It's never too early to start putting away money for your future. If you've ever wondered how to save for retirement when you're also dealing with day-to-day expenses, these easy tips can help.
1. Get a rough estimate of retirement expenses
It may seem difficult to know how much money you'll need in retirement, especially if it's several decades away. Experts say that to keep your same standard of living, you'll probably need at least 70% of your pre-retirement income.
The reason you probably won't need 100 percent is because some costs, such as commuting expenses or child care, probably won't be necessary in retirement. If you already have a budget for your current expenses, then it's probably easy to get a rough idea of what you may need when you retire.
2. Decide on a savings target
Say you're 25 years old and your living expenses are about $50,000 a year. Take 70% of that, and it means you'd probably need about $35,000 to retire comfortably, assuming your income remains the same until retirement. So you'd want a nest egg that provides about $35,000 annually.
Many financial experts suggest that you withdraw only about 4% of your retirement savings each year to help ensure that it lasts. That means to get $35,000 in income, you'd need a savings target of about $875,000.
It's a lot of money, but by using a retirement calculator, you could find that there's a good chance you could reach your goal by age 61 if you start saving 10% of your income each year. This number assumes your savings earn 7% annually. If your income increases before retirement, you'd probably also need to increase your savings target.
If you can't quite put away 10% — or whatever your goal percentage is — while also keeping up with your regular expenses, consider starting with a smaller amount and gradually increasing the percentage of income you save until you reach your goal.
You may also have other income sources in retirement, such as Social Security or a pension plan. Look at the Social Security calculator to get an idea of what your monthly benefits might be when you retire and add that to your retirement calculations.
Bear in mind that an income of $35,000 will probably have much less spending power in 40 years than it does today because of inflation, so it's smart to consider cost-of-living increases in your savings target. It may be a good idea to make an appointment with a certified financial planner to help you weigh your options.
3. Contribute to a tax-advantaged retirement plan
In addition to knowing what percentage of income you should save each year, you'll also want to decide where to put your money. If your employer offers a traditional or Roth 401(k), consider enrolling. This is especially important if your company offers an employer match, because a match is like adding free money to your retirement savings. You could also contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA.
With traditional retirement plans, you receive an upfront tax deduction for the money you contribute. You then let that savings grow and allow the interest to compound. You'd pay income tax on any money you withdraw, and you'd also have additional early withdrawal penalties if you take money out before age 59½.
With Roth plans, you pay tax on your contributions, but you don't have to pay tax on your withdrawals if you retire after age 59½.
When you put your money in a retirement savings plan, you'll have a number of different investment options to consider, including stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
4. Put your savings on autopilot
Once you've established your retirement plan, consider setting up automatic withdrawals from your paycheck or bank account. It would be much easier to meet your savings goals when your money has a chance to grow uninterrupted over a period of years.
Learning how to save for retirement is important, but it doesn't have to be hard. By coming up with a savings goal and contributing regularly to a retirement account, you can help make sure you'll be able to meet your financial goals for the long term.
Margarette Burnette, NerdWallet
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