Achieving your financial goals doesn’t just happen by itself. It takes a plan, implementing the plan, adhering to the plan, and when necessary, adjusting the plan.

Simply put, failing to plan is planning to fail. Don’t plan to fail! Nearly everyone will receive Social Security, but Social Security won’t pay all the bills.

  • Only 40% of Americans have calculated how much they need to save for retirement.

  • In 2018, almost 30% of private industry workers with access to a 401(k) plan or something similar did not participate.

  • The average American spends roughly 20 years in retirement.

Here are 6 steps that will put you on the path to a successful retirement.

  1. Regularly saving is critical.

Once you begin an automatic payroll deduction into a retirement account, you won’t miss it. I promise. When I first started saving in my company’s 401(k), my initial goal was to put in 10% of pretax income in my 401(k).

But that seemed like a big chunk of cash, at least in the beginning. So, I started with contributing the company match of 4%, raised it to 7% after three months, and bumped it up to 10% when I received a pay raise. Taking baby steps was much easier than attempting to summit the peak in one leap.

I can’t overly emphasize the importance of capturing your entire company’s match. It’s free money. Don’t leave free cash with your employer.

  1. Start as early as you can.

It won’t be long before my brother-in law graduates. In his mind, retirement is another planet, if not another universe. That’s the case for many young people.

But we all know the magic of compounding. The savings we socked away when we were younger has paid big dividends.

Here’s another story. A friend of mine in his early 50s is semi-retired. Yet, he sometimes laments that he started saving when he was 26 and not 22. For many, he’s ahead of the game, even if he didn’t start right out of college. Still, his decision to start early and max out his contributions put him on the path to financial freedom.

For illustrative purposes, Tom is 28 years old and plans to save $500/month or $6,000 per year until he retires at 65. With an annual return of 7% (assuming annual compounding), Tom will have amassed $962,024 when he turns 65 years old. Only $222,000 of that total would have been contributions.

Kate decides to put away the same amount. But Kate is 22 years old and will save for 43 years. While her time to contribute is only an additional six years, her decision to start early is rewarded with a portfolio of $1,486,659 with $258,000 in contributions.

Because Kate started sooner, the additional $36,000 she saved in those first 6 years amounted to an additional $524,635.

  1. What plan best fits my need?

That question will depend on your personal circumstances. For many, your company’s 401(k) is tailor-made to save for retirement. This is especially true if your firm has a matching contribution.

Whether to fund a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA depends on many factors, including your marginal tax rate today and expected rate in retirement.

A Roth offers tax advantages if you qualify. Generally speaking, withdrawals from a Roth IRA are tax-free in retirement if you are age 59½ or older and have held the account for five years. But you won’t receive a tax deduction on contributions. Current tax law does not require minimum distributions for Roth IRAs, which can be a big advantage as you travel through retirement.

A Roth may also be advantageous if you do not believe your marginal tax rate will fall much in retirement or if you have outside assets that limit your need to withdraw on your retirement savings.

  1. How much will I need at retirement?

Again, much will depend on your individual circumstances. Your retirement expenses and lifestyle will dictate your portfolio needs.

The old rule of thumb that you’ll need 70% of pre-retirement income may not suffice for many. For example, will you still be paying on a mortgage after you retire? Or, do you plan to downsize, which may reduce or eliminate monthly mortgage outlays?

One approach some consider is the 4% rule. It’s relatively simple. Withdraw 4% of your total investments in the first year and adjust each year for inflation. Keep in mind, however, that this is a rigid rule. It assumes a 30-year time horizon and minimizes the risk of running out of money.

Depending on Social Security and any pension you may have, a more generous “allowance” from your savings may be in order.

  1. How do I find the right mix of investments?

What worked when you were 30 years old probably isn’t appropriate today.

While our advice will vary from investor to investor, we can offer broad guidelines. Furthermore, retirement may be broken into different stages, which may require adjustments to the plan.

Some investors decide its best to take a very conservative approach. You know, “I can’t lose what I’ve accumulated because I don’t have time to recoup losses.” But that has its drawbacks. For starters, you don’t want to outlast your money and the ever-increasing cost of goods will dimmish your fund’s purchasing power. Equities, which have historically offered more robust returns, may still be an important part of an investment strategy.

Others may be swept up by what might be called “the current of the day.” Stocks have surged, which may encourage investors to load up on risk. However, a comprehensive financial plan helps remove the emotional component that can creep into decisions.

  1. I’ve saved all my life. How do I begin withdrawing from my savings?

It’s a complete shift in the paradigm when you retire. No longer are you putting away a percentage of each paycheck. Instead, you are living off your savings.

First, if you are required to take a minimum distribution from a tax deferred account, take it otherwise you may face hefty penalties from the IRS.

Next, consider interest, dividends and capital gains distributions from taxable investments as income. By utilizing these funds your assets in retirement accounts can continue to grow tax deferred.

If additional funds are needed, consider withdrawals from your IRA or other tax-deferred accounts. If you are in high tax bracket, you may consider pulling from your Roth. Those in a lower tax bracket could leave the Roth alone and take funds from their traditional IRA.

Let me reiterate that many of these principles are simply guidelines. One size does not fit all. Plans we suggest are tailored to one’s specific needs and goals. If you have any questions, we would be happy share our recommendations.

We’re a phone call or email away!

You can also download our Can I Retire Yet? checklist here for a guide as you prepare for retirement.