As designated by Congress to raise awareness about the importance of saving for retirement, October 18-24 is National Save for Retirement Week. There are so many goals vying for our savings dollars - the emergency fund, a car, a house or a college education - that already hurting retirement plans may be shortchanged. The Illinois CPA Society recommends taking these five steps to evaluate your retirement savings:
- Start with a Plan - If you don't already have a retirement plan - whether you're 22 or 52 - start one. If you have a plan, stick to it to the best of your ability. The earlier you save, the longer your savings will grow with compound earnings - a 22-year old who saves $300 a month for just six years and earns 10 percent per year, then stops, will have the same amount of money at age 65 as a 31-year old who saves the same monthly amount for 34 years! Six years of saving earlier can equal 34 years of saving later.
- Set Priorities - Determine what's really important to you now and in the future and allocate your savings accordingly. Maybe the car can last a little longer or the home addition can wait so more money can be put toward retirement.
- Think Practically - Life these days can be overwhelming, but be realistic. If you're having a tough time trying to save money, take a good look at what you can live without - the annual vacation, expensive gifts, frequently eating out, or a new wardrobe each year - to find funds for your future.
- Make it an On-Going Process - Revisit and update your retirement plan on a regular basis. It's not just the stock market that fluctuates - your life does too, so adjust your plan accordingly. Your plan should reflect what you want your retirement lifestyle to look like so it's designed to get you there, and your idea of retirement is likely to change at various stages of your life.
- Consider Your Options - Make sure you know about all the retirement savings opportunities offered by your employer; take advantage of 401K plans especially if there is an employer match. The average combined employer and employee contribution to work-related retirement plans is 9 percent, but experts believe you need a combined total of 15 to 18 percent. So, it would be wise to increase what you save in these plans whenever you can. Also do your homework on what accounts such as IRAs are available and which are best for you.
Remember you are the one primarily responsible for your retirement. Most Americans believe they need to replace 75% of their pre-retirement income to fund a comfortable retirement. Social Security is likely to replace less than 40 percent. Average annual retirement savings rates are about 3.5 percent; combine that amount with Social Security and the average household is on track to replace only 58 percent of their income - about a 17 percent shortfall from the 75 percent goal most people have in mind.
If you need help putting together a retirement plan that works for you, or need help getting your plan up-to-date and back on track, turn to your CPA.