Americans are struggling to save enough money for retirement.
Now that pensions are going the way of the dodo and workers are relying primarily on Social Security and 401(k) plans—the latter if they’re lucky—it’s a struggle to find extra money to set aside against the day they leave the workplace.
In fact, many workers never plan to retire.
Considering how many workers don’t even have access to a retirement plan at work, trying to stretch dollars even a little bit further to set aside money for retirement can be a real challenge.
That’s pretty clear from the zero-to-minimum savings held by many Americans.
In fact, with 40 million working-age households lacking any retirement savings at all, and the average balance of retirement accounts a pitiful $2,500 across all households, it’s obvious that something needs to be done. But how much can people do on low incomes, fighting against the gender wage gap and shrinking benefits packages?
Perhaps it’s only baby steps they can take, but even those baby steps can pay off over the span of a career. So here are some suggestions that workers could definitely benefit from on how they might be able to squeeze just a little more out of that paycheck.
Depending on a worker’s age, some of these strategies will be more helpful for some than for others—but all can make a difference in the end result: stashing away enough money to pay for retirement.
10. Take advantage of the employer match.
If you’re lucky enough to work at a company that provides a 401(k) plan, Schwab suggests that you make sure your contribution level is high enough to take full advantage of the employer matching contribution.
Not saving enough to get the full employer match is leaving free money on the table. Look for economies elsewhere (fewer trips to the barista, brown-bag lunches) to increase your contribution till you get the full benefit of whatever your employer is willing to give.
9. No matter what you’re saving, keep increasing it.
Some people up their retirement contributions every time they get a raise; others do it when they hit some other significant milestone, such as an anniversary with the company.
Schwab, again, suggests that whether it’s a performance review, a birthday or some other occasion, you keep raising your retirement contribution even if it’s only by one percent at a time. It will all add up by the time you’re ready to retire.
8. Automate retirement plan increases.
While you’re busy increasing those contributions, automate them.
Set up an automatic increase that will add to your savings at regular intervals, even if you forget.
That way, whether you’re the type that actually remembers those special occasions on which you plan to boost contributions or you forget them, you can set it and forget it—and your retirement plan will do the rest.
7. Don’t forget the catch-up contribution.
If you’re 50 years old or older, remember that you’re allowed to put an extra $6,000 into your retirement account to catch up to where you ought to be.
That can help a lot as you approach retirement, particularly if you haven’t saved the maximum allowable in years past.
6. Check the fees on your investments.
This one doesn’t actually require you to find additional money to save. What it does require is that you review the investments in your retirement accounts and see how much the fees add up to.
If there are cheaper investments available in your plan—exchange-traded funds, for example, or target-date funds that offer lower fees—make sure they’re suitable for your particular needs and risk tolerance and then, if they’re appropriate, make the switch. Cutting down on the fees you pay will keep your balance growing.
5. Put yourself on a budget.
Particularly if you haven’t saved all that much for retirement and the Big Day is drawing near, see if you can adjust to a budget that reflects lower spending levels—something you might have to do in retirement anyway, if money is tight.
Whether or not you can sustain living on that budget, while you’re experimenting, take any money that you save from your usual outlay and put it into your retirement account. Better yet, open a Roth if you’re eligible. You’ll have already paid taxes on the money, if it’s coming out of your regular pay, and when you take it out of a Roth however much it’s grown to will be tax free. That will save you money both now and then.
4. Look into your health savings account.
If your benefits plan at work includes an HSA, check it out as a potential investment vehicle. While most people just put money in it to pay approved medical expenses, many don’t know that they can actually invest the money in an HSA and just let it grow; it’s not a use-it-or-lose-it account.
If it grows into retirement, you can then use the money to pay approved medical expenses tax free, which will stretch your other retirement savings further. (You can also use it for nonapproved expenses, but you’ll have to pay tax on the money upon withdrawal if you do that.)
3. Make sure you’re using the right kind of account.
Don’t just stick your money into a savings account and wait for retirement. Check out the potential of and differences among different types of accounts—savings, HSAs, Roths, traditional IRAs, 401(k)s—and put your money where you’ll get the most bang for the buck.
Contribute the maximum to your 401(k) to get full matching funds at work, and then look into opening a traditional or a Roth IRA. As previously mentioned, if you’ve already paid taxes on money contributed to a Roth, when you withdraw it in retirement it will be tax free (so it will go further).
2. Don’t forget about the Saver’s Credit.
Your income and income tax filing status determine whether you’re eligible for this one, aimed at low- to moderate-income households, but it’s a goodie—and if you’re married and filing jointly, both of you might be able to claim it.
The program, the official name of which is the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, can give you $1,000 for contributing to a qualifying retirement account. Whether your retirement plan is an IRA, a 401(k), 403(b), 457(b) or even a SEP or SIMPLE IRA, you contribute the allowable amount, assuming your income level makes you eligible, and the government credits you 10 percent, 20 percent, or 50 percent of the first $2,000 you contribute to retirement savings for the year.
1. Remember that payroll contributions to a retirement plan can lower your taxes.
Yes, by following the instructions in earlier steps and boosting your retirement contribution at work, you could lower your tax bracket—and that could have you losing less of your take-home pay to increase that contribution than you thought.
Depending on your withholding rate, an increased retirement contribution might hurt less than you think—and that can encourage you to do even more. You can check with human resources or the payroll department to find out just how much the hit will save you. And who knows? It might lower your adjusted gross income enough to let you qualify for the Saver’s Credit—a real win-win situation.