To live comfortably in retirement, you need "to save until it hurts," says financial adviser and best-selling author Ric Edelman.
People give lots of excuses for not saving for retirement, he says. They may be procrastinating, think they can't afford to save or fear losing money to bad investments, but they have to overcome those fears, because "a financially secure future will be up to them," says Edelman, who has a new book on the topic,The Truth about Retirement Plans and IRAs.
The CEO and founder of Edelman Financial Services, a firm with more than $12 billion in assets under management, Edelman has written eight personal finance books, including the best-selling The Truth About Money. He's also a national radio and TV host.
If you're not tucking money away for the future now, you can start by saving as little as $10 a paycheck or putting away half your next raise, he says. "A small amount of money can produce massive amounts of wealth over time. The key is getting started."
It used to be that people didn't worry about saving for their later years because many had pensions, and they didn't live as long as people do now, Edelman says. "But we can no longer count on our employers, partly because they aren't offering pensions, and we don't stay with one employer. Many people change jobs every few years."
Most experts expect Social Security benefits will be lower in the future, he says. "You can't count on your employer and you can't count on the government, therefore your retirement is up to you. That statement scares people, but in fact it should empower you, because it's remarkably easy to achieve retirement savings success."
Edelman offers these tips for saving for retirement:
1. Join your retirement plan at work. It's the easiest way to save because money is automatically deducted from your paycheck, he says. If your employer doesn't offer a retirement plan, if you're not eligible to participate in it or if you're already contributing the pre-tax maximum and can afford to save even more, then contribute to an IRA.
2. Start small. If you're not contributing anything to a retirement plan, start by contributing 1% of your pay. If the 1% contribution hurts, then stay at that level until it doesn't hurt anymore, he says. If it doesn't hurt, then increase your contribution by another 1%. Do that until it hurts.
A 1% contribution may be less painful than you think. Say you make $44,259 a year. If you're paid twice a month, that's $1,844 per paycheck. If you contribute $18.44 from it, you lower your taxes by about $5, assuming you're in the 25% tax bracket, meaning your paycheck only has to drop by $13. That's about a dollar a day.
It's easy to cut a dollar a day from most budgets, he says. "We're talking about one large cafe latte a week or you can skip drinking soda daily at lunch," Edelman says.
3. Start even smaller. If even 1% sounds like too much money, make it $10 a paycheck. Then increase by $10 increments until it hurts.
4. Save half your next raise. If you can't contribute anything now, wait until your next pay raise. When you get it, put half your raise into the retirement plan. Your paycheck will still go up some, and your contribution will be completely painless, he says.
5. Don't miss out on company incentives. Most employers that offer retirement plans give incentives for you to contribute some of your pay to your plan. Many add an amount equal to 3% of your pay. "Your employer is offering you free money, so take it."
6. Find a new job. If your employer doesn't offer matching contributions, find a job with an employer that does, he says. Matching contributions can really add up.
Consider: If you contribute $5,000 a year for 40 years, earning 6% annually, you'll accumulate $773,810 for retirement. If your employer adds to your account with a 3% match, the value of your account will be $232,143 more — giving you a total of slightly more than $1 million.
"You need to recognize that many employers are willing to provide a matching contribution. If your employer isn't doing that, you owe it to yourself to change jobs," he says.
7. Invest with a long-term perspective. You have to create a diversified mix of mutual funds that invest in stocks, bonds, real estate, foreign securities and government securities, he says.
You can keep your money entirely invested in stock funds provided you understand the risks and you plan to leave your money invested in stock funds for at least five years, preferably longer, Edelman says. These two criteria are crucial for your decision to leave money invested in stock funds, he says.
"I would never recommend that people put money in stocks if they plan on withdrawing it in a year or two. Look at 2008. If you had a two-year time horizon and had invested in 2006, look what have happened. But if you had a five-year time horizon, you would have been fine.
"If you are terrified of the stock market, you need to invest in it anyway," Edelman says. "A lot of people are terrified to go to the dentist, but they go anyway. Don't let your fears stop you from doing what you need to do."