3 surprising ways to save more

The Google search term “How much should I save for retirement?” returns over 50 million hits. You could say this is a pretty popular topic. But too much information can be more intimidating than none at all, especially when it comes to money. And working longer isn’t necessarily the best option. In the interest of simplification, here are three steps you can take to dramatically improve your chances of having a comfortable retirement.

Use an online calculator: A 2013 study by the Employee Benefit Research Center (erbi.org) found that people who use an online calculator or a financial advisor to learn what they need to be saving boosted their probability of saving what they will need to retire by as much as 18.2% over the general population. As they say, a goal without a plan is only a wish.

If you’re not sure where to begin, Bogleheads.org has a comprehensive list of retirement planning calculators.

Don’t get divorced: Dr. Jim Dahle, financial blogger (and ER physician) at whitecoatinvestor.com lists “Get Married and Stay That Way” at the top of his list in a post, “10 Things That Matter Most in Personal Finance” and he makes a great case for it. Think about it – you have to split your assets, possibly to include any future retirement benefits, and may be on the hook for alimony and/or child support for 18 years or more. A little thing like that could mean you’re test-driving a Kia instead of a BMW when you get ready to retire.

The corollary is to marry a person who shares your financial frugality (you are frugal, correct?) In fact, I believe pre-marital financial counseling should be on every engaged couples’ checklist – no matter their ages. Wouldn’t you rather know about “I spend” before “I do”?

Start saving early: Not so surprising, perhaps, but what is stunning is the difference you can make in your retirement account. For example, which account would have the most money at age 66, assuming an 8% average annual return?

  • At age 25, investing $5,500 at the beginning of each year for 10 years and then nothing else, or
  • Waiting 10 years (until age35) and then investing $5,500 at the beginning of each year for the next 30 years

Answer: By starting at age 25 and investing $55,000 over 10 years, you’ll have almost 29% more than if you wait 10 years and save $165,000 over three decades ($1,009,978 versus $784,873). ($5,500 is the current maximum annual amount you can put into an IRA if you’re under age 50.) Does that mean it’s too late if you’re age 35+? Of course not, you just have to be more creative!

So how much do you save? Michael Kitces, financial blogger extraordinaire, posted a novel idea in his column “Don’t Save 10% of Income…” – read the post for a well-argued approach to a better formula to save for retirement.

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