Retirement can conjure a range of feelings depending on what you’re looking forward to and how well you’ve planned. Whether you’re feeling great or pretty worried about retirement one thing is for sure – the more you know, the better you can prepare. While not an exhaustive list (a professional can help better with that) these are some things to consider about your retirement at every age.
You’ve gotten your degree and you’ve landed your first big job. Retirement may seem far away, especially with other monetary responsibilities tugging at your paycheck. These expenses can seem daunting, but don’t let yourself get distracted from beginning to save for your twilight years. Here are some things you can do to save for retirement while in your 20s:
- Sign up for your employer’s 401(k). Money is taken out of your paycheck automatically, pretax, so you’ll save for retirement AND less of your personal income will be taxed. Your 401(k) savings compounds at a faster rate since you only pay taxes when you withdraw the money. Another benefit of saving for retirement with a 401(k) is that many employers will match your contributions up to a certain percentage. Thanks to this, you have the opportunity to double your contributions!
- If your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k) you can open a Roth IRA. Unlike a 401(k), a Roth IRA won’t save you money since you have to contribute with money that’s already been taxed. It’s a great way to avoid paying taxes on your future investment earnings, however: when you withdraw the money in retirement, it will be tax-free, unlike the money you withdraw from a 401(k).
- Build an emergency fund in a high-yield savings account so you don’t have to rely on credit cards, or tap into your retirement fund early, to pay for unplanned expenses. Using your retirement money early incurs heavy penalties, so a little bit of extra savings now can prevent a lot of pain later.
Turning 30 is a milestone; often the 30s are the years in which people transition into true adulthood. Taking retirement seriously is one part of this. That being said, the most important thing to do at this age is to develop a strong habit of saving. Beyond that, here’s what you should spend time understanding in your 30s:
- Know your goal amount, i.e., how much you want to retire with. Many sites offer retirement calculators to help you understand what number you should be shooting for; AARP offers a great one that works for any age.
- Know the value of your portfolio at the end of each year and how it aligns with your long-term goal. If you find that your portfolio isn’t keeping pace with what you need, make adjustments as needed.
- The difference between what you need and what you want. Understanding how these two things differ makes it easier to save.
When you hit your 40s, retirement starts to feel a whole lot closer. While you may be thinking about retirement more, you may also be faced with money challenges you didn’t have in your 30s, such as college planning, homeownership, and possibly even caring for an aging parent. Still retirement needs to be something you consider regularly and take actions towards:
- Stay on top of your retirement goal number and if you’re on track to meet it. Determine ways to make up for missing money if you’re falling behind. A financial planner can help build an investment plan and will keep track of your net worth.
- Lower your debt. If you have a debt balance, now is the time to start tackling it. Begin with your highest interest credit cards and work your way down. Consider putting the money saved on interest towards your retirement.
- Stop lifestyle creep. Your 40s can be a slippery point in your retirement planning. You have likely made significant progress in your career and are making more money than you ever have. It can be easy to spend that extra cash on “enjoying” your life, but it’s important to be aware of where your money is going and conscious of your choices.
- Consider purchasing whole life insurance. Most professionals will say that using whole life insurance as a retirement supplement is generally only right for those who have already maxed out their retirement accounts, but if this is you, it’s worth thinking about. Talk to a financial advisor to see if makes sense for you.
Retirement starts to feel real in your 50s and lack of planning will likely hit hard. If you’ve been saving, thinking about your retirement can be a fun exercise; but if you’re feeling behind, starting later is always better than never. Here are some things to consider:
- Think about what you really want for your retirement and what that means for your living situation. Would you like to stay in your home or would you prefer to be in a community with amenities and services? Really thinking about these things will help you build a plan that supports your desires.
- Meet with a financial advisor. If you haven’t done this already, your 50s is a great time to have a professional look at your finances and build a plan you can work with.
- Pay off debts. If you still have high-interest debt, make a strict plan to pay it off and a commitment to not to enter retirement with money due.
- Contribute more to retirement. When you hit your 50s the government allows you to make “catch-up contributions” to retirement accounts. Take advantage if you’re able.
- Do not tap into savings. You’ve worked hard to build a nest egg for retirement, do everything in your power not to crack into it until you really need it.
- See if your goal has changed. As you settle into aging and have a better understanding of your lifestyle, it’s not uncommon for your goal number to change as well.
Retirement is now in your sights. Whether you’re planning to walk out of your office the second you turn 60 or hope to work well into the next decade, keep in mind only 33 percent of people retire when they plan to1. Knowing when you want to retire is a great start to planning, but you should also put time into the following:
- Be clear on the lifestyle you want in retirement. You will need to start making decisions and possibly changing parts of your life to get the lifestyle you’re looking for.
- Be honest about your goal number and whether it will support the lifestyle you want. A professional can help you make some adjustments to keep you as close to your goal as possible, if your savings seems a little short.
- Downsize your lifestyle. One of the scariest things about retirement is knowing you won’t have a regular paycheck coming in. If you start paring down your lifestyle now, you’ll be more used to living on less, which will have you better prepared for a fixed-income lifestyle.
- Continue with catch-up contributions and if you’re still short, think about how you could make up for some of the missing money. You could work a little longer or take a part-time job after retiring.
- Decide if you’re going to delay taking your social security payments. There are several reasons to wait to take your payments, the main one being that you will get a larger check once you start taking it. Delaying doesn’t work for everyone, so consider it carefully.
You’re likely well into your retirement at this point and hopefully spending your time doing the things you love rather than worrying about how you’re paying for them. If so, congratulations, but there’s still one thing to think about. That is passing your assets to your heirs. An estate planner can help you think through all the details and get you set up.