Retirement just kind of happens. If we live long enough, we’ll eventually reach a point where we either leave our careers, opt for another, less intense work life, or finish working for a living altogether. There was a time when companies included pension plans in their compensation packages and employees could look forward to receiving a percentage of their salaries to live on for the rest of their lives. Social Security benefits used to be enough to offset the cost of living, so that a person could retire based on Social Security income alone. In the 21st century, neither of these hold true any longer.
Instead, it’s up to the individual to create a comfortable retirement for him or herself. Luckily, those who still look forward to retirement will have the longest post-retirement life spans, thanks to continued advances in health care. In other words, it’s a good idea to do as much as possible to ensure that you will have a secure and enjoyable retirement.
1. Make a Plan for Retirement
Saving for retirement can be a bit difficult to figure out at first. If you need to get a handle on what you need to do to create a large nest egg, you need to begin with a plan. The U.S. Department of Labor recommends that you start by determining your net worth — the total value of your assets minus the value of your debts (things like the value of your house minus the value of what you still owe on your mortgage). You want this number to be positive, with your assets worth more than your debts. Don’t be disconcerted if that’s not the case. Even if you find your net worth is negative (as many people do), start there to figure out what you can do to make it positive.
2. Get in the Saving Mindset
Saving up for years just so you can make 70 to 90 percent of your old salary annually when you retire sounds like a mind-boggling idea. How can you save that much while you’re still living your life before retirement? Fortunately, there’s compound interest — small amounts of money contributed to a retirement savings account like a 401(k) or Roth IRA that can grow by leaps and bounds over the course of a few decades. Still, you have to plant a seed to grow a tree, and when it comes to saving for retirement, it can be difficult to have the discipline necessary to pay now in order to benefit later. This is where a savings mindset comes in.
3. Take Advantage of Retirement Plans
It may seem like a no-brainer to take advantage of a program at work where your employer matches your retirement fund contributions, but not everyone sees it this way. In fact, about one-third of people who have a 401(k) plan available at work don’t contribute. You should consider doing so, especially when employers offer contribution matching programs. Under these programs, not contributing is like turning down free money — with compound interest.
There are a number of types of retirement savings account plans that employers can offer. Among the most popular are the 401(k) plan and the IRA (individual retirement account). Both have their advantages (see Tip 6) and disadvantages, and are widely available at most mid-sized to large companies.