The average retirement balance in accounts in the U.S. is roughly $100,000, according to Fidelity. This isn’t much if you need that money for the next 30 years or more.
People who save much more than that share traits that help them achieve an above average retirement. There’s no magic to it, just habits based on an attitude of fiscal responsibility coupled with actions necessary to achieve your financial goals.
Habits to Acquire for a Better Retirement
Think Long Term
It’s not just about rejecting the notion of short-term pleasures, although maxing out your 401(k) instead of taking a European vacation is a good example. Long-term thinking also involves short-term goals. Ultimately, time and the power of compound interest are your best friends.
Take Smart Risks
A big part of risk is overcoming fear. You might be afraid to ask for a raise, but the reward makes the risk worth it. You may fear an investment even though you’ve done your due diligence. Forcing yourself to take smart risks usually pays off.
Unless you are in a dead-end job with no future (or no matching 401(k) plan), staying with the same employer will generally result in a higher retirement account balance over time.
Be Disciplined and Responsible
Don’t wait until the end of the year to contribute to your traditional IRA. Put that money away first before you are tempted to spend it on something else. It will also let your investment start growing much sooner. Take personal responsibility for your finances and avoid making excuses for not saving.
Self-esteem is critical when it comes to building a financial future. Believe in yourself and your ability to overcome obstacles when it comes to financial independence.
Learn from others. Seek the wisdom you lack. When advice is appropriate, take it.
Distinguish Investing from Spending
Knowing the difference between investment and spending is critical. Buying a well-researched, reliable new car is an investment. Replacing a “lemon” every other year is spending.
Having the patience to maintain a modest lifestyle by delaying gratification allows you the room you need to protect your retirement future. It also leaves you in a much safer place should you hit financial hard times like an illness or job loss.
Increase Earnings and Savings
The more you make, the more you can save. