I don’t watch TV very often now, but one of the shows I did watch was Doomsday Preppers on the National Geographic channel (I’m not sure what that has to do with being either national or geographic, but whatever).
I used to laugh at them and their intense worry and preparation for things that were unlikely, if ever, to occur. Complete collapse of the government? A plague of locusts? Killer teddy bears? Come on!
I used to take the same view towards people who prepare for retirement. It was so far away, why worry about it?
Unlike the doomsday scenarios that the preppers were fretting over, I knew that retirement for me would be a sure thing as long as I didn’t keel over before then.
But, what was the point in saving money and preparing for it, though?
I didn’t want to do expensive things in retirement like buy boats or travel the world. Lear jets were never quite my thing. So, what did I need retirement savings for?
Social Security Will Only Keep You Sheltered And Fed…But Very Poorly
Social security was designed to pay money to retirees, so why not just rely on that? Everyone else seems to be anyways. According to a 2015 GAO study, almost a third of people over 55 have no retirement savings at all. What’s the big deal?
My attitude on the whole subject changed when I learned a shocking fact: social security barely pays out a pittance. Depending on where you live, it may not even be enough to survive, especially if something unexpected happens.
As of May 2016, the average social security payment amounted to a measly $1,233.18. If I lived on that much today, after paying for rent, I would only have $238.18 left over each month for all of my other living expenses. Food, health insurance, medical bills, pets, and everything else would need to fit in that leftover $238.18. I’m no math expert, but even I know that won’t go very far.
How Can I Make Sure I Save Enough For Retirement?
Luckily, as long as you’re not already retired, there’s always time to save money for retirement. And even if you are retired, you still can go into semi-retirement and get a part-time job somewhere.
It’s always wise to speak with a financial advisor in case your situation is unique (and whose isn’t?), but here are some basic things to know.
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How much should I save for retirement?
Most experts recommend saving an absolute minimum of 10% of your income. If you can afford it, saving 15% or more is even better.
The goal is to retire with a pot of money that’s big enough to withdraw from sustainably. That means theoretically you could withdraw a set percent of the pot (usually considered to be about 4% of the pot size) and due to the investment returns, it would not shrink. You could live on it forever without depleting it. Of course, the stock market doesn’t work perfectly this way, but it’s a rough rule of thumb.
A cool feature of this 4% rule is that you can decide how big you want your retirement pot o’ money to be, based on how much you want to “earn” in retirement. To do this, just multiple your desired income by 25.
For example, let’s say I want to withdraw $50,000 each year in retirement.
$50,000 × 25 = $1,250,000.
That seems like a %$#& ton of money right now, but by saving constant amounts and investing it wisely, you don’t need to come up with the full amount on your own. The return from having the money invested should make up the difference, as long as you contribute enough to your savings and the stock market acts accordingly.
How should I save for retirement?
The best way to save for retirement for us normal folks is to make it automatic, so you don’t even have to think about it. The money automatically goes into your savings account.
If you’re employed, see if your employer offers a retirement plan with matching contributions. With these plans, if you put in money, your employer will also contribute a certain amount. It’s literally free money! Take it!
If you’re self-employed, or your employer doesn’t offer a matching contribution plan, then you’ll need to save on your own. For young people, one of the best ways to do this is with a Roth IRA, which you can open in a number of different places.
If shit ever hits the fan, you can withdraw the money you’ve put into a Roth IRA without having to pay steep penalties, unlike with other retirement plans. And, when you start pulling the money out in retirement, it comes out tax-free: you don’t have to pay any income tax on the money.
My Retirement Savings Plan
I’ve had to rethink my retirement savings strategy within the past few months.
My previous employer had a great retirement plan (even if I couldn’t stand the job itself), and would match everything I put in my retirement account dollar-for-dollar up to 10% of my salary each month.
I didn’t make much money there, and so 10% of not much is still not much. I am grateful for what free money I did receive, though.
My new employer doesn’t offer any benefits because I am working on a temporary basis. If my employer won’t help me save for retirement, then it’s all on me. I’ve made just a couple paychecks so far, and I’ve been setting aside 15% of each paycheck within my budgeting program.
I have to admit that voluntarily holding aside 15% of my paycheck each month is a bit more painful than I was expecting. My old employer automatically took it out of my check, and so I never had the chance to “see” it and therefore it wasn’t missed. Now, I know exactly how much I’m missing out on spending today.
Still, I imagine that the pain today of not spending that money is a lot less than the pain of living off of cat food in the future.
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Where To Invest With My Roth IRA?
My goal is to start my own Roth IRA once I reach the $1,000 mark. I’m still a bit unsure about where to open a Roth IRA account once I reach this point.
I already have investment accounts open with Betterment and I really like them because it’s a brainless, painless way for me to invest. Their fees are low, which I really like.
On the flip side, I know I can make it even cheaper if I put my money directly in a Roth IRA with a company like Vanguard. I’m still not confident that I know enough about how to do that yet. For now, though, it looks like I’ll be sticking with Betterment. Even though it might not be the uber-optimized strategy, it’s still a hell of a lot better than most people. And in time, when I feel comfortable, I’ll look into more DIY options.
What do you guys think? Do you make retirement savings a priority? Leave a comment below!