Confession time: I didn’t start planning my retirement when I was
young. I didn’t give it much thought, because when you’re in your 20s,
retirement seems like something you can worry about much later.
Photo by pedrosimoes7
Sure, you hear advice about how it’s much better to start early, and
compound interest and all that — it makes sense, but it doesn’t seem as
urgent as making that car payment.
Now in my mid-30s, though, retirement is a very real issue. I know
it’s not too late to start planning, so just in the last couple of
years I started seriously thinking about what I need to do, and how to
Now, if you are someone with your retirement plans all set and ready
to go, this article will be way too basic for you. Skip it. This is
aimed at people like myself who never really gave retirement a thought.
It’s aimed at people in their 20s who really should start now and can
do so with some simple steps. It’s aimed at people in their 30s and 40s
who need to start now (although it’s not too late).
You can do these things today, without too much effort. Read up on them, make a call, get started!
1. Max Out Your 401(k). Probably the easiest and
best thing you can do to get your retirement plan going. It’s easy,
especially if you are an employee, as you are probably already enrolled
in a 401(k). All you have to do is fill out a form to increase it to
the maximum contribution. And if your employer matches a certain
percentage of your contributions, that’s free money right off the bat.
Best of all, you get tax breaks up front on your 401(k) contributions,
saving you a ton of money.
2. Start now. Even if you’re really late in getting
started (as I was), it’s important to start right away. Even if it’s
just a little at a time. Yes, we’re talking about the magic of compound
interest, which means that if you start now with a small contribution,
it’s better than starting later with a larger contribution. Make your
money work for you. Even if you just cut out a few small expenses, and
used that savings to start investing in retirement, it makes a big
difference. And starting small has another benefit: as you watch your
investments grow, you become motivated by your success to invest even
3. Track your earnings. You don’t have to check
stock prices every day, or anything, but simply checking on your 401(k)
and other investments once a year or every 6 months will do wonders.
Check on your earnings, and use online calculators to see if you’re on
track. If not, you can make adjustments, such as increasing your
4. Roth IRA (or other secondary investment). It’s
best to have multiple investments, instead of just 401(k), which might
not be sufficient for your retirement needs. Probably the best
secondary investment for most people is the Roth IRA, if you’re
eligible for it (and most of us are). I won’t get into the details of
it (read the Wikipedia article for more), but the main point is they are structured to save you on taxes. There are maximum limits for contributions which change each year ($4,000 in 2007 and $5,000 in
2008), and if you can contribute the maximum, you should.
5. Life insurance. This isn’t really necessary for
retirement, of course, but is more of a safety net for your family. Why
should you worry about it (if you have a spouse or children)? Because
it gives you that financial security needed to invest your money for
retirement. The next two items are for the same reason.
6. Disability insurance. If tragedy strikes and
you’re not able to work, what happens to your retirement contributions?
Well, they go down the drain if you don’t have disability insurance.
Get insurance that covers 60% of your current income to be safe.
7. Emergency fund. The recommended 3-6 months of
expenses for an emergency fund is a good guideline, but if you don’t
have any emergency fund, you should save up at least $1,000 (to start
with). Without an emergency fund, you will cut off your retirement
contributions anytime an emergency comes up. You absolutely need to
start saving an emergency fund today if you want to prepare for
retirement. Set up regular transfers to a savings account today.