Retirement Lessons Learned From Botching Savings Early In My Career

in Retirement Planning by

Key Takeaways
  • Starting saving for retirement the moment you turn your tassel at graduation.
  • If your company has a 401k matching program, make sure to check for new terms every year.
  • When you get promoted, up your retirement contributions right away.

As we start, grow, and end our careers, our focus shifts toward different goals. Unfortunately, during many career stages, retirement planning isn’t on the forefront of our list. As someone who has botched the early stage of my career, I can tell you how important a solid retirement plan can truly be.

Taking the time to properly plan for retirement can be the difference between living comfortably or having to extend your working career well into your retirement years. What seems to get in the way of saving for retirement?

Cars, debt, houses, children, marriage, and other life stages can muddy the retirement plan waters a bit. We like to focus on immediate goals and forget about long-term planning. Just ask Millennials (I am one)! Do you even know how much you need to save?

As a Millennial, I’ve focused on the now. Getting a job, climbing the corporate ladder, pushing for promotions, and using any and all money to pay down my consumer debt. I also focused on starting my family and finding a nice house we can call home. I’ve focused my time and energy on chasing the “American Dream,” but at the expense of my retirement savings.

Now, I’m playing catch up and it hurts.

At every career stage, your finances change and so do your options for what to do with your money. I’ve had just about every type of employment status on my tax papers and can tell you from experience how important it is to keep saving aggressively for retirement – whether you are just starting out, are a corporate veteran, have just received a promotion, or are striking out on your own.

Turning Your Tassel and Procuring a Job

I had it pretty good when I graduated college. When I turned my tassel, I already had a job lined up and started a week after graduation. My first job didn’t have a generous benefits package, so it wasn’t my focus.

When you’re a broke college student, earning $36,000 right out of college sounds awesome. That paycheck was my only focus.

It wasn’t until my second job a year later, when I received better benefits and a retirement plan. Unfortunately, I only focused on my immediate needs. These included buying a house, car, fun toys, and paying off a lot of consumer debt. I didn’t think I could spare another penny. Looking back, I was so wrong. I never learned about the power of compound interest and the advantage of having time on my side.

When you first step into your career, look at the retirement plan offered by your employer. This is very important because if you don’t focus on saving anything in the beginning, you’re putting yourself behind the curve from the start. Compound interest is friendly to those with time. It’s what you have more of starting out. Just check out this chart to get a picture of the true power.

In a dream world, you would start your job and max out your retirement savings. Since the pension has almost gone away for most workers, we are responsible for our retirement savings. Many Millennials don’t think Social Security is going to be around to help, yet don’t really save much in our retirement accounts. We tend to focus our time and money on taking care of right now.

This was my mistake and I’m still working to correct it. If I would have just put away 1% of my paycheck back then, I’d be much better off now. That small percentage would have at least been matched by my employer and it would’ve had more time to compound.

So, You’ve Been Promoted

Congratulations! It feels great when your work is appreciated, but it’s even better when that promotion brings more money. What should you do with the influx of extra cash? Instead of using that new money to increase your living space or get a bigger car, it’s a perfect time to focus more on your retirement savings or savings in general.

Promotions are great times to ask yourself: Am I contributing enough? Can I increase my contribution and max out each account? Can I add a new retirement account? I have a 401k, but can I add a Roth IRA to help diversify my retirement portfolio?

Your new position and pay increase is the perfect time to use the free and award-winning Personal Capital Retirement Planner feature in our app to give you a better picture of where you are and where you should be. It’s important to see both sides of your retirement story. We can’t change the past, but that extra money can help you considerably in the future.

Don’t Get Complacent

What happens when you’ve been with a company for a long time? Hopefully you’ve worked your way up the ladder, getting higher pay and changing positions to fit your expertise. What is considered a long time? According to Forbes, most employees stay an average of five years. When I left my last job, I had been there almost 10 years. I worked my way up the ladder, got promotions, but I also go complacent.

What does complacency have to do with retirement saving at work? It can affect your view of changes, your willingness to read new policies, and give you a sense you know more than you might.

For many years, my employer had a set corporate match policy. I saved up to the company match and then worked money into other areas of my life. Unfortunately, I missed some key benefits changes because I thought they wouldn’t affect me.

Come to find out, my complacency was costing me a new company match. For four years, I didn’t increase my contribution. I had maxed it out based on the employer match. I wanted to use my money for other purposes. Unfortunately, I never realized the employer match maximum had increased two-fold. This cost me 3% of savings I could have pushed into retirement, but also another 1.5% on top my employer would have given. I could have doubled my contributions, yet because I was complacent I left all that money on the table for four years.

It’s essential to, make sure you read up on the latest HR guidelines and review your benefits package every year. That way you’ll never miss an opportunity to take advantage of every benefit available to you.

Striking Out On Your Own

I consider myself lucky that I’ve been able to work for a great company, but also had the opportunity to leave the traditional 9-to-5 workforce and start up my own business. It’s no picnic that’s for sure. There are hundreds of things you need to get right when you become your own boss. This doesn’t matter if your location dependent/independent, a freelancer, or run a brick-and-mortar business. One thing that can slip through the cracks is retirement.

When you leave your job, your contributions to your 401k cease. While they can continue to grow, they also stay in the management of the company your employer setup. This can come with higher fees and less options.

If you have a 401k just sitting there, take some time to learn about a rollover. By getting your account under new management, you may have access to new investment options as well as lower fees.

Beyond a rollover, you should also focus on which retirement account will work for your new business. Maybe an Individual 401k, SEP IRA, or even Simple IRA. There are many options and some are better than others depending on your business structure and income projections. Consult with a certified financial planner to help you choose which solution is right for you.

No matter which you choose, it’s critical to just pick something. Not only is it good to continue funding your retirement while self-employed, but it can also help you lessen your tax liability.

No Matter What Your Employment Status Is Don’t Put Off Saving for Retirement

No matter where you are in your career, it’s important to take time to focus on your retirement. Yes, it can be hard to think about years down the road, but when you get there and you have nothing saved, you will regret it.

As you take your first step in your career, dump as much money into retirement savings as you can. Time is on your side. As you progress, work with a certified financial planner to analyze where your money is going, how to make sure it’s meeting your goals, and how you can do better. As you near the end of your career, they can help you make sure you’re not risking too much and losing money you’ll need soon.

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Grayson Bell is a personal finance writer who focuses on helping people overcome debt, save more money, and invest to reach their financial potential. He owns Debt Roundup, where he discusses his relationship with money and his passion for all things technical. In addition to personal finance, Grayson is the CEO of iMark Interactive, a website support and security company.

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One Response

  1. AMMA Private Equity

    Great ideas! I am going to have to bookmark this for later!!

    Reply

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