During your working years, retirement can feel like it's a lifetime away, but it creeps up faster than you think. Hopefully, by the time you get there, you've managed to save enough to cover all of your costs. But this isn't always easy. And for those who fall for the common retirement myth discussed below, saving enough could be an even bigger challenge.
How much time do you have left until retirement?
When you first start out in your career, you're probably looking at 30 to 40 years in the workforce (at least) before you can afford to retire. For some people, it's even longer.
With that kind of time on your hands, it's easy to feel like saving for retirement can wait while you tackle more immediate goals. But waiting can actually make your task more difficult because you won't have as many investment earnings to help supplement your personal contributions.
Let's say you're trying to save $1 million by the time you're 65. If you started saving at 22 and earn a 7% average annual rate of return, you'd only need to set aside about $325 per month to reach your goal. Over 43 years, your personal contributions would only amount to $167,700.
But if you waited until you were 32 to begin saving, you'd now have to set aside $676 per month — over twice as much — to save $1 million by 65. This again assumes you earn a 7% average annual rate of return. Your total personal contributions in this scenario amount to $267,696. That's almost exactly $100,000 more, all from putting off your savings for 10 years.
That's why it's important to begin saving for retirement as early as possible and to continue to make regular contributions throughout your working years. It may not seem like a few hundred dollars in your account today will make that big of a difference, but you have to remember that money will accrue interest over time, so the face value you see today isn't what it will actually be worth by the time you retire.
What if you're already behind on your savings?
In the example above, we looked at beginning your savings at 22 versus 32, but a lot of people make it well into their 30s before they get a chance to start saving for retirement. That doesn't mean all hope is lost, though.
You can still save enough for retirement, though you will likely have to contribute larger amounts of money each month than you would have if you'd started saving earlier. If you can afford to do so, you might also want to take advantage of catch-up contributions once you turn 50. These are additional contributions you can make to your retirement accounts.
For IRAs, you may contribute an extra $1,000 per year beyond the initial $6,000 limit for adults under 50. For 401(k)s, you may contribute an extra $6,000 per year once you turn 50. That brings the maximum contribution up to $26,000 for 2021 and $27,000 for 2022.
If that's not enough, you might have to consider delaying retirement. Doing this gives you additional time to save for retirement while allowing the money that's already in your account to grow for a longer period of time. It also shortens the length of your retirement, which reduces the cost as well.
But even if that's your plan, don't put off making contributions right now if you can afford to do so. Remember, every dollar you're saving today could be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars in a few decades. Your later contributions matter too, but they won't be worth as much by the time you're ready to retire. Set up automatic contributions if you can, and make retirement savings a part of your monthly budget so you can get the most out of your dollars starting right now.
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