After years of saving for retirement, I've pinpointed a strategy that makes all the difference in keeping me on track
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- Writer Eric Rosenberg has been saving for retirement for years, and has figured out a foolproof strategy to keep his retirement savings growing: automate them.
- Automatic savings and investments help you save today while your balance grows over time with compound interest and investment returns, he writes - plus, if you automate your savings, it's easier to resist spending the money on everyday purchases.
- Prioritizing where to save can take away ambiguity and help you get over mental hurdles that stop you from stashing away funds for your future, he writes.
Retirement may feel like it's a long way away, but it has a tendency to sneak up on us before we know it.
Pretty much every list of big financial regrets includes not saving enough or not saving early enough. It doesn't matter if you are 22 or 62, you need to make planning for your financial future a major priority.
Social Security is a great government benefit in the US, but that alone will rarely allow you to maintain the same standard of living. To secure a great financial future, it's important to automate your savings so you are putting away money without even thinking about it. It's hard to make a manual transfer on a regular basis, but we live in a time where automation is free and easy to set up.
Use these tips to build your own automated retirement savings plans.
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Start with your employer's 401(k) plan
The first place most people should look for retirement savings and investments is their employer's 401(k) plan. Every employee should always take 100% of any employer match. Back in my full-time day job days, I had access to matching worth 3% to 4% of my pre-tax salary.
By taking full advantage, I was already well on the way to the best possible retirement. If your employer does not enroll you automatically, contact your HR department to find out how to sign up. Not taking the full match is like leaving free money on the table. It also skips a major tax advantage when saving for your future.
Max out your IRA as often as you can
After taking advantage of your full employer match, the next place to focus your retirement savings is your IRA. A traditional or Roth IRA may make more sense depending on your age. Typically Roth IRAs favor younger people while traditional IRAs are better for people very close to retirement.
In either case, in 2019 the IRS allows you to save $6,000 per year in these tax-advantaged accounts. An IRA is often a better option than a 401(k) because it gives you the ability to choose nearly any investment instead of a short list approved by your plan. IRAs also don't charge any monthly or annual management fees, in most cases, while your employer's plan does.
If you are 50 or above, you can save an additional $1,000 per year, known as a "catch up" contribution.
When I had a full-time day job, I split my direct deposit so $211 per payday would go into my IRA automatically. At the end of the year, this meant I hit the $5,500 maximum contribution limit based on my 26 annual paydays. Divide $6,000 by your number of annual paychecks to calculate your automated savings.
Use a retirement investing app for help automating
These days, as a self-employed online worker, I use Acorns and Qapital to automate my savings. The Acorns Later retirement account helps me save in an SEP IRA, a retirement account for self-employed workers, with a fixed amount every week.
There are many web and mobile apps that help you automate your savings and investments for a range of costs. You can do fine without them, but if you need extra help with the automation and recurring transfers, they are a great resource.
If you already have an investment account at a favorite brokerage, look at their online tools to set up recurring, automatic transfers. I like matching them with my payday schedule so it isn't like the money is "taken" from my checking. It comes and goes at the same time and you can stay out of the habit of feeling like you should spend it on something else.
Experts say to save at least 15% for a quality retirement
Most money experts suggest you should save at least 15% of your pre-tax income at minimum. When you add up your 401(k) contribution, your employer match, a maxed out IRA, and any additional savings, it is easier than you may think to achieve.
Some of my friends are in the popular FIRE (financial independence/retire early) movement where they try to save at least 50% of their income. While that's a bit much for me, it is a great motivation that shows I can do more and better in my own savings. That's a great example for anyone to follow.
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