Now that it’s the time of year when people usually make New Year’s resolutions, one to plan on making is to increase how much they’re saving for retirement.
But, since many New Year’s resolutions tend to be broken before the hangover wears off on January 2, Charles Schwab has offered some suggestions to avoid that happening to a retirement savings resolution, including some mental tricks that can bolster your resolve.
The first, and possibly most important, is to be sure you’re enrolled in your workplace’s 401(k) plan.
If not, you could be missing out on matching employer funds—something you might be doing even if you’re enrolled but aren’t contributing at a high enough rate to take advantage of it.
Those matching funds are so important that you should put the maximum contribution ahead of other financial goals, such as paying off credit cards or loans.
That could be a hard sell, but the mental trick to convince yourself to take this action, according to Catherine Golladay, Schwab’s senior vice president for 401(k) participant services and administration, is in how you look at the return on this investment.
“Think of it like this,” Golladay said in a statement: “a 50 percent match from your company is like earning 50 percent on the money you contribute. That kind of return certainly offsets even the highest credit card interest rate.”
Then there’s the matter of being sure you’re saving enough for a comfortable retirement.
Since only 43 percent of workers even know how much that is—most people have a better idea of what their blood pressure or credit score should be—the odds are that you’re not saving enough.
So plan on boosting contributions. You can take baby steps, if you have to; add 1 percent every year, or every time you get a raise or a promotion. But keep going, and if possible, get that contribution rate maxed out as soon as you can.
The government currently allows a maximum annual contribution of $18,000, plus an extra $6,000 in catch-up contributions if you’re 50 or older—and that’s without employer matching funds.
While that sounds like a tall order, remember that this is pretax money, which means that it’s not going to affect your take-home pay all that much.
And it can really add up, too; Golladay pointed out, “[S]aving just 2 percent more over a 35-year career could mean an extra $148,000 at retirement—but it would only reduce that biweekly paycheck by $16.” Would you rather give that money to your future self, or to the IRS?
Lastly, plan to automate your savings.
If your retirement plan allows you to automatically increase your contributions by a certain percentage at a certain time every year, go for it. If you “set it and forget it,” you won’t have to worry about whether your savings rate is rising.
And you’ll be really glad you did when you finally reach retirement.