Living responsibly and within your means is part of the necessary sacrifice required to make sure you and your family live balanced and well-intentioned lives. We often fall into the trap of planning for our retirement too late. In today’s economic climate, this may be due to a variety of factors, from not having enough money to save to not knowing how much you need to retire comfortably.
Thankfully, saving for retirement is easier than you might think. Observe these tips to build your personal savings and retirement plan.
Obviously, you’ll need the money to put extra away each month. If you’re having difficulty building a safety net, try these tips to increase your discretionary income:
- Throw away your television. Well, not really, but cutting down on the amount of TV you watch can be financially beneficial. Firstly, the less TV you watch, the less exposure you’ll have to advertisements that encourage you to spend more money. Second, TV uses a lot of electricity, so cutting back can help you cut down on your bills. Last, getting rid of your cable bill can help you save up to $100 a month. Instead of conventional cable service, get an HD antennae and a subscription service for those programs you just can’t miss. In your new downtime, take up reading or exercise.
- Sell instead of buy. We’re all guilty of buying things we don’t really need. Take an inventory of your home and determine what’s just taking up storage space. Host a garage sale to get rid of clothes, furniture, and children’s toys you no longer need. Online sites such as craigslist also offer opportunities to get rid of things you don’t use for a profit. Consider donating any items you can’t sell to a church or nonprofit organization.
- Make gifts. The gift-giving holidays can put significant financial strain on families. Instead of buying commercial gifts, try something more meaningful that won’t take a toll on your wallet. DIY baking mixes, freshly baked cookies, and even homemade soap make thoughtful gifts that help extend your discretionary income.
- Observe the 30-day rule. One of the biggest rules of personal finance is the 30-day rule: If you really want something, wait 30 days and assess again. If you still want (or, more importantly, need) it, then buy it. This will help minimize buyer’s remorse and help you put away a little more each month.
- Assess your children’s entertainment expenses. We spend a lot of money on children’s extracurricular activities and not all of it is necessary. Young children, in particular, don’t require a lot to entertain. You might find a lot of extra room in the budget if you encourage your toddler to play outside, instead of dragging him to a fitness class.
Start Your Discovery Phase
Now that you’ve started to put away some money each month, start the discovery phase of retirement planning. In this phase you’ll determine how much money you need to retire comfortably. Take a look at your current investments, where you’re contributing, and how well each account is doing. Use a retirement calculator to see if you’re on the right track. If it seems like you’ll have enough to live on in your retirement years, good for you. Otherwise, consider restructuring your investments to maximize your returns. If your investments are sound, it’s time to consider putting more away each month (refer to the previous step to increase your discretionary income).
Familiarize Yourself with the Rules
Financial rules can be complicated, but you’re going to have to learn them if you want to save for retirement. Setting up a traditional or Roth IRA is a good idea, but remember that you can only qualify if you’re under a certain income limit. Another area you’ll have to research is Social Security: Your benefit amount is directly dependent on your taxes, but you’ll be able to claim portions of it at different ages. If possible, plan on waiting until your full retirement age, because your monthly check grows every year after the age of 62.
Have a Cushion of Cash
You might make more if your money is tied into the markets, but having 100% of your investments in stock is a bad idea. Having a cash cushion will keep you from having to sell your assets at the worst possible time. When you’re at retirement age, you might not always have the option of seeing a bear market through – but if you have enough cash reserves, you won’t have to take a hit on your investments.
Pay Down Your Debts First
Saving for retirement is a good idea, but it’s a lot easier to do when you don’t have debts hanging over your head. Before you get really committed to retirement, pay off your student loans, credit card debts, and other financial obligations.
Know How Much You Should Actually be Saving
A retirement calculator is a good place to start, but financial experts recommend saving as much as 15% of your income for retirement. If you’re unsure of how to get there, see if your work retirement plan has an auto-increase of some sort. If not, commit to raising it yourself every year on your birthday. This will help you slowly increase your retirement investments while being able to live off less.
Last, know the fees associated with your investments. The difference between a 1% fee and a 0.5% fee can make a difference of thousands of dollars over the life of the investment. This will also help you ascertain an investment’s performance and returns. If you’re paying a higher fee, but seeing modest returns, it might be time to restructure.
Planning for retirement can be daunting, but it’s necessary for living through your golden years without worry. Taking the time to assess and restructure your investments now will save you significant money in the long run. But as you’re planning for retirement, remember: Jesus commanded us to live with less and take care of the poor. God will provide for those who pray and remain faithful. Do your due diligence, and let Him take care of the rest.