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How to Start Saving For Your Retirement Dreams Now

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When your biggest challenge is making it through the day with your sanity still intact, retirement can seem like the farthest thing from your mind.

Planning for the future is something often saved for… well, the future. It shouldn’t be, though.

Have you started saving for retirement? Do you even know how much money you will need in order to live comfortably in retirement?

Before you go running for the hills, know that saving for retirement, or planning for any future event, doesn’t have to be difficult. At this point, even small steps can help you to achieve your retirement dreams.

Plan to Save

The first step to saving for retirement is planning. You need to think about how much money you currently have and spend, as well as how much you would actually like to have and spend in retirement.

For example, I plan on paying off our mortgage well before retirement, so in theory, I wouldn’t need to include that cost in my retirement planning. However, I anticipate that healthcare costs will increase significantly as I age, so I need to account for that in my planning. In the end, I estimate that I will need about 95% of my current living expenses in retirement. This is typically higher than most financial advisors recommend, but I have BIG plans for my freedom in retirement!

Calculate How Much You’ll Need

There are some great tools to estimate the amount of money that you will need to have saved for retirement, as well as how much you will need to save each month now in order to fund your retirement nest egg. When I was a financial advisor, I had many fancy tools at my fingertips to calculate these amounts. Now, I compare my past calculations to some of the free tools that are available on an annual basis.

A simple, straightforward (and free!) retirement planning tool is available on AARP’s website. You’ll need to answer a few questions, such as your salary, when you plan on retiring, the amount that you currently save and how much you have already saved. You’ll also need to determine your retirement lifestyle. Once the calculation is complete, you can edit your responses.

While the AARP calculator is a good basic tool to plan for your retirement, it only tells you the amount of money that you’ll need in retirement (warning: I found it to be on the low side) and the amount that you’re projected to save based on your current contributions. It doesn’t tell you the monthly amount that you should be contributing in order to meet your goal.

A more comprehensive (but still free) calculator is available on the Financial Mentor website. This calculator allows you to estimate everything from inflation to estimated retirement tax rate to your annual rate of return, and you can customize it as many times as you want.

Find the Money

Even if your calculation showed that you need to save some massive amount of money that you couldn’t possibly afford, know that time is in your favor. Even saving a small amount on a regular basis will help.The sooner you invest your money, the sooner you will earn interest. Over time, your interest will compound, or continue earning interest, and your retirement contributions will begin working for you.

If you contribute to a tax-sheltered account, your contribution may not impact your salary as much as you think. Even by saving $25 a week (pack your lunch a few extra times to save $1,300 for the year), you’re on your way to reaching your goals. Start small and work your way up to saving more.

Save the Money

There are several retirement investment options that you can use to save for your dream retirement. First and foremost, if your employer offers a 401(k), it’s essential that you at least contribute enough money to maximize the company match if there is one.

You may have heard it before, but if you don’t at least contribute the amount that your company matches, you’re leaving free money on the table. For example, if your employer matches 4% of your salary dollar for dollar, not contributing to your 401(k) would be like turning down a 4% raise.

Another investment option to save for retirement is an IRA. There are two types of IRAs: Roth and traditional. A Roth IRA is funded using “after-tax” money, but the earnings are tax-free. A traditional IRA is funded with “pre-tax” money, so you would get a tax deduction on the current year’s income tax, but all earnings would be taxed once you withdraw them in retirement. Depending on your salary, you may not be able to get the tax benefits of a traditional IRA, so check with your tax preparer to see which type of IRA is the best option for you.

Both a 401(k) and an IRA are great options to save for retirement. If your employer offers a company match, start saving there first to maximize the company match. While you can contribute up to $18,000 in a 401(k) during 2015 (you can contribute an extra $6,000 if you’re age 50 or older), you may want to only contribute up to the company match and then start an IRA. In 2015, you can contribute up to $5,500 (or $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older) in an IRA.

Talk to your tax preparer to make sure that you choose the best investment option to maximize your savings. Many accounts allow you to make small, incremental investments throughout the year, or you may even be able to set up your account so that money is automatically deducted from your paycheck. Either way, start planning and saving for your retirement dreams now!

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