Leaving my full-time job to work for myself meant I had to overhaul my retirement strategy, and I think I've finally figured it out

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  • When I had a day job with a salary and a 401(k), saving for retirement was easy and automatic - but once I started working for myself, things became a little more complicated.
  • I started using a popular investment app that I liked enough, but it charged a $2 monthly fee I thought I could do without. So I refreshed my savings plan to use fee-free options instead.
  • Even while self-employed, it's possible to automate savings and investments to ensure you don't fall short of your goals.

Most people dream of a comfortable retirement filled with favorite hobbies, time with family and friends, and perhaps travel to exotic destinations around the world. The thing is, with the exception of visits with family and friends, much of what you'll want to do in retirement costs money.

Social Security is an important retirement savings tool for many Americans, but you can't count on that alone. To maintain the same standard of living in retirement that you enjoy today, you want to save at least 10% to 15% of your income. While that is a bit trickier when self-employed, you can follow some simple steps to automate your savings. Whether you are self-employed or keep a full-time job, automation makes it much easier to reach your retirement savings goals.

Automating investments is trickier with irregular income

When I had a day job with a salary and a 401(k) plan, saving for retirement was easy. I just had to make my contribution selection, choose favorite funds from the supported list, and the rest just happened. That meant 401(k) matching, automatic increasing contributions each year, and other features to make saving for the future simple and easy.

As a self-employed business owner with irregular income, it isn't so simple. I have a different income every month and no predictable salary. I also have to figure out my own retirement plan, as no employer is there to do it for me.

But that doesn't mean I can't save and invest on a regular basis. It just takes a little more care and planning for your retirement plan to come together.

Savings apps can help stash away money

After a brief pause in retirement savings when I quit my old job, I started to look for apps that could handle savings for me. While my employer can't automate my savings, it doesn't mean I don't have options.

I picked online retirement app Vault for a new SEP IRA, a type of self-employed retirement account. Vault was eventually purchased by Acorns, which charges a monthly $2 fee for its core and retirement products combined. I eventually decided that fee wasn't worth it and switched to a new plan for my investments with no fees.

However, that doesn't mean some fees are not worth it. If it costs you just $24 per year to guarantee yourself a better retirement when you wouldn't have saved at all otherwise, the $2 per month is a worthwhile deal.

Some favorite apps I like that help you save and invest automatically include:
  • Acorns: Acorns is one of the first investment companies that made investing mobile-first, and it does a good job at helping you use creative strategies, like rounding up purchases, to boost your savings rate. Accounts cost between $1 and $3 per month.
  • EvatiEvati is a goal-focused automated savings app that focuses your funds into low-fee ETFs to help you get the best return on your investment at the lowest cost.
  • Qapital: Qapital is a savings and investment app that includes many clever features to customize your investment plan. Using a connection to the free app IFTTT, I tested out saving $1 every time Donald Trump entered a new message on Twitter. But there are many unique methods it offers to manage your savings plan.

Using any of these apps, you can increase your savings rate without much thought or work after the initial setup. They pick your investments based on your user profile and goals and there are no added trading costs. That makes saving for retirement much easier.

Recurring transfers keep me on track

After reviewing the fees I was paying to Acorns, I decided it was time to save myself the $2 per month and switch to an investment plan where I wouldn't have to pay any monthly or annual account fees.

That led me back to Charles Schwab, my primary brokerage and bank, where I could open a new SEP IRA or Solo 401(k) plan with no recurring costs. I only pay trade commissions and fund fees in this account. Because I would have paid the fund fees anyway and Schwab gives me a big list of funds with no trading fees, I can do better in the long-run managing my account myself.

I run my business as an S-Corporation and get a weekly paycheck in addition to "dividend income" for additional profits. My weekly paycheck is automated through a payroll service. I set up some automatic transfers to match that payday schedule to keep funding my retirement at roughly the same rate I was before.

I periodically invest the funds in my own choice of low-fee ETFs so I'll have plenty of assets waiting when I reach retirement.

Never neglect your savings and investments

Common financial advice says you should plan on spending around 60% to 80% of your annual income in retirement. If you don't put forth an effort to make that happen, you could wind up falling short of your needs or goals in your golden years. But with a good plan and regular saving and investing, you can get yourself set up for the retirement you want.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.
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