One of the last things you think about in your 20s or 30s is retirement. You’re launching a career, traveling, exploring the good things in life. What’s the rush?
Just ask almost anyone over the age of 50 about retirement. Odds are, they’ll tell you they wish they had done many things differently when they were young. That 20/20 hindsight is crystal clear.
In fact, it’s that energy, ambition, and freedom that makes saving for retirement a breeze when you’re young. Here are seven tips you should take advantage of while you can.
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1. Contribute the Max to a Retirement Plan
There are traditional and Roth IRAs, 401(k) plans, and Roth 401(k) plans. Contributing the maximum allowed to whatever plan you have will pay off handsomely in retirement. Make those contributions before you’re paying a big mortgage or putting braces on kids’ teeth.
If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, take advantage of it, especially if they match your contributions. Easily managed and low-fee options for small business 401(k) plans mean most employers can now offer them. That’s a perk if you work for one of the small businesses that are the backbone of the U.S. economy. Good 401(k)s are no longer just for the big dog companies.
You can pay taxes on your contributions now or pay when you draw on them in retirement. Either way, making maximum contributions now will pay huge dividends when the time comes to use them.
2. Sock Away Some Savings
It is true that the lowly savings account won’t garner the biggest return on your investment. Nonetheless, it’s an easy way to save a little or a lot over time. Call it the magic of compound interest.
Consider a savings account with an opening balance of just $100, to which you add $50 out of every bi-weekly paycheck. Even at half a percent interest, that money will grow to more than $42,000 in 30 years. Put in $100 out of every paycheck instead of $50, and the end amount doubles.
Contributing regularly to a savings account is a good habit to get into. Get started, and you might even find it a little addictive. You’ll thank this routine when you need some extra money on a rainy day far into the future.
3. Pay Off and Elude Credit Card Debt
Relying on credit cards is a bad habit to develop, so avoid the temptation. Credit cards are the gateway to poor spending habits. It’s far smarter to live within your means from the start rather than accumulate an apartment full of stuff.
Of course, credit cards are necessary for building credit scores and earning rewards for travel discounts and other useful perks. Just use them wisely and pay balances in full every month. You can otherwise rack up an exorbitant amount of interest over time.
If you have credit card debt, it’s OK to forgo the savings account or maximum retirement account contribution for now. Instead, focus on paying your cards off and keeping them paid off. Then you can start putting money aside for your golden years.
4. Build a Great Credit Score
The importance of having a solid score can’t be overstated. A high score qualifies you for loans you may need later for a new car or house. It also qualifies you for the lowest interest rates on credit cards and loans, which will save you big bucks over time.
An exceptional credit score is one of 800 or more, and such scores are made, not given to you. You earn such a score by handling credit wisely, paying your bills on time, and keeping your credit utilization rate low. Make building and maintaining a solid credit score one of your major life goals. Your score is a reflection of wise financial decisions that will pay off in the long term.
5. Earn Some Extra Money
While you’re young, energetic, and unencumbered by the responsibilities of partners, kids, and mortgages, take on a side hustle. You can find a part-time gig just for the money. Or you can feed a passion while earning a few extra bucks.
Maybe you’d enjoy officiating softball games at the local rec center. Perhaps you could freelance graphic design services on the side or drive an Uber. Or be a marketing rep by day and bartender by night.
Your savings account is a great place to store your extra income. Then again, you could use your extra-gotten gains to buy that new tech device you’ve had your eye on. A little extra cash is never a bad thing, especially when it keeps you from using those credit cards.
6. Eliminate Expenses
Start looking for ways you can save money by eliminating unnecessary expenses. How many streaming services do you really need? How about letting go of some of those annual box subscriptions?
Inventory your bank account for all the expenses debited every month. Do the same with your credit card statements. Odds are, you’ll notice a wealth of things you can and probably should live without.
Eliminating unnecessary expenses simplifies your life and increases your wealth. Over time, the impact can be tremendous, and you probably won’t miss the stuff you skipped in the process.
7. Reconsider Your Transportation Options
It’s tempting to go into debt on a brand-new car when you land that first job. At any age, everyone loves bright and shiny things. But transportation is a huge life expense and one that whittles away at retirement wealth potential.
If you live near your office and can walk or take public transportation, you’ll save money and time. This is infinitely easier to do when you’re young and don’t have a house in the suburbs. Leave a reliable used car in the parking garage or, better yet, don’t have one at all. If you just need a car on occasion, rent it.
The expense of car ownership isn’t just about car payments. Insurance, maintenance, repairs, even parking can cost you. If you can, live without the expense until you have to buy that minivan.
Retirement Will Be Here Before You Know It
Without a doubt, you will feel like you’re making the most money in your life with your first job. Instead of yielding to the temptation to spend it all, use your newfound wealth to fund your retirement. It’s far easier to do before you shoulder all those later-adulthood obligations.
If you’re really disciplined and use your money wisely now, it will pay off in spades later. In fact, you may be able to start enjoying retirement a lot sooner than most people. That’s something to look forward to.