We all know it’s important to save for retirement.
Even if you’re saving for retirement, some common mistakes might cause you to run out of money in retirement. Avoiding these 7 retirement savings mistakes can increase the chances that you’ll be able to grow your portfolio and outlive your money.
1. Not starting as early as possible
No matter your age or current situation now is the best time to start saving for retirement. When you start saving early, you can contribute less money each month than you would need to later on.
For example, if you start saving for retirement at age 25, you only need to put $200 a month aside to retire with about $1.2 million at age 65. Waiting until you’re 35 means you’d need to put $500 a month aside in order to end up with $1.1 million at age 65.
Even if you’re older than that now, it’s a good time to start investing in retirement. Start today and set aside as much as you can to put the power of compounding returns to work for you.
2. Not saving enough
The longer you have your money in the market, the lower the amount of your needed contributions. However, what if you want to retire before age 65? What if you’re aiming for early retirement?
Well, if that’s the case, $200 a month just isn’t going to cut it. You’ll need to set aside more money each month if you plan to retire early, or if you’re operating on a shortened time scale. If you’re at least 50, you’ll want to make catch-up contributions in addition to putting as much as possible in your tax-advantaged retirement accounts.
Use an online calculator to play around with the numbers and get an idea of how much you’ll need to invest each month to reach your goals.
When it comes to retirement savings, you don’t want to be average.
3. Not using taxable investment accounts
We focus a lot on tax-advantaged retirement accounts, like 401(k)s and IRAs. However, when planning for retirement, don’t forget about taxable investment accounts — especially if you plan to retire before age 59 ½.
If you try to access your tax-advantaged accounts before you’re of an age for them, you’ll be charged a penalty by the IRS, except under certain circumstances. So, if you know you’re going to retire early, you need to include taxable investment accounts, business income and other sources of revenue in your calculations to tide you over until you can access the tax-advantaged accounts penalty-free.
4. Missing the match
If you work for “the man,” you might have access to a retirement plan that offers a matching contribution. Pay attention to this because a match is free money. Adjust your retirement account contributions so that, at the very least, you’re contributing what you need to achieve the maximum match.
Even if you can’t max out your 401(k) this year, you might be able to max out your match. If that takes contributing 6% of your income each paycheck, do that. Not only will you get a tax deduction for traditional contributions, but you’ll also get free money from your company to help you build your future. And once that money’s vested in your account, it will continue to grow, boosting your compounded returns.
You should still consider investing in your 401k even if you don’t get a company match on your contributions. The tax benefits are nice, and you have a dedicated retirement account which helps separate the money you can use now, from the money you can use later.
5. Assuming Social Security is an income replacement
When we think of retirement, we often figure Social Security in the mix. Unfortunately, too many people think of Social Security as an income replacement. This assumption can cost you big time during retirement, especially if you haven’t saved enough, thinking that Social Security will take care of you.
Instead, Social Security is meant to be a supplement to your income. It’s not designed to take care of all your retirement expenses — and probably won’t come close. Plus, with concerns over the state of the nation’s finances, and continued efforts to cut benefits and change the program, you might not want to rely on Social Security for anything. Make plans to take care of yourself with your own retirement savings and see Social Security as gravy.
6. Lack of consistency
One of the best things you can do for your future self is to save consistently for retirement. Whether you’re a business owner using a SEP or SIMPLE IRA, or whether you have a more traditional job and contribute to a 401(k), one key to building wealth over time is consistency.
Make sure you’re setting aside money each month toward retirement. On top of that, make sure you’re looking for ways to consistently increase your contributions. Whenever you get a raise, increase your contributions. Consider the goal of increasing your contributions by 1% of your income per year. Come up with a plan to be consistent over time, and you’ll develop a good habit of saving.
7. Selling stocks when the market crashes
During a market crash, it’s tempting to sell assets. However, this is a terrible time to sell. When you sell during a market downturn, you end up locking in your losses. This can permanently destroy your portfolio’s value. Plus, if you move out of stocks at the bottom, you won’t be invested when the market starts recovering — and you’ll lose all the potential subsequent gains.
If you’re worried about a stock market crash, consider using a bucket strategy. This can work well for those approaching or in retirement. With this strategy, you keep the money you know you’ll need in the next three to five years in cash and cash-like investments. You can use that money to live on, and you won’t have it in stocks during a crash. You’ll have some time to let the market recover before you have to sell.
In the end, retirement savings mistakes can cost you. Avoid the most common mistakes, and your portfolio has a better chance of holding up for the long haul.