John Lennon once sang, on the cusp of middle age, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” — a familiar tune for anyone nearing the big 4-0 who’s been trying to save money for retirement. Things always seem to get in the way of important savings goals, whether it’s hard times, debt, the kids’ tuition or even simple procrastination.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 1 in 3 workers age 35-44 have less than $1,000 saved for retirement. What’s more, only a little over half (53 percent) of all American workers participate in a retirement plan at work, according to 2014 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With retirement planning, time is of the essence — but it’s not too late to start saving if you’re far behind. There are a lot of simple ways to build your retirement fund in your 40s and finish with a nice nest egg. Read on for five steps to overhaul your retirement plan.
Determine your retirement number: Opinions vary on how much money is needed to retire comfortably — some experts argue that you should be shooting for eight times your ending salary, while others say you should be building toward $1 million. In reality, your retirement savings are very particular to you, so there’s not really a one-size-fits-all approach. What’s most important is that you determine the exact amount that you’ll be saving for, so there’s no guesswork; then you can start building your plan around that number.
Start incrementally increasing your savings: Generally, experts recommend that you save between 10 and 15 percent of your yearly income for retirement, but that might not actually be enough, especially if you’re getting a late start. Start upping the ante: See if you can start socking away 20 percent from your paycheck alone. If the added financial discipline is hard to muster, set up an external savings account and have a portion of your paycheck automatically deposited there. To increase the amount you take home each month — and make your income stretch further — check out these ways to double your paycheck.
Save for yourself first: You know those pre-flight safety drills before takeoff? Put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others — that sentiment holds with finances, too.
To help others, we must first help ourselves, and that means putting our retirement savings before other important money responsibilities, like college tuition for your kids. Sound insensitive? It’s not about denying your family financial help — it’s merely about prioritization. After all, your kids have a lot of options to pay for their education, such as scholarships, loans and work-study. You, unfortunately, don’t have these resources for retirement.
Lower your debt: Tackle any outstanding debt you have and prioritize by starting with high-interest loans first, like credit cards. Seek out alternative solutions if your debt is too large, or it could compromise your retirement. See if you can consolidate your debt in a zero-interest card or low-interest personal loan.
Minimize spending: Think about how much frivolous spending can add up over time. According to Financial Mentor, the value of a $5 latte bought when you’re 40 can compound to over $1,000 by the time you’re 80. Now imagine how much money you’re missing out on by spending that extra $5 several times a week — potentially tens of thousands. Alleviate this monetary loss by spending less on low-priority items you don’t need, like cable or magazine subscriptions, dining out and shopping, and pocketing the savings in your growing retirement fund.
Paul Sisolak writes for GOBankingRates.com, a personal finance news and features site.