The answer to “how much savings do I need for a comfortable retirement?” is incredibly personal. There are a lot of factors that go into determining this value for each unique person.
Whatever that perfect number is for you, the best way to get there is to start saving early. But if you’re closing in on retirement and feel like your savings are too lean, don’t worry—there are steps you can take, even late in the game, to set yourself up for a comfortable retirement.
1. Make a plan ASAP
Knowing how much money you need in savings to retire comfortably is the key question. And no matter what age you are, it’s never too late to make this calculation.
This value will be completely driven by how much you plan to spend on a monthly or annual basis when you retire. This is typically driven by your current lifestyle; however, lifestyles can fluctuate depending on what stage of life you’re in. For example, a young professional may prefer a more expensive lifestyle than they currently have, whereas a couple with three children may be currently spending more money on college savings than they will during retirement.
Whatever your individual case may be, sit down and map it out so you know the reality and can make sound financial decisions to help you reach your goal. If you aren’t sure how to begin, set up a meeting with a financial adviser to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward.
2. Avoid the comparison game
It’s human instinct—and we all do it—but when it comes to catching up on your retirement savings, it’s imperative to resist the urge to “keep up with the Joneses.”
When you’re building your wealth, try to quell your need for “the latest and greatest.” When you do buy something, buy quality so that it lasts and you won’t need to continually re-buy that item. Instead of wasting money on constant upgrades to items that still work just fine, you’ll be investing in your retirement and setting yourself up for a healthy financial future. Focus on you and your goals, not those of your neighbors or peers.
A good tactic to achieve this is reverse budgeting: living a lifestyle that’s affordable after your savings plans are in place. Once your savings and investments are tucked away, you’ll live day-to-day on the remainder. By not spending every dollar you make, and never “dipping into” your investments, you’ll set yourself up for successful savings.
3. Consider a backdoor Roth
If your cash flow and income level allow, a backdoor Roth could help you save more by building a tax-free bucket of money to use in retirement.
The backdoor Roth IRA allows high-income earners to put money into a Roth IRA for future tax-free savings that isn’t subject to Required Minimum Distribution requirements. There aren’t immediate tax benefits, but you’ll be able to take advantage of tax-free growth for the future—which can be key if you’re falling behind on your retirement savings.
Keep in mind that if you’re younger than 59.5, there is a rule that requires funds from a converted Roth to remain in the account for a minimum of five years, or you may be subject to an early-withdrawal penalty.
4. Actions to take today
If you’re anxious to boost your retirement savings right away, here’s a list of quick tips to help you get started.
Use credit cards with benefit plans: Try to put most of your daily expenses on a credit card that offers points or mileage. Pay the balance off in full every month so you don’t incur fees, and use the rewards system to cover your leisure activities or vacations so the rest of your savings can go entirely to a retirement fund.
Minimize your taxes: Lots of financial investments offer an element of tax savings to you—including retirement plans, home mortgage interest, charitable contributions, and health savings accounts. Consulting a financial and tax professional could be helpful to determine which of these options makes the most sense for you.
Consider college savings plans: If you have children and want to save for their education, there are many plans available that offer tax benefits. Review the benefits of custodial plans, 529 plans, and prepaid tuition plans to determine how much you might be able to save in future cash flow and tax savings.
Take advantage of “catch up” features: Retirement and IRA “catch up” features allow for savers age 50 and over to put away an additional $6,500 contribution for 401(k)s and $1,000 contribution for IRAs.
Invest in growth-focused investments: If you have five or more years until you need your retirement funds, adjust your portfolio to balance the risk of downturns in the stock market with bonds or stable-value investments.
Add investments with downside protection: Safeguard your savings in case the stock market makes an unexpected decline.
Consider you potential long-term care needs. Certain insurance policies allow you to purchase coverage that can be paid up in 10 years. It may be best to purchase these while you’re still working and earning income rather than when you retire.
It’s never too late to start saving aggressively for retirement. Making a comprehensive plan—covering savings, debt management, insurance, taxes, investments, retirement, and estate planning—is the best way to ensure you’re preparing today for what you’ll need tomorrow.
Faron Daugs, CFP, Wealth Advisor, is founder and chief executive of Harrison Wallace Financial Group.