When it comes to getting ready for retirement, the American middle class is in trouble.
There are plenty of reasons why, but there are some that can be challenged—although the solutions require some pretty active strategies.
Still, as Madison.com reports, when you’re talking about a period of time that could span 20 years or even more, it’s worth taking a look at what’s holding you back and how you can get ahead in spite of it all.
To be sure you know what you’re fighting against, consider the nature of the roadblocks you’re facing.
It’s tough to be interested in retirement planning arcana, particularly if the Big Day is many years away.
But if you don’t pay attention you can be bled of potential savings and earnings based on how much and how often you save—as well as the accounts and types of investments you choose in which to park that money.
In fact, according to the report, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles conducted brain scans and found that people actually have a tough time visualizing our future lives—and treat their future selves as if they’re someone else.
That makes it really tough to look out for one’s own best interests, and a whole lot easier to succumb to temptation, spend money and forget about the financial and health issues we’ll face in the future.
Then there’s the issue of whether your boss offers you a retirement plan. Lots of people who have no access to a 401(k) or other plan at work simply don’t save—while a major factor can be a lack of available funds to sock away, another problem is simply being passive about not having a means of saving for retirement. The problem is worse if your job is part time.
It’s true that the majority of full-time employees (69 percent) have access to an employer-sponsored defined benefit or defined contribution plan, but only 44 percent of part-timers have such access. According to the Pew Research Center, more than a third of all workers are left out of the equation.
Workers carrying a lot of debt are jeopardizing whatever savings they do manage to set aside for retirement, as payments and interest eat up money that could otherwise be put away for that proverbial rainy day.
Need more proof? The report points out that the average debt for middle-class households is 122 percent of annual income, leaving most people a single paycheck away from a financial crisis.
Carrying that kind of load makes it really tough to even think about planning for the future, especially if you can’t see beyond next month’s expenses.
But one of the biggest handicaps is that wages have actually fallen.
Between 2007 and 2014, four out of five workers’ earnings and benefits stayed the same or decreased, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
And when the incoming money is going down, and the outgoing money is going up, you get caught in the middle without a whole lot of options.
But there are options, even against such a loaded deck. Read on for 10 ways to combat the financial hazards that lie in wait for you on your way to retirement:
10. Remember that even $1 million won’t provide as much annual income as you think.
Look up some calculators on the internet and plug in some numbers, then compare them to how much you spend now.
If you don’t know how much you spend now, that’s a problem right there; you have to know your needs before you can devise the right strategy to meet them.
And remember that compounding interest is your friend; the earlier you save, the more help you’ll get from compounding.
Looking at the hard numbers could give you the incentive you need to expand your retirement goals—and actions.
9. Take action and open an IRA.
If you don’t have a retirement plan at work, don’t just sit there—investigate individual retirement accounts. Opening an IRA can give you not just some funds for retirement, but also the motivation to find ways to save, and save more often. If your boss won’t do it for you, do it for yourself.
An IRA, if you need more urging, allows you to contribute up to $5,500 a year, or $6,500 a year if you’re over age 50. IRAs allow money to grow with compound interest until retirement, with or without employer support.
At a growth rate of 7 percent, a $5,500 annual investment will grow to around $560,000 in 30 years.
8. Change jobs to find one that will give you a retirement plan.
If you’re really set on having a retirement plan at work—after all, they can provide matching funds and other benefits—then hit the want ads and find a new job that offers one.
Some employers do provide access to retirement plans even to their part-time employees, and it’s worth checking out any potential opportunities.
You’ll be really glad you did years from now, even if it’s a struggle to make yourself do it today.
7. Make a budget, and stick to it.
Budgeting can be a big help in conquering debt, making sure you keep up with what’s owed and what’s coming in so that you can better plan to target bills and whittle them down.
If you aren’t sure how much debt you’re in, you might find that you’re spending even more than you earn—not a good situation.
Once you’ve got a budget, set your sights on cutting 10 percent on any expenses that are at all flexible, such as utilities, food and entertainment. Learn to cook instead of going out and put on a sweater or open a window instead of hitting the thermostat.
6. Tackle credit card balances in particular.
Interest on credit cards compounds, just like retirement savings, but in a bad way. The longer the debt hangs around, the more it costs you. Pay more than the minimum every month on credit cards, and consider either asking the issuer to lower your interest rate or switching to a zero-interest-rate card till you get a leg up on the balance.
And if you have more than one card, try consolidating until you’re down to a single account—it will make payoff much easier if you only have to worry about a single payment.
5. Start an emergency savings account.
If you don’t have one, start one. Too many people raid their retirement savings when hit with an emergency, and that’s a blow that few people really recover from.
But lots of folks have no choice; nearly 70 percent of people have less than $1,000 cash on hand.
Don’t be one of those people. Put aside money for a rainy day, just the way our parents and grandparents did. It can help save your retirement.
4. Consider the telecommuting job market.
Nearly 3 percent of U.S. employees work from home at least part time, which is a 115 percent increase since 2005.
A changing job market offers opportunities for the savvy worker to find plenty of savings in the way she works.
The job market is changing, and telecommuters save an average of $4,000 a year in transportation and clothing costs alone, according to a FlexJobs study.
Talk to your boss about the possibility of working remotely, or consider pursuing a career that allows you to utilize your home office.
If you can cut work-related expenses, you’ll have more cash available for your retirement accounts.
3. Factor in bonuses.
A PayScale report has found that 81 percent of top-performing companies gave bonuses to their employees in 2015.
If yours isn’t among them, look for a new one—it’s time to find a job that can help you funnel more money into long-term savings.
And bonuses can be easier to do that with than pay, since you’re not used to getting the extra funds on a regular basis.
2. Change jobs every few years.
If you have to job hop to get the kind of pay you’re looking for, do it.
It’s no stigma these days, thanks to young people who move if they don’t get what they want from a job, and it can make a big difference.
According to the ADP Research institute, full-time workers who changed jobs saw their paychecks increase an average of 4.5 percent—even 5 percent or more in certain regions.
1. Ask for a raise.
Less than half of workers ever even ask for a raise. Yet three quarters of those who do find that it pays off with a bigger paycheck, according to a PayScale study.
It can’t hurt to ask, and you might make out better than you think.