It’s hard to think about saving for retirement when you’re having trouble making ends meet now. But save you must; you’re going to need a nest egg to crack open when you reach your golden years. If you’re living on a low income now, you’re going to use your savings that much more later on.
If you’re still in your 20s, you have time on your side — not only can you reasonably expect your income to increase as you progress further into your career, but you also have many more years to let your money grow through wise investments and compounded interest. Even if you’re older, savvy planning can help you accumulate a respectable retirement nest egg.
Contribute as much as you can as often as you can, and take advantage of any tax breaks that are available to you and any retirement programs offered by your employer. If you can, put off retiring to maximize your savings and Social Security. No matter what, try not to spend your retirement money until after you’ve retired.
Contribute Regularly and Consistently
When it comes to saving for your retirement, regular, consistent contributions are the magic bullet that will help you hit your target number. If you don’t make much money, you probably don’t have hundreds of dollars a month to stash away in an IRA, 401(k) or other retirement fund. But even if you can only contribute a little bit of money, it’s still better than nothing — and the longer you have until retirement, the more you can accumulate wealth.
If you’re in your 20s, your retirement plan contributions will pack a lot more punch, even if they’re relatively small. If you start saving at age 25 and save just $2,000 a year, assuming an eight percent rate of return on your investments, you’ll wind up with $560,000 by the time you’re old enough to retire. Even if you’re older or you can’t afford to save that much, you’ll be glad you saved what you could when you’re staring retirement in the face. Use a compound interest calculator to figure the rate at which your savings will grow.
Take Advantage of Tax Breaks and Employer Programs
Saving for retirement has an added benefit, in that it can help you save money on your tax bill. Traditional IRA and 401(k) plans allow you to take a tax deduction in the year you make the contribution, which can be helpful if you’re living on a modest income and don’t expect to see a significant increase in your earnings in the future. You can use your bigger tax refunds to make additional contributions to your retirement savings accounts.
If your employer will match contributions to a 401(k) or other plan, do your best to max out those matched contributions. That’s extra retirement money that you don’t have to earn. Alternatively, if you can find a job that offers good retirement benefits, you may want to go ahead and take it. A generous retirement package can make planning retirement on a modest income much easier.
Put Off Retirement
The longer you delay retirement, the more time you’ll have to save money and the more time you’ll have to let your savings grow. For low-income workers, delaying retirement by just one year can increase your retirement income by as much as 16 percent. Even switching from full-time to part-time work after you reach normal retirement age can help you stretch your savings dollars.
You should also consider delaying the age at which you apply to collect Social Security benefits. For each year after retirement age you delay claiming benefits, you actually become eligible for more money. You’ll receive maximum benefits by waiting until you’re 70 to claim them. You can use the Social Security benefits calculator to get an idea of what your benefits will look like.
Don’t Touch the Money
As your retirement savings grows, avoid spending it unless you absolutely have to, to cover medical costs, death expenses or another emergency. You may be able to avoid early-withdrawal penalties if you use your retirement money for certain expenses, like college tuition, disability or a first home. But if you spend your retirement money, you won’t have it later, so make this decision carefully.
Saving for retirement on a low income isn’t easy, but it can be done. If you can put aside even a small amount of money regularly, avoid spending the money you do set aside, and maybe delay your retirement by a year or two, you could be relatively well off by the time you’re old enough to retire.