre-tax, and most are done automatically via payroll each month.

Once you sign up and start saving (the limit is $18,500 per year; $24,500 for those age 50 and above), you then get the option to select a Mutual Fund full of stocks and/or bonds which offer annual returns typically between 7%-8%. Once you turn 59 ½, you can then start withdrawing, paying taxes at that time.

And don’t worry, if you leave your current job, it’s easy and free to rollover your 401(k) into a standard IRA so that it keeps earning annual returns.

IRA and Roth IRA (Individual Retirement Account)

If your employer doesn’t match 401(k) contributions or you’re interested in saving more, IRA and Roth IRAs are great ways to invest for retirement and take advantage of some really neat tax laws, while also leaving you some room for other options.

For a Traditional IRA, you invest money now, pay no taxes at the time of contribution, and only pay taxes when you withdraw after you turn 59 ½. A Roth IRA is the same concept except you pay taxes now and no taxes when you withdraw after turning 59 ½. So why would you do one vs the other? The answer is your current situation and your plan for when you’re older:

Do you think you are making more money now than you will when you start making withdrawals? Then a Traditional IRA is likely the best option for you. You are assuming that you are paying more in taxes now than you will when you’re older.

On the other side, if you believe you’re making less money now than you will when you start making withdrawals, then a Roth IRA is probably the best option. Many younger professionals just starting in their career take this path, capitalizing on their lower income now, paying taxes right now and letting that money grow tax-free over 30 or so years.

As with the 401(k), once you sign up and start investing (the limit is $5,500 per year; $6,500 for those age 50 and above), you then get the option to select a Mutual Fund to start earning annual returns.

Both of these have a very cool feature- if you’ve had the account for over 5 years but are younger than 59 ½, you can withdraw up to $10,000 penalty-free for the purchase, repair, or remodel of a first home. So, while you’re saving for retirement, you’re also leaving yourself options on buying your first home!

Stocks and Bonds

Finally, if you want to save more and get a little more control over your retirement, investing directly in Stocks and/or Bonds can be a great way to do that. If you are knowledgeable about the Stock Market, Robinhood offers free trading, while if you don’t know the first thing (or just like having an expert do it), Betterment is another great option that will invest for you for a very small fee. You just select the level of risk you are comfortable with and they will do the rest.

The Stock Market is a risky place, no doubt, but even with the occasional downturn (see 2008 Financial Crisis), the returns tend to average out over the long-term to around 7-8% annually. The generational words of wisdom say you should temper your enthusiasm during the good times, be optimistic when things look bad, and try to buy and hold for as long as possible to get that average return.

There is a lot to consider when saving for retirement. Your personal situation will dictate most of what you’re able to do, but there’s a reason why these various avenues exist for retirement options: it’s so you’re able to customize to your situation and still think about your long-term financial future. Again, it’s not too late to start saving now! If you’re feeling like you could use some help, financial advisors exist all across the world for very reasonable fees to help out.

As always, feel free to leave comments as well as your own learnings and insights into the world of saving for retirement!

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Notable Replies

  1. jigamo says:

    For anyone interested in spending, saving, investing, and how these all factor into retirement and financial independence, I would highly recommend The Simple Path to Wealth by J. L. Collins. He’s blogged for many years and recently revised and consolidated his online writings into this really helpful resource.

    Jim is very down-to-earth and writes in a clear, easily understandable way that should be helpful to you regardless of where you’re at on your financial journey.

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