You might hear saving for retirement is like running a marathon or climbing a mountain — a task that requires serious training and intense commitment. But that can be pretty daunting. Instead, it’s more like learning a new skill, like an instrument. It’s about being consistent and diligent with small, regular efforts over an extended period of time. While you may not see big gains day-to-day, you’re always making progress.
To learn the piano, you have to sit down and start playing. And to build a nest egg, you just start saving. If you aren’t exactly sure how to begin, try one of these 10 ways to jumpstart your retirement planning for the future you want.
1. Check for an employer match.
One of the best ways to build retirement savings is with an employee-sponsored retirement account, like a 401(k) — especially if your employer offers a match, as that is basically free money into your retirement fund. If your employer provides this benefit, begin by contributing at least enough to take advantage of the entire match, so you don’t leave any money on the table.
2. Open an IRA.
If your work doesn’t offer a match or retirement plan at all, you’ll probably want to open a tax-advantaged retirement account like an IRA. With a traditional IRA, your money grows tax-deferred — meaning you pay taxes on it when you withdraw during retirement. With a Roth IRA, you contribute after-tax dollars, and it grows tax-free. Whichever option you choose, opening a tax-advantaged retirement account is a smart first step to get serious about saving for those golden years.
3. Plan your asset allocation.
Building up an investment portfolio can be tricky, if you aren’t sure where to begin. But thinking through your balance of stocks and bonds is a good way to give yourself some direction, and using the Rule of 110 is one place to start. With this method, all you do is subtract your age from 110. The resulting number is the percentage of your portfolio you should direct toward securities like stocks and ETFs. The remaining percentage should go to more conservative investments, such as bonds.
4. Automate your savings.
Automation is a saver’s best friend. By setting up a direct deposit into your retirement account, you won’t have to worry about putting away a portion of money each month for retirement. Plus, you eliminate the mental component (that, let’s be real, can be a savings roadblock) of having to move money yourself from checking to savings, making it even easier to grow your retirement fund.
5. Start small and make a growth plan.
One retirement rule of thumb is to save 10 to 15% of your pre-tax income each year — but think of that as an end goal, not a starting point. Instead, start with a percentage you can manage (and if you have an employer match, a contribution that takes advantage of that is a smart starting point). From there, aim to increase your contribution by a 1 or 2% each year until you reach 15%.
6. Put windfall money toward retirement.
Cash you receive as a salary bonus, tax refund, or gift is the perfect money to put right in your retirement fund. Why? Because if it’s not money you normally live on, you won’t miss it if it’s in savings. Windfall money is a great opportunity to give your nest egg a boost — and you’ll be glad you did when you see the power of compounding take effect over the years.
7. Direct your raises to retirement.
Directing new income towards retirement fund (whether an IRA or other savings method) is an effective way to ensure your contributions continue to grow without having to impact your lifestyle. And similar to windfall money, you won’t even notice that it’s not in your bank account.
8. Reevaluate your budget.
If you want to start saving for retirement or increase your contribution, but you don’t expect any upcoming income changes, you may need to give your budget an update to identify money you can direct toward savings. This may require a slight lifestyle adjustment, but even allocating $25 or $50 a month toward retirement is a worthy start.
9. Eliminate credit card debt.
The thought of saving for retirement can feel unrealistic when you have high-interest debt, like credit card debt. While you can save money and pay off debt at the same time, it may be a wise choice to focus on paying down high-interest debt before bolstering your retirement savings. Then, once you have any high-interest debt out of the way, you can redirect the money used for your credit card payments toward retirement. Not only will you have more money to save, you can enjoy the motivational boost of relinquishing the burden debt can place on your finances.
10. Use a robo-advisor.
If you’re investing for the first time — in an IRA, for instance — you don’t have to go it alone. Consider enlisting the help of a robo-advisor. With an Ally Invest Robo Portfolio, you receive the support of human experts and top-notch robo technology to build and manage a diversified portfolio for you. All you have to do is make contributions, and we’ll make sure the investments in your IRA stay in line with your goals.
You won’t regret saving sooner.
Saving for retirement isn’t an insurmountable mountain you have to climb. It’s not a long, winding race you need to win. It’s an ongoing process that takes persistence and small, steady contributions — week-by-week or month-by-month. If you have the resolve to get started, you’re on the right track to master saving for retirement.
We offer IRA options for self-directed traders and hands-off investors.