Americans are living healthier and longer lives. The average life expectancy is now 79—that’s plenty of time to save more than a million dollars.
The upshot is that you need to start securing an income for the 10, 20 or even 30 years after retirement right now. You don’t want to spend your golden years worrying about how you will pay the rent.
Saving $1 million will likely give you a financially solid retirement. And you don’t have to make six figures to be a millionaire; you just need to create a plan and live within your means.
1. Start early and create a plan.
Saving $1 million is a completely reasonable retirement goal if you have thirty years to save. It may take less than that if you are aggressive, but it may take longer if you start later in life.
Begin by creating a yearly goal that you will contribute to your retirement accounts, such as a 401k or a Roth IRA. Your yearly goal depends on your age and when you expect to retire. If you are 25 years old and you want to save $1 million for retirement, you need to put away $5,100 a year in order to reach $1 million by 65, assuming a 7 percent interest rate. The earlier you start, the less you will have to put away in the long run thanks largely to compound interest.
Use a retirement calculator to help you establish a goal. Even if your goal seems difficult to achieve, this simple step will move you in the right direction.
2. Track your spending.
It’s one thing to create a goal and another thing to meet it. Your plan should include active budgeting so that you can figure out how to cut back on your expenses and increase your retirement savings.
In college, I studied in Europe for a year. My mother gave me a small stipend to help pay the cost of the year abroad. In exchange, she requested that I keep track of everything I spent in an expense journal. Years later, my mother told me she didn’t think I’d really do it, but I did. I kept track of every pound during my year in Wales, down to the last pence.
By writing down every expense, I knew exactly how much money was left in my stipend and where I was spending the most and could adjust accordingly. You don’t have to carry an expense journal with you everywhere like I did, but you should have an account of your spending habits. You can use any number of websites or applications, such as Mint.com or You Need A Budget, to track your expenses. The point is to spend less than you earn and know where your money goes, day to day and month to month.
3. Pay yourself first.
To “pay yourself first” means to automatically deduct your savings out of your paycheck each month. Money that is in your wallet will get spent so it’s a good idea to take your savings out before you start the spending cycle. If you are a beginner, saving 10 percent of your income may be a good place to start. Personally, I’ve been putting away more than 25 percent of my gross income, not my net income after taxes, since I was 25 years old. It’s not that hard, you just have to live below your means.
After you get used to not having that 10 percent for spending, increase it to 12 or 15 percent. Most banks offer automatic deductions or transfers, which allows you to funnel your money into savings before it even hits your bank account.
And if you find that it’s hard to keep money in a savings account that you can easily access, try putting the money in an online savings account, far and away from your usual checking.
Saving $1 million will certainly take a long time, but it’s not as painful as you think. If you gradually increase the amount you save, you’ll grow accustomed to living on less without the anxiety of penny-pinching.
One last tip: Throw any bonuses, raises or extra cash straight into savings. You don’t need it now, and that extra $2,000 could be worth $608,000 when you retire.
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