A Retirement Savings Timeline
Regardless of how old you are, there's something you should be doing to prep for retirement. From basic planning strategies to hunkering down for the last lap, keep track of where you are on the journey. It starts much earlier than most people assume.
While advice for young adults regarding retirement is minimal and can come across haphazardly, thinking about retirement shortly after high school truly is the best way to secure a financially independent retirement.
However, at this stage of life, the human brain is still in development and the plethora of real-life experiences needed to really hammer in the importance of early planning likely haven't happened.
Below are eight steps that if completed before an individual leaves young adulthood can make a world of different decades down the road:
The Great 8*
- Attitude Adjustment: Don't expect others to take care of you in retirement. Hoping that your employer, the government, your spouse or even your children will carry your financial burdens for you is a misguided assumption.
- Write It Down: Get a plan written down on paper. Without something tangible, it's hard to make realistic plans for the future. Even if it's just a draft, it's the first step in true progress.
- Learn How To Budget: Understand and apply the fundamentals of budgeting. Don't stop at the basics of "I must live within my means to be successful," hone in on what "living within my means" represents and how it is practiced in everyday life.
- 401(k)s And IRAs: Research and choose an appropriate retirement savings vehicle for yourself. You need to think beyond your regular banking account's attached savings account and look for a fund that is designated for long-term savings.
- Make A Significant Deposit Right Off The Bat: Even if you can't afford to max out your contributions in a 401(k) or IRA on a regular basis, make an effort to get close to that amount within the first year or handful of years you have the account open. It will pay off.
- Set Up Automatic Payments: Even if it's just $20–$100 a month, make savings a priority by making it a no-brainer habit.
- Get Out Of Debt And Stay Out Of Debt: No excuses. Debt is debilitating. You don't need debt. It's an unhealthy relationship; just pull the Band-Aid, live on a shoestring budget for a few years and never look back.
- Get Healthy: There are few things in life more beneficial to your future than taking care of your body. From head to toe and everything in between physically and metaphysically, a healthy you is far more likely to live longer. You do yourself a disservice by abusing it.
*For a more in-depth discussion of the great 8, see here.
25–40: Your Thrifty 30s
Once you begin to settle into adult life, it's time to really get down to business.
You've laid the foundation for a secure retirement, but you can't stop now. Solidify the habits you methodically set in place after high school.
You may have to adjust your savings based on your personal life's circumstances, from expanding your family to making large-ticket purchases/commitments like buying a home or a new(er) vehicle. Don't think that the steps you made a few years ago are an excuse to slide through the rest of life carefree.
- Be Aggressive: Learn to embrace your inner self-centeredness. Don't take this as meaning you can be cruelly selfish, but rather, make your actions reflect a you-minded future. Be selfish in the respect that what you do with your money is done for the greater good of yourself and your family. Ask yourself, "Would this money I'm spending be considered frivolous? Does it give me joy? Does it advance our family's goals?" If the answers are "yes" followed by two "noes," reevaluate the motivations behind the actions.
- Save Outside A 401(k), IRA: Build an emergency fund of three- to six-month's worth of expenses. Life has a way of throwing curveballs at the least expecting; don't be caught without a financial parachute to help ease you back to normalcy. The last thing you want to do when facing a financial obstacle is to dip into your retirement savings decades too early.
- Invest In Insurance: Don't leave yourself or your family stranded. From health insurance to life insurance, liability insurance to home insurance, make sure you understand the implications of not having these coverages. It can seem costly up front, but the protection provided is well worth it.
Don't slack off now. Once you've hit your stride, it's time to reevaluate your savings plan and spending strategy. Outline what you want out of retirement. Now that it's not forty years down the road, your perceptions have likely changed by this point.
Your 40s are a time to get down to the grind and prep for the final stretch. Once you hit the last decade, decade and a half of employment, there's less and less you can do to make sure things are in motion at the proper momentum for your retirement.
Must Dos Outside Of Saving Dough
- Get Healthy: Go to your primary care physician, your dentist and your optometrist. Be brutally honest with your providers and yourself about where you stand medically, and let them be equally as honest with you. Take their advice to heart and make good on the promises made inside of those exam rooms.
- Pay Off All Debt: You don't want to have a mortgage, a car note, student loans or any other outstanding debt once you hit retirement. Take care of these now. While you have a steady income still, work aggressively to ensure that your expenses in retirement will be minimal.
- Make Plans: Sketch out a more concrete blue print of where you want to see yourself once you retire. Think about how long you want to work, what type of lifestyle you could afford vs. what type of lifestyle you want to afford. Crunch the figures to make sure you are on the right path. If not, adjust, recalculate and keep plodding ahead.
The Silver Age: Your Final Stretch
- Meet With An Expert: While financial planning can be tackled alone, in the homestretch (while there's still time for drastic alterations before you exit employment), it may be worth spending the extra money to have a fresh, professional set of eyes look over your finances and goals. Regardless of how well you plan and how meticulous you have been, there's always the possibility that an expert might have something to add. Be open to their advice.
- Estate Planning: If you haven't already, this is the time to have the difficult end-of-life discussions with your loved ones. Make sure you understand assistance options, what aid is available, what aid you might qualify for and what role your family members are willing to play in your care. Update your documents. Make sure your estate is in order and those when need to know about it do. Don't leave it up to chance. It's often an uncomfortable discussion, but it is necessary.
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