“How am I going to afford retirement?” It’s a question practically all of us ask at one point or another, though a lot of us don’t do very much about it. According to a Northwestern Mutual survey, 21 percent of Americans have nothing saved for retirement, and of those who are saving, 52 percent say they haven’t saved enough, according to another recent study. But if you think it’s too late to build up your finances, you’re wrong, says Ric Edelman, founder and CEO of Edelman Financial Services and The New York Times best-selling author of The Truth About Money.
“Don’t lament the past, it’s irrelevant and unhelpful,” Edelman says. “If you’re in your 50s you still have 10 to 20 years of work potentially where you can save significant amounts of money and can make a huge difference.” And if you’re older, it’s not too late for you, either. We asked Edelman to share his top advice, much of which may be a new perspective for you to traditional retirement views.
Immediately. “You can provide every excuse you wish today, but It won’t help you when you are not willing or able to work,” Edelman says. “Surveys show that most retirees retire earlier than expected due to aging out, firings, or their own health or a spouse’s.” Figure out as soon as you can how much you need to save on a monthly basis. Make a list of all your expenses and what expenses you might expect once you retire. Consider your life expectancy and keep in mind that you’ll need to take inflation into account. A good online resource: the Ballpark Estimate Calculator from the educational group Choose to Save. If you need more help, talk to a certified financial planner (you can find one by clicking here.) “You do have the ability to save no matter what your financial situation,” says Edelman. “It’s the same as losing weight—you just have to do what it takes.”
A few sources of savings to consider that you might not have thought of:
- Insurance that you don’t need right now or can pare back on (Example: Are you kids grown but you’re still paying for term life insurance that isn’t really necessary?)
- If you have investments, is it the right mix of aggressive and conservative?
- Are there little sacrifices you can make every day to increase your savings?
- If your employer offers a 401K, are you earning the full match?
Maximize your 401K.
“You need to be participating in whatever 401K plan your company offers and contributing the maximum permitted,” says Edelman. The average person saves only 6 percent of their income in their 401K. His advice: Save between 10 and 15 percent of your paychecks. “The contribution is tax deductible so if you’re saving 15 percent, it might cost you only 10 percent,” he says, “and if there’s a corporate match and your boss puts in 3 to 5 percent, you are getting free money.” Also delay using your retirement money for as long as you can. “Your needs right now pale in comparison to future needs, so do not use your retirement savings to pay debts or college for grandchildren or home improvement projects.”
A word about investments: According to Edelman, the most common mistake people make with investments is that they invest too conservatively. “People are afraid of losing money or remember the pain from losing money when the market fell,” he says. “But low-return investments like bonds are not going to produce enough profit. As much as you might fear or dislike the stock market, you need to embrace it,” he says. The best things to do are get educated and talk to a financial planner about the right level of risk for you and how to best allocate your assets.
Reconsider your mortgage.
“Most Americans are handling their mortgage incorrectly,” according to Edelman. “They pay it off and enter retirement with no mortgage, which is misguided.” Though conventional wisdom goes in the opposite direction and favors taking a shorter mortgage and paying it off as quickly as possible, Edelman’s view is this: “Every extra dollar you send to the bank to pay off your mortgage is a dollar you didn’t invest.” He believes in having a 30-year mortgage rather than a 15-year mortgage, which means lower payments and the ability to have more flexibility with your money. He also cites the importance of having a mortgage to earn tax deductions. “The fact you can live in home is what counts, not whether or not you have a mortgage,” he says. “Your mortgage is a tool that helps you generate increased capital.” To lern more about Edelman’s mortgage philosophy, click here.
Wait to take Social Security.
Generally speaking people are eligible to take Social Security at age 62. “If you’re still working, don’t take the income because you’ll pay taxes on that income up to 85 percent,” says Edelman. Also, at age 62, you’ll only receive 80 percent of your full benefit. If you wait until your full retirement age of 66 you can get 100 percent of your benefit. “But, if you can delay to age 70 or older, you’ll get 120 percent of your benefit,” says Edelman. “The longer you wait, the more your monthly check will be.”
There are also other things to consider like the spousal benefit if you’re married, and who earned more while you both were working. To get more information on Social Security, read 3 Things to Consider Before You Claim Social Security Benefits or visit the Social Security web site.
Don’t over-give to the grandkids.
“Lots of new grandparents make a common mistake—they get so excited when the first baby shows up, they can’t wait to show their love and affection and set up a college savings plan,” says Edelman. The problem: They may put $5,000 or $10,000 into the account, which is okay until their other grandchildren are born and they have to do the same.
“While they can be generous with the first, they might not be able to be equally generous with baby five or six,” says Edelman. Before giving your grandchildren (or grown children) money, think about how much money in total you can give. “Is the grandbaby going to need money when going to college? It may be free in 20 years or they might not go at all,” says Edelman.
Is the money you’re giving away money you’ll need for retirement? Edelman’s advice, “it’s better to leave the money in your name and at age 18, if everything is what you want it to be and the grandchild needs money for college, write a check at that time.”