If you’re saving regularly for retirement, you’re in better shape than most people. But savings alone are not always enough to ensure a comfortable future. You also need the right strategies to help you set appropriate goals and grow your wealth as quickly as possible. And you need to avoid making mistakes that could cost you money.
There is no exhaustive list of retirement planning mistakes. But here are five of the most popular ones to keep on your radar.
1. Choosing a random savings target
For many years, $1 million was considered the gold standard for retirement savings. But reaching such a round number can get you into a lot of trouble today. Some people can survive on that amount for 20-30 years, but there are many others who will need more. This includes people who expect to spend more than average, those with serious health problems, and those with long lives.
You should create a retirement savings plan based on your life expectancy and estimated annual expenses if you want to reduce your risk of running out of savings early. Start by thinking about how long you expect your retirement to last and how your expenses might change after this point. Don’t forget to budget for healthcare and taxes as well.
2. Assuming Social Security will cover most of your costs
Social Security will be there for you whether you retire this year or decades from now. But it will probably never be enough to live comfortably. For starters, it was never designed to be the sole source of retirement income for seniors. And it faces a funding crisis that could see benefits cut over the next decade unless the government makes some changes to the program.
You can estimate how much you’ll get from Social Security based on your work history by setting up my Social Security account. If you want to be extra safe, plan for about 20% to 25% less than what’s listed there, just in case of reduced benefits. Keep in mind that your claim age affects the size of your checks, so you may want to weigh several options before deciding which one is best for you.
3. Missing your 401(k) match
Matching your 401(k) should be your top priority every year unless you absolutely can’t afford it. If you skip it, you’re giving up hundreds or thousands of dollars that you could have invested in your future. If you called your game and invested it, that money could grow enough to cover your retirement expenses for a year or two.
Talk to your employer if you’re not sure if your company offers matching or how its matching formula works. Then figure out how much you need to invest yourself to get a full match. Divide this by the number of pay periods remaining in the year to figure out how much to set aside per check.
4. Cashing Out Retirement Accounts
Early retirement withdrawals are generally not worth it because they come with expensive penalties. In most cases, you’ll pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you’re under 59 1/2, plus taxes if the money came from a tax-deferred account like a traditional IRA or 401(k). Even if you don’t owe it, you’re still slowing the growth of your savings. You’ll need to put more aside going forward if you hope to retire on your original schedule.
If possible, save in a savings account for emergencies and planned upcoming expenses so you don’t have to tap into your retirement savings. And if you have no choice but to retire early, develop a plan to build back your retirement savings or delay retirement to save yourself more time.
5. Put it off
Retirement planning is no fun for most people, and it can definitely feel overwhelming when there are so many unknowns involved. But delaying it will only make things worse. The sooner you start planning and saving for retirement, the easier your job will be. If you wait, you won’t be able to count on as much investment income, and you’ll have to save more to cover your retirement expenses.
It may seem difficult at first, but if you avoid the five mistakes listed above, you should be off to a great start. Just remember to check yourself at least every year and change your retirement plan if necessary to keep you on track.