Retirement is a big deal. It’s the time when you can finally relax and enjoy life after years of hard work. But here’s the problem: many Americans aren’t ready for retirement. In this article, we’ll explore why this is the case and, more importantly, what you can do to prepare for retirement in straightforward terms.
The Retirement Challenge
Retirement is often seen as a time to kick back and enjoy life. However, beneath this optimism lies a significant concern: most Americans are not saving enough for retirement. According to Fidelity, the average balance in a retirement account called a 401(k) is only about $112,400. This falls far short of what you’ll need to live comfortably in retirement.
But there’s a glimmer of hope. Some people are doing well. For instance, millennials, those born in the 1980s and 1990s, are saving an impressive 16.3% of their income for retirement. Baby boomers (born after World War II) and Generation X (born between the early 1960s and early 1980s) are saving just under 10%.
Here’s a surprising fact: Baby boomers who’ve been consistently putting money into their 401(k) retirement accounts since 2008 have an average balance of almost half a million dollars. That’s pretty good!
Recently, Dave Goodsell, the Executive Director of the Natixis Center for Investor Insight, shared insights on how Americans can do a better job of preparing for retirement. We’ll break down his insights into simple steps you can take to get ready for your retirement.
Understanding Market Changes
One significant lesson from recent years is that the stock market can be unpredictable. For a long time, since 2009, the stock market mostly went up. But in 2020, it took a significant nosedive. This tells us that the stock market isn’t always a smooth ride, and you should be ready for ups and downs.
Last year was especially tough for retirees because both stocks and bonds experienced losses. Bonds are usually seen as a safer way to invest your money. Normally, when stocks price decrease, bonds price increase. But in 2020, they both went down together.
This year, however, bonds are doing better. Financial experts say they are a good way to make money now. So, if you’re saving for retirement, it’s a good idea to have some bonds in your investment mix.
Now, let’s talk about bonds in simpler terms. Bonds are a bit like IOUs. When you buy a bond, you’re lending your money to a company or the government. In return, they promise to pay you back your money, plus a bit extra (that’s called interest), after a certain period.
Here’s the catch: when interest rates go up, the value of your bond can go down. It’s a bit like when you lend your friend $10, and then the next day, they say, “Sorry, I can only give you $9 now.” That’s what can happen with bonds when interest rates rise.
But here’s the good part: even if your bond’s value drops, you’ll still get the money you lent back when the bond matures. So, if you’re not planning to cash in your bonds right away, you don’t have to worry too much about the ups and downs.
Social Security’s Role
Social Security is like a safety net from the government. It’s designed to help you when you retire. On average, it replaces about 35% to 40% of the money you made before you retired. But here’s the tricky part: you need to find a way to cover the rest, which is about 60% to 65% of your pre-retirement income.
Let’s look at different generations:
- Baby boomers, who are older, often think they’re well-prepared, but they might not have saved enough. Surveys show that they need about $1.1 million for retirement, but they’ve saved only about $170,000. That’s a big gap!
- Generation X has more time to save, but they’re not there yet. They think they’ll need around $1.2 million, but they’ve saved only about $81,000.
- Millennials are the younger generation, and they’re saving more, but they might have unrealistic expectations. They want to retire early, at age 60, and think they’ll need about $891,000. It’s great that they’re saving, but they might need more than they think.
Thinking About How Long You’ll Live
One common mistake is underestimating how long you’ll live in retirement. People are living longer these days, sometimes two or three decades in retirement. So, if you don’t plan for that, you might run out of money before you run out of time.
Real Retirement Risks
People often worry about the stock market going up and down, but there are other risks to think about. Sure, market ups and downs are normal, like a rollercoaster ride. But not saving enough money is a bigger risk than the stock market going crazy.
Amid all these challenges, it’s essential to stay positive. There are always good times and bad times in life, and retirement planning is no different. When companies keep making things that people need and want, it’s a sign that things can get better.
Getting ready for retirement can be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a simple plan to help you prepare:
1. Start Saving Now: The earlier you start saving, the better. Even if it’s a small amount, it can grow over time.
2. Diversify Your Investments: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Spread your money across different types of investments, like stocks and bonds.
3. Learn About Bonds: Bonds can be a safe way to invest. Just remember that their value can go up and down, but you’ll get your money back when they mature.
4. Set Realistic Goals: Be honest about how much money you’ll need in retirement. Act accordingly.
5. Keep Learning: Don’t be afraid to learn about money and investments.
6. Seek Help When Needed: If all this seems overwhelming, consider talking to a financial advisor.
7. Stay Positive: Remember, there are always ups and downs in life. With the right plan and some determination, you can enjoy a comfortable retirement when the time comes.
So, start today, keep it simple, and secure your future. Retirement doesn’t have to be a puzzle; it can be a rewarding chapter in your life.
Additional Steps for Retirement Planning
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s delve a little deeper into specific steps you can take to ensure a secure retirement. These additional insights will help you fine-tune your retirement plan:
8. Create a Budget: Understand your current financial situation by creating a budget. Track your income, expenses, and savings. This will give you a clear picture of how much you can save for retirement each month.
9. Pay Off Debt: Before you retire, aim to pay off high-interest debts, such as credit card balances. Reducing your debt burden will free up more money for savings and ensure a more comfortable retirement.
10. Emergency Fund: Build an emergency fund that covers at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Having this safety net will prevent you from dipping into your retirement savings in case of unexpected expenses.
11. Maximize Retirement Accounts: Contribute the maximum allowed to retirement accounts like your 401(k) or IRA.
12. Take Advantage of Employer Benefits: If your employer offers a retirement plan with a matching contribution, make sure you contribute enough to get the full match. It’s essentially free money that can supercharge your retirement savings.
13. Consider Healthcare Costs: Plan for healthcare expenses in retirement. Medicare will cover some costs, but you may need supplemental insurance to bridge the gap.
14. Adjust Your Investment Strategy: As you get closer to retirement, consider shifting your investment portfolio to a more conservative approach.
15. Delay Social Security: You can start receiving Social Security benefits as early as age 62, but your monthly benefit increases if you delay claiming until full retirement age (usually between 66 and 67). Delaying can provide you with a more substantial monthly income in retirement.
16. Plan for Long-Term Care: Long-term care can be expensive, and it’s not always covered by insurance or government programs.
17. Review and Adjust: Regularly review your retirement plan and make adjustments as needed.
By following these additional steps, you’ll be well-prepared to enjoy a financially secure retirement. Remember that it’s never too early or too late. Start planning for your retirement now.