Saving for retirement isn’t hard. Getting started is.
So, as a former spender in $206k of student loan debt, I am here to tell you that if I can turn my finances around and get going saving for retirement, so can you.
The sooner you start saving for retirement, the better.
Example: At age 28, a $100 per month contribution ($1,200 annually) at a 3% annualized rate of return, will turn into nearly $80,000 by age 65. If you start at age 38, this same investment amounts to just $50,000. If you start at age 48, this same investment amounts to just $26,000. And we can all hope that the rate of return is much higher than 3%!
If you’re not convinced, here’s an investment calculator – see for yourself.
Now, that you know your future depends on it, here’s a look at how to save for retirement.
How to Start Saving for Retirement in 5 steps
1. Determine your investment goals
Ask yourself why you are investing. Is it for retirement? Is it for a long-term goal? Is it for the short-term? Or is it just for fun to learn how to do it? The answers to these questions matter significantly because they require different investing strategies.
If you’re investing for the long-term (e.g.: for retirement), then you can move forward with opening a retirement account that helps you serve this goal. But if you are dabbling in investing for a short-term goal, you should not use a retirement account for this purpose.
2. Create an investment strategy
Once you’re sure you’re investing for retirement (i.e. for the long-term), you need to decide what “investment strategy” you want to take.
Don’t let the term “investment strategy” intimidate you. Investment strategy just means the rules by which you want to invest. It means that you will create somewhat of a plan and stick to that plan while you invest.
A couple questions to think about in this space to get you started: 1) how much money will you be investing, 2) how often will you invest (look up “dollar cost averaging”), 3) what period of time are you planning on investing for (20 years, 35 years?), and 4) what is your risk tolerance like (can you handle the ups and downs of the market?).
Once you get a sense of the answers to these questions, write them down and keep them handy as you open retirement and investment accounts. They should help guide you make better choices. For example, if you’re investing for the long-term and for your retirement, you will want to learn about mutual funds, index funds, and how they differ from investing and trading individual stocks.
3. Invest in your employer’s retirement plan
If you want to save for retirement, generally, a good place to start is your company’s retirement plan. Your company may offer a 401k, 403b, or 457. If your employer offers an employer match, this is a no brainer – do not pass up free money!
Even if your employer doesn’t have a match, it’s often a really good place to start because it’s easy. You can contribute directly out of your paycheck and the platform is generally set up for you.
Typically, I think your employer’s retirement plan is the best place to start saving for retirement.
4. Open a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA
A second way to save for retirement is through an IRA or Roth IRA.
If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan (or you want an additional plan), you can open a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA yourself.
With a Traditional IRA, you don’t pay taxes until you withdraw your money — your contributions and earnings grow tax-deferred. Also, if you don’t contribute to an employer plan, and you contribute to an IRA, then you may be able to deduct your contributions on your taxes.
Similar to a Traditional IRA is a Roth IRA. With a Roth IRA, you pay taxes initially, then can withdraw your money tax free in retirement. There are income limits that changes annually with a Roth (meaning that if you making over a certain amount of money you won’t be able to open a Roth).
- Related: How to Invest in a Roth IRA
5. Open your own brokerage account
Finally, once you have maxed out investing in your employer-offered plan and/or an IRA/Roth IRA, you can open your own brokerage account.
This is the last step in the process. The option generally you’d want to look into after you’re maxing out the previous two options.
In terms of where to open a brokerage account, you have several options (Charles Schwab and Fidelity, for example). Choose a reputable one, so do research.
A Final Note!
Don’t waste your precious time.
Invest in yourself and save for your own retirement.