Retirement Savings Strategy: It All Starts With a Vision

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If you are worried about saving for retirement, you are not alone. An ING International Survey found that 61 percent of Europeans worry about having enough money in retirement. Responses were similar for residents in the U.S. (62 percent) and Australia (59 percent) and highest for those in Spain (69 percent).

While government pension programs differ drastically depending on where you live, one thing is becoming crystal clear. Workers around the world are being told they need to personally save more for retirement and rely less on public benefit programs for the elderly. This is due in large part to the continual increase in life expectancy, combined with a decline in younger workers around much of the world.

Darlette McCormick, an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) and Work-Life consultant for Workplace Options, says in order to have confidence in your retirement financial security, you need to develop a long-term strategy.

“In the words of Stephen Covey, ‘Begin with the end in mind’ by envisioning your ideal retirement,” says McCormick. “Think about the lifestyle you want to have. Do you plan to travel or own a second home? Is it important for you to leave an inheritance to heirs?”

Once you have determined your vision for retirement, McCormick says you are ready to estimate how much you will need to save to financially achieve that vision. It’s also important to consider the unpredictable factors of the economy, health concerns, and other unexpected life events.

With that final goal figure in mind, you are ready to develop and implement your retirement savings strategy. The sooner you get started, the better.

Starting Off Strong in Your Twenties

In your twenties, begin saving for retirement by participating in your employer’s retirement plan, if available. In the U.S. many employers offer a 401(k) retirement savings program that allows employees to set aside a portion of their wages pre-tax for savings. The employee determines how much to contribute, although there are caps based on the employee’s age. In some cases, the employer will also contribute to the employee’s 401(k). Starting at age 59.5, employees can withdraw money from their 401(k) without penalty.

Dhakshan Sridharan, a Work-Life Consultant in Workplace Options’ Bangalore office, explains the situation is different in India where employers with 20 or more employees are required to offer a retirement savings option known as the Employees’ Provident Fund Organization (EPFO).

“It is mandatory for employees who make less than Rs 15,000 per month (approximately $208) to participate, while those making more may contribute voluntarily,” shares Sridharan. “Participating employees are required to contribute 12% of their monthly income to the fund, which employers match. Beginning at age 58, upon retirement an employee can withdraw the savings tax-free.”

Starting to save for retirement early in your career means you can maximize the benefit of compounded interest and time. Additionally, developing good financial habits in your twenties is critical to lifelong financial satisfaction. Living below your means, maintaining an emergency savings and minimizing debt are key concepts to master.

Investing Wisely in Your Thirties

In your thirties, it’s time to take your retirement plan up a notch and expand your wealth plan. You may be earning a larger income now and considering home ownership. Some view this as another way to build retirement savings. If your home increases in value as you pay down your mortgage, you build equity. The equity can be used as a source of income or an inheritance for your family.

Another popular option for retirement savings is a personal retirement savings account. These go by different names depending on where you live. Referred to as an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) in the U.S. and an Individual Savings Account (ISA) in the UK, these savings options often feature attractive tax incentives.

Annuities, required for retirement savings in some countries while optional in others, is another option to consider. Sold by insurance companies, annuities are popular because they can offer a steady stream of predictable income during the retirement years.

Staying on Track in Your Forties

In your forties, retirement planning becomes more of a priority, but it may also be more difficult. Many find themselves in “The Big Press”- the peak time of raising children, caring for aging parents, family vacations, stressful career activities, and debt management. Trying to balance your finances with your financial obligations may feel like a juggling act. During this time, it is most important to live within your means, focusing on the “needs” and adding in the “wants” as money allows.

Ramping Up Your Contributions in Your Fifties

Now that you have reached your fifties, you must seriously evaluate your retirement strategy. If you see that you’re not on track to reach your retirement income goals, it’s time to ramp up your contributions or adjust your expectations.

Do some research or talk to a financial advisor to find out of there are any opportunities to catch up on your retirement savings. For example, in the U.S. individuals 50 and older can put up to an extra $6000 pre-tax income into their 401(k) and an additional $1000 to their IRA.

If your investments are more heavily invested in stocks, you should consider talking with a financial advisor to discuss benefits of shifting to less risky options, like bonds.

Approaching the Finish Line in Your Sixties

You’re now in your sixties. Consult with your financial, legal and tax professionals to determine your readiness for retirement. Consider the following questions:

  • Should I delay retirement in order to be more financially stable?
  • Will I take debt into retirement?
  • What are my options for healthcare costs?
  • Do I have a plan for long term care?

Your retirement plan is in your hands. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to planning, but there are basic steps that everyone can follow. The keys are to start early, be intentional about how and where you place your money, and be consistent with your plan. Remember to plant the seeds of your retirement early. With careful attention they can yield an abundant harvest for your future.

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute individual financial advice. You should always consult with a financial planner, attorney or accountant for personal financial advice.

Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family and personal needs to become healthier, happier and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. To learn more visit www.workplaceoptions.com.