According to a recent article in The Washington Post, 71% of Americans aren't saving enough for retirement. If you're in this predicament, what can you do to close the gap? Here are six practical suggestions.
1. Bolster your 401(k). Much as it may pain you, try to allocate more of your paycheck to your 401(k) account or similar retirement plan. In addition, to supplement an employer-based plan, you might contribute to an IRA. The tax law allows generous contribution limits. Contributions grow and compound tax-deferred until you're ready to make withdrawals.
2. Invest wisely. If you can, investing additional money outside your retirement accounts can be very helpful. For taxable accounts, you may want to emphasize assets that don't produce a lot of taxable income in the form of mutual fund distributions, stock dividends, and bond interest. Although the fundamental principles of asset allocation and diversification aren't foolproof—there are no guarantees against loss of principal, especially in a declining market—they have performed well historically.
3. Don't squander your tax refund. The IRS says that the average tax refund received in 2017 (for the 2016 tax year) exceeded $3,000. What did you do with your refund? Instead of spending most or all of it each year, you might plow part of it back into savings earmarked for your retirement years. This money, along with some of your periodic pay raises, can help you fund your 401(k), IRA, and taxable accounts.
4. Get your tax money faster. Of course, money that's refunded to you after you file your taxes was really yours all along, and adjusting your withholding can reduce the size of your interest-free loan to the government. For example, rather than getting a $5,200 refund, you could take home an additional $100 each week. It's easy to fill out a new W-4 for your employer.
5. Bank the raise. Salary increases may be needed to help you keep up with inflation. But to the extent you can, set aside some of your raise. Again, that could go to increase your 401(k) contributions. If you get a 3% raise, say, you might use a third of it to boost your salary deferral by a percentage point—maybe from 12% of your salary to 13%. Some of the money might also go to bolster the emergency fund that's there to tide you over if you have a big expense or lose your job. Year-end bonuses can be helpful in a similar way.
6. Reduce monthly expenses. Finally, don't assume that your monthly budget is fixed in stone. If you take time to examine how and where you're spending your money, you might find some expenses that could be pared back almost painlessly. Costs for cable television, mobile phones, and other electronics can be good candidates for reductions, and you might also be able to reduce dining expenses.
These odds and ends add up over time and can help you come from behind to achieve real retirement security.