If you’re not setting aside enough -- or any -- of your paycheck each month, your retirement dream could become a nightmare. Even if you plan on working during retirement, you might need more money to cover medical care, travel costs and living expenses.
Check out these hidden obstacles that could be impeding your retirement goals, and get tips for growing your nest egg.
Last updated: Sept. 22, 2021
1. Overspending During Your Working Years
No matter how much you make during your working years, keep an eye on your spending -- especially those big-purchase decisions, such as a new car or home, said Robert Steen, a certified financial planner and retirement advice director at USAA. You might be able to afford an added car payment or a larger house, but if you consider that extra money could be going into a retirement plan that's earning interest, you'll find you're missing out on opportunities to save more.
2. Miscalculating Retirement Savings Goals
Do you really know how much you need to save for retirement? “A general rule of thumb is to have about 12 times your final salary saved by the time you retire,” said Steen. This amount assumes you will retire at 65. But considering you could be saddled with additional medical expenses in retirement -- and that you'll need to accommodate for any financial shortfalls -- you might want to save more. There are strategies to follow to hit your savings goals.
3. Counting on Your Employer
Company pensions are no longer the norm. Mark Thomas, senior vice president of Aon Affinity Insurance Services, said, “Employers are switching employee benefits from so-called ‘defined benefit plans' (a pension) to ‘defined contribution plans’ (401(k))."
Sadly, this means you can't rely on your workplace or the government to support you with the income you need for retirement.
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4. Neglecting the Employer Match
If your company offers retirement matching, make sure to take full advantage of it as soon as you are eligible to receive the benefit. The Vanguard Group recommends contributing 12 percent to 15 percent of your pay, including any employer match, to reach your retirement goals.
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5. Leaving Retirement Contributions Out of the Budget
When you’re putting together your monthly budget, make space for your retirement contributions so you can stay on track with your goals.
“Build a budget and stick to it,” said Thomas. “Most people are spending more time planning their vacations than their retirement."
6. Starting To Save Too Late
Make compound interest work in your favor by contributing to your retirement fund as early as possible. Each dollar you contribute at the age of 20 is the equivalent of earning $5.84 by retirement at age 65, according to Vanguard. Each dollar you stow away at age 45, however, will only be worth $2.19 by retirement. If you're investing in your 20s, learn what strategies you should be following.
7. Claiming Social Security Too Early
You can start collecting Social Security benefits when you turn 62, but you won’t get the full benefit until you reach your full retirement age.
Tom Foster, national spokesperson at MassMutual Financial Group, shared the results of a MassMutual Retirement Services study that showed "those who took concrete steps, such as calculating the best time to collect Social Security, targeting how much money they would need to afford retirement and increasing savings, report feeling more financially secure in retirement.”
8. Overlooking Medical Costs in Retirement
Whether you plan on retiring early or right on schedule, don’t overlook the cost of medical and dental expenses as you get older. These costs might be significantly higher, especially if you have any type of medical condition or chronic illness. Planning ahead for these expenses could help you enjoy a more comfortable retirement.
9. Refusing To Downsize
If your car purchases are getting more expensive each year or your houses are getting bigger, you could be setting yourself up for debt or even bankruptcy as you head into retirement. Consider downsizing and being more frugal as you get older, so you can set aside more for your retirement account -- especially if you’re still playing catch up from years of overspending.
10. Carrying Student Loan Debt
If you are carrying student debt, you’ll have a hard time setting aside money for retirement if you don’t have much disposable income -- and if you’re living beyond your means. John Dick, CEO of Civic Science, a consumer research firm, shared recent data that showed 21% of U.S. adults have student loan debt affecting their capacity to save for retirement.
11. Neglecting the 401(k) Rollover
If you’ve changed jobs at least once, what happened to your 401(k)? Neglecting to roll over your retirement savings to the new company's 401(k) plan could mean your savings aren't earning the best rates. Of course, there are times it is best to keep your old 401(k) funds in place, so do your research to avoid losing out.
