Millennials, born between 1979 and 2000, are DIYers when it comes to retirement savings. This group cites self-funded savings (55%) as their expected primary source of retirement income, including 43% who expect to rely on income from 401(k)s, 403(b)s and IRAs, and 12% who have other savings and investments—that’s according to the 17th annual Transamerica Retirement Survey of Workers.
Millennials are the youngest and largest generation in today’s workforce. They’re also good savers: 72% of Millennial workers have already started saving for retirement—at the young age of 22 (median)—reports the Transamerica study. And that’s great news: By starting early, Millennials have at least 40 years to accumulate retirement savings. It means they’ll also be able to take advantage of compounding, a powerful wealth-building tool that Einstein called the “eighth wonder of the world.”
If you’re a Millennial, you may find it difficult to decide where to put your money with so many investment options to choose from. To get you started, here are four investments to consider—plus two quick tips on getting the most out of Social Security.
There are two types of accounts to consider: If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, be sure to maximize your contributions and take advantage of your employer’s matching contributions (free money!), both of which will give your retirement savings a substantial boost.
Also, consider contributing to an IRA, ideally through a Roth account—you’ll pay taxes now on contributions but withdraw tax-free later when you might be in a higher tax bracket. What’s more, if you do very well in your career, you could soon be making too much to have a Roth IRA, so take advantage of it while you qualify. If you already don’t, a Traditional IRA lets your money grow tax-free until you retire (when you will have to pay taxes on withdrawals). Meantime, you’ll probably qualify for a tax deduction for your contributions.
Just as you do with your employer-sponsored plan, try to max out those contributions every year.
Stocks and ETFs
Most Millennials have started saving early, but many invest too conservatively. They tend to put their money in low-risk, low-reward investments like money markets, bonds, cash and other stable investments. While this is certainly a safe strategy, it can leave you without enough money for retirement. As a Millennial, you’re young enough to withstand some risk in your portfolio. Invest carefully in instruments that carry more risk (e.g., stocks and ETFs) to really grow your nest egg.
A Home of Your Own
At one point, a home was viewed as one of the best investments you could make. While that’s still true for some people today, the housing market—and how long you plan on staying put—affects whether it makes good financial sense to buy instead of rent.
In general, it makes sense to buy if you plan on living in the house for at least five to seven years; if you’ll be there fewer than five years, it’s probably better to rent. Online tools such as Trulia’s Rent or Buy calculator (use the dropdown menu to select your metro area) can help you decide which is better for your situation. When in doubt, consult a qualified real estate professional who knows the local market, then work over the figures with a financial advisor.
Budgeting time and money for your health is one of the most important investments you can ever make—and one that is often overlooked. Every dollar you spend on staying active, keeping fit and eating well is an investment in your future. A healthy lifestyle will, of course, help you feel and look better, but there are some important financial benefits as well:
- More healthy days. Healthy habits help boost your immune system, which means you’ll spend more time being healthy and less time missing work and other commitments—something your boss is likely to notice.
- Better productivity. A 2012 study from Brigham Young University found that eating well every day lowered the risk of productivity loss by 66% and that exercise lowered the risk by 50%. Imagine if you ate well and exercised every day!
- Fewer healthcare costs. Diseases are expensive. If you eat well, exercise and maintain (or work towards) a healthy weight, you’re likely to spend much less on healthcare-related expenses—now and in the future.
Social Security Tips
One other thing worth mentioning is Social Security. Millennials aren’t naive about Social Security; just 17 percent expect it to be their primary source of income when they retire. All the same, it will contribute to your retirement and you want to set yourself up to be able to collect the maximum available benefit when the time comes.
Today, the average monthly benefit is $1,370. There are a few things you can do to maximize your benefit:
Be strategic about when you’ll start collecting benefits.
You can start receiving benefits when you’re 62 years old and as late as age 70. The earlier you start, the smaller your monthly benefit will be. As a Millennial, you have years to decide, but it’s good to think about it now as part of your overall retirement strategy.
Work at least 35 years.
Your benefit is based on the income you earned in your 35 highest-earning years. If you have fewer than 35 years in your work history, you’ll receive a zero for each of those years, which will lower your potential benefit. (Think of what even one zero on an important test did to your average when you were in school.)
Make more money.
Easier said than done, of course, but you can boost your benefits by earning more. To do so, pick up extra hours at work, if that’s an option; supplement your earnings with a side gig/part-time job or (finally!) ask for that long-deserved raise.