Many Americans dream of being able to retire without having to drastically curtail their standard of living. But for many of them, that dream remains just a dream. Being able to retire comfortably takes a lifetime of hard work, good habits and, yes, even a little bit of good luck. If you’re not disciplined early in your career, you could cost yourself a great deal of money in lost potential savings. It’s not impossible to make it up later in life, but it’s much more difficult. Regardless of when you decide to seriously start planning for retirement, it will take dedication and discipline to keep from straying from that long-term goal of a comfortable retirement.
How Much Money Do You Need to Retire?
The easiest way to retire comfortably is to save up as much money as you’ll need in retirement. You’ll hear a lot of people throw out $1 million as the amount of money that you’ll need to live well in retirement. While that’s a good ballpark figure to strive for, will that be enough?
One rule of thumb is to try to live off of 4% of your retirement savings each year. If you have $1 million in assets, that would mean that you would try to live on $40,000 a year. Of course, taking $40,000 from your retirement accounts would mean that you would have to pay taxes on that amount, leaving you with less than $40,000 to live on.
That also assumes that your retirement savings continue to gain value in retirement, which is far from a given with an ever more volatile stock market. If you’re heavily invested in stocks and bonds, and financial markets enter a rough patch, you could see a significant portion of your savings wiped away. That would mean that you would have to start eating into principal, which you want to try to avoid as much as possible. Since the average 65-year-old lives for another 20 years, you need to keep every penny you can invested and working for you.
You also need to remember that inflation will continue to erode the purchasing power of your savings. Even at an inflation rate of 2 percent per year, that means that your cost of living will increase by 50% over the next two decades. And the higher the inflation rate, the more the cost of living increases. Raise that inflation rate to 4% and your cost of living will more than double in 20 years, rising by nearly 120%. So if you want your savings to continue working for you, you’ll have to make sure that the amount you’ve saved and the amount you pull out every year can continue to support you comfortably.
How Much to Save?
One rule of thumb for saving for retirement is to try to put away at least 15-20% of your pre-tax salary in savings every year that you work. So if you make $40,000 per year, try to save at least $6,000 per year; if you make $75,000 per year, try to save at least $11,250 per year. There are a number of ways you can do that.
If your employer offers a 401(k) investment program, you can take advantage of that to save and invest. Even better is if your employer offers a matching 401(k) program. If your employer offers a 5% match, then you could have 5% of your salary deducted pre-tax and have your employer match that sum. Voila – you’re now saving 10% of your salary and you don’t even notice it because the money is leaving your paycheck before you even see it.
Another way to save is to have your paycheck deposited into two different bank accounts. Try having 5, 10, or 15% of your paycheck deposited into a separate account, perhaps a bank savings account. Have that account linked to an IRA or other investment account if you want to, and don’t even think about withdrawing money from it to pay for ordinary expenses. If you can pare down your bills and cut out all unnecessary expenses, you may find that you can easily live off 85% of your income, making the other 15% go to work for you to help secure your retirement.
Budgeting plays a major role here too. Budgeting and accounting is just as important to a household as it is to a business. Do you keep detailed records of how much you spend? Do you know how much money you spend every month on food? Gas? Utilities? If you’re not keeping track now, you may be shocked to find out that you are spending hundreds of dollars more than you realized. If you can afford to start whittling away at those expenses, cutting out $5 here and $10 there, pretty soon you could start saving an extra $50-100 or more per month. Putting that money away and investing it will help grow your nest egg.
Too Many Americans Ill-Prepared for Retirement
The average American household between the ages of 55 and 64 has only $120,000 stashed away for retirement. That isn’t nearly enough to live on for 20 years. Many older Americans may be planning to rely on Social Security for the bulk of their retirement income, but their trust in the system is badly misplaced. The Social Security trust fund is expected to run out of money in 2034. After that, Social Security is only expected to pay 77% of its expected benefits. So if you’re relying on Social Security to help you out in retirement, you’ll likely only end up with three-quarters of the benefits you had hoped for.
That’s why saving early and saving as much as you can is the best strategy to ensure that you can retire in comfort. And that of course requires making the right investment decisions. Investing in assets that will grow your savings as much as possible early in your career can make sure that you have enough money to retire with once you near retirement age.
But once you near retirement, you’ll want to start protecting your assets, keeping them from being so vulnerable to fluctuations in the stock market. That doesn’t mean you have to give up growing your assets, it just means that you need to diversify your investment portfolio. And that’s where gold can play a very strong role.
Gold has been trusted by investors for centuries as a hedge against inflation and as a safe haven in times of financial turmoil. When stock markets go south, gold rises in price. Investors who put their money into gold before the 2008 financial crisis saw their portfolios far better protected than those who left all their money in stock markets. And even with the recent boom in stock prices, investors who stayed in gold continue to be rewarded. So if you have spent decades saving and investing to make your dream of a comfortable retirement become a reality, you owe to yourself to look into investing in gold.
Trevor Gerszt is America's Gold IRA Expert, CEO of Goldco Precious Metals, and holds a position on the Los Angeles board of the Better Business Bureau.
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