12. Rising Healthcare Costs
The Affordable Care Act prompted a rise in healthcare premiums for some Americans. If you have a high-deductible plan, the cost of the deductible could wipe out some of your savings in an emergency. If your savings can't accommodate for a medical emergency, take a few months to build an emergency fund to ensure you don't have to put a costly medical emergency on credit.
13. Career Growth Stagnation
If you’re stuck in a dead-end job or you aren’t working in a field that offers opportunities for career growth, you could be falling behind in your salary earning potential and miss out on opportunities to build that nest egg. Don’t be afraid to explore job opportunities outside of your company or even consider a career change if you want to boost your lifetime earnings.
14. Changing Jobs or Careers Too Frequently
On the flip side, job hopping or changing career paths too frequently can work against you. If you aren’t staying with a company long enough to earn retirement benefits or land a promotion, you might struggle to save money for retirement.
15. Saving Too Much
Can you be guilty of saving too much for retirement? If you’re going to extremes just to save up that nest egg, remember that you also need to enjoy life.
“It’s important to enjoy the experiences along the way," said Steen. "Starting a family, walking the Appalachian Trail or investing in more education are things that can be harder to do, or less satisfying later in life."
16. Neglecting Your Stock Portfolio
Rebalancing your portfolio closer to retirement age can help you avoid having too many high-risk assets at an age when you don't have time to wait out a bad market. If you haven’t checked in with your financial planner lately or are still in the dark about your stock portfolio, don't wait any longer.
17. Starting a New Business
Investing in an entrepreneurial venture or starting a new business from scratch might seem like the perfect way to secure your future -- but it could leave you on the verge of bankruptcy. If you're starting a business, map out your retirement goals and have an exit strategy in place, so you can preserve your retirement savings if things go awry.
18. Smoking or Overeating
"Health is wealth," as the famous adage goes. If you’re neglecting your health, perhaps by smoking or eating poorly, your retirement years could include medical problems and costly treatments. Paying attention to your health could help you save a significant amount of money on medical care and insurance costs throughout retirement.
19. Cashing Out Your 401(k) Early
If you decide to start a business, opt to pay down debt or just need some extra cash for a bigger purchase, you might consider tapping your 401k. While you have the liberty to do that, it’s important to know you could very well be slapped with penalties for the withdrawal. Moreover, any money you take out will cost you in lost interest.
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20. Ignoring Tax-Deferred Accounts
A 401(k) or IRA allows you to contribute toward retirement savings without paying taxes on the income. Your account keeps growing until you cash out, when you'll likely pay a lower tax rate on the funds than you were paying during your working years.
21. Not Doing Anything at All
If the retirement planning process is overwhelming or you don’t know where to start, don't call it quits. You could be missing out on hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in potential savings for retirement just by delaying contributions a few years. Talk to a financial planner to get started.
22. Staying In Debt for Years
Whether you're saddled with debt from credit cards or a costly wedding, extra monthly payments and liabilities will take a toll on your retirement savings potential. Paying off as much debt as possible during your working years -- and avoiding high interest charges as a result -- can set you up for a debt-free retirement.
23. Letting Your Emotions Dictate Investments
TV shows that track the stock market might tempt you to make risky stock investments -- but don't let your emotions dictate how you invest. Straying too far from your initial plan could backfire when your investments take a turn for the worst. Play it safe -- or at least set aside a strict budget for money you want to gamble.
24. Not Planning For a Lifestyle Change
If you plan on retiring early and moving to a fancy beach community or traveling nonstop, you might find your monthly budget strapped by increased living expenses. Be realistic with your budget going into retirement so you don't live above your means.
25. Paying Your Kid’s Student Debt
The average college graduate is strapped with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. Although you might be tempted to save your kids from high monthly payments by paying their student loans -- don't. Instead, focus on funding your retirement. That way, when you retire, you won't need to lean on your kids to fund your lifestyle.
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