Have you ever heard the phrase “It’s never too soon to start planning for the future”? It’s a good rule of thumb, especially when it comes to financial planning and saving for retirement. Sure, you may be at the very beginning of your career journey. You might feel as if it’s too soon for you to have to think about this subject, and that you have plenty of time to worry about planning for your retirement down the road. Still, it might be worth your time to reconsider when you should start.
The truth is, most people put off saving for retirement way too long, and the end result is endless anxiety and fear that they’re ill-equipped to afford retirement. Unfortunately, in many cases, they may be correct.
According to a recent Business Insider article, Americans just aren’t saving enough for retirement. Based on a study of over 5,000 individuals conducted by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, one-third of all adults have zero retirement savings and 23% have less than $10,000 tucked away, an insufficient sum to last through one’s retirement years—especially considering that advances in health care and elder care are making it easier to live longer lives. The article reports that the average American’s retirement goal is to have “security and the ability to live comfortably without fear of running out of money,” yet they are not doing the type of planning and saving required to make that a reality. Business Insider reports that the major reasons why so many folks struggle with retirement planning are as follows:
- Most people don’t have any financial role models. Half of pre-retirees age 50 and older say they don’t have any positive role models when it comes to handling finances. Though some say they can turn to a parent or financial adviser for advice, 40% still don’t understand basic terms associated with retirement savings, such as IRA and 401(k).
- Most people consider money too taboo to discuss openly. Even in the era of Facebook oversharing, 57% of Americans still consider money a distinctly private matter. However, this mindset is shifting: In every category, millennials were more open to discussing taboo topics than people 50 and older.
- Financial decisions are second-guessed more than any other major life decision. The study found that 39% of people think twice about money decisions more than anything else. Only 18% of people give pause to career-related choices above all else, and even fewer—a mere 15%—second-guess decisions about their health the most.
You don’t have to have all of the retirement planning answers when you’re just starting out, especially since your financial needs, plans, and resources will likely evolve over time. That said, it is a good idea to start building responsible financial habits and behaviors early on and to always operate under the mindset that the money you earn is a valuable commodity and resource that you should treat responsibly. And above all—don’t forget that time tends to fly by faster than you think. Retirement isn’t quite as far off as it might seem.
Consider taking advantage of the following strategies to help you jumpstart your retirement-saving planning.
Get comfortable with saving.
There’s an unfortunate tendency among young adults who are just starting out in their professional paths to treat each paycheck as a reservoir of disposable income, a specific amount of money that they have to spend until the next paycheck arrives. It’s a bad idea to get used to treating your income this way. But once it becomes a habit, it’s a tough one to break.
Instead, try getting used to saving a percentage of your paycheck each week. 10% is a good place to start for most individuals. It’s okay to start small; the goal here is to get comfortable with the notion of saving. Try increasing the amount you save over time, or whenever your take home pay increases. Do your best to avoid dipping into this growing pool of money for discretionary purposes. However, if you do hit an unexpected and unavoidable life expense, you’ll have this money to help see you through if needed.
Explore workplace retirement savings options.
The good news is that many companies offer retirement savings options as part of their employee benefit packages. Do you know what your options are? If not, spending some time researching your benefits or talking to an HR professional at your company is a wise investment. If your company offers a 401(k) savings plan, and any sort of fund matching benefit (even better), it’s certainly in your best interest to take advantage of the plan as soon as possible. Once you get through the initial paperwork to enroll, your contributions will be automatic—all you need to do is keep an eye on it periodically and make adjustments as needed. The value of your 401(k) will build over time, so it stands to reason that the earlier you start, the more money you’ll have saved for retirement down the road. Trust us, you’ll thank us later.
Explore additional retirement savings options.
Contributing to your company 401(k) is a great idea, but it’s often not enough—depending on your retirement needs, your plans should include some level of diversification. Although your may just be beginning to explore your retirement savings options, it’s never too early to get comfortable with the various investment vehicles available to you. These include stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and a Roth IRA account, in addition to your personal savings and 401(k). Once again, the key is diversification—spreading out your money in various areas in an effort to reduce your overall risk exposure in any one area.
We recommend that you learn about how these investment tools work in general and how you can make them work for you as part of your long-term investment portfolio. There’s a wealth of research and information available online, and you may want to consult a financial professional to help you get started. As your savings grow, consider using one of these investment tools to allow your money to grow over time.
Are you ready?
Just thinking of retirement can be scary, let alone trying to figure out how to make it financially feasible. If you’re just getting started in your professional journey, the good news is that you do have some time to thoughtfully prepare for how to save for retirement—but the sooner you start, the better off you’ll ultimately be. Use the strategies presented here to help you kick start your retirement planning. Best of luck!