Five Tips to Get Started on Your Retirement Saving

Joseph Williams Sr., AARP DC State President

We all have reasonable excuses for not saving for retirement. The big one is thinking we don’t have enough money to put aside.

But if it’s hard now to make ends meet and save, think of how hard it will be to live on just Social Security, which may replace 40% of your income when you retire. You’re going to need more than that — some experts say at least 80% — so it’s a good time to come up with ways to sock money away. Here are five tips to get you started.

Get a handle on credit card debt.

Are you carrying credit card debt? Call the companies and see if they’ll lower the interest rate you’re paying. That way, more of your payment will go toward what you actually spent and not toward interest.

If you have debt on several cards, target the smallest balance first. You’ll feel great when it’s paid off, and it may give you the boost you need to go after the others.

Look for ways to cut spending.

If you’re spending more each month than you’re taking in, you can turn it around. Pack your lunch to save money. Avoid buying things you want but don’t need (especially if it means using a credit card). Cut utility costs by turning off lights when leaving a room, installing a programmable thermostat, and weatherproofing doors and windows. If you stop for coffee or tea several times a week, try making it at home. You can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars with these simple changes.

Put money away for an emergency fund.

When something unexpected happens, it’s important to have savings to help you get through it. Work on building up savings that will cover three to six months of expenses. Remember all those credit card payments you no longer have? Start saving that money toward your emergency fund by opening an account with a local bank or credit union.

Sign up for a retirement savings plan.

Does your employer offer a 401(k) plan? It may go by another name, like a 403(b) or Thrift Savings Plan. It’s the best way to save for retirement. You save a percentage of your income, and often the employer will match some of your contributions. If you get a raise, give your savings a raise, too.

If your employer doesn’t offer a plan, consider opening an IRA at your local bank or credit union. It’s kind of like a 401(k) plan, but without the employer match (and you can’t save as much in it). You’ll need an upfront deposit, usually lower at credit unions, and you can set up automatic contributions. Once you have your emergency fund set up, start funding your IRA.

A step along the way is coming up with a retirement savings goal. Visit AARP’s retirement calculator (www.aarp.org/retirementcalc) to help come up with your personal goal.

Help family when you can, but don’t risk your retirement security to do it.

These days, many kids leave the nest, only to find they can’t make ends meet and return home.

If this happens in your family, and you can welcome your child back, that’s great. But make sure he or she contributes financially. A part-time job while looking for a full-time job can be the ticket to your adult child helping with higher grocery and utility bills.

We may think we don’t have enough money to save for retirement. But chances are each of us can find some way to save. When retirement rolls around, you’ll be glad you did.

AARP is working to help you plan with free, unbiased information so you can make smart financial decisions. For more information, visit www.aarp.org/retirement. To request a speaker on financial security, email DCAARP@aarp.org.

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