Early retirement may be trending, but chances are it will never become the norm. In fact, Americans’ current savings habits suggest many will have a tough time affording retirement at all.
While the lack of savings is especially apparent among younger generations — 42% of 18-to-29 year olds and 26% of 30-to-44 year olds have nothing earmarked for the future — many older Americans are in trouble, too. The Fed reported that 13% of non-retired workers over age 60 have no retirement savings. Millions of people are concerned about the adequacy of their retirement savings, and rightly so.
Now, a new Bankrate survey of about 2,000 American workers offers some context. While about 30% of respondents said they increased their savings rate since last year, the remaining 70% of the respondents said they’re contributing the same amount or less, mainly because they are either comfortable with their level of retirement savings (24%) or their income stagnated or decreased (23%).
Others told Bankrate they were too focused on alternative financial goals; their household expenses have increased, leaving fewer dollars to put toward savings; or they simply “haven’t gotten around to it.”
A separate survey conducted by T. Rowe Price found that for more than half of US adults with kids, paying for college is a bigger financial priority than saving for retirement. Of the 1,000 survey respondents, 68% said they would be willing to delay retirement to pay for their kids’ college education, and 24% said they had already used retirement funds to pay for college expenses in the last two years.
“The reasons Americans cite for not increasing retirement contributions indicate a continued lackadaisical approach to retirement savings — whether it is complacency with current contributions, focus on other financial priorities, rising household expenses or just not getting around to it,” Bankrate’s chief financial analyst, Greg McBride, said in a press release.
“Saving for retirement needs to be made a bigger priority for the millions of Americans that aren’t saving, got started late, or are behind on their retirement savings,” McBride continued. “Millennials, in particular, have the most to lose by waiting to contribute or delaying a boost in contributions.”
You don’t need a 6-figure income to save well for retirement
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Bankrate survey found that workers earning below $30,000 a year are far more likely than workers earning $75,000 or more to have reduced their retirement savings between last year and this year.
There’s no doubt that the cost of living in America has risen, and low-income Americans face a unique set of challenges, but you don’t need a high income to save properly for retirement. And you especially don’t need a high income to save anything at all — every dollar counts.
By contributing whatever amount you can, early and consistently, to tax-advantaged investment accounts — such as IRAs, a 401(k), or other employer-sponsored defined contribution plan — it’s possible to retire comfortably without ever earning a six-figure income.
Financial experts say the key is making retirement savings a priority and treating it as an expense that’s taken off the top of your paycheck. A fairly rudimentary strategy for calculating how much money you need to have saved before you can retire is taking your desired annual income and dividing it by 4%. For example, if your perfect retirement salary is $80,000, divide it by 4% and you get $2 million. That’s your magic retirement number, and you can call it quits as soon as your account balances hit it — or less if you’re sure to be getting Social Security benefits.
“The power of compounding makes time your greatest ally when saving for retirement, and adds an urgency to contribute now not later, giving your money more time to grow,” McBride said. “At any age, there is no better time than the present to ramp up retirement contributions.”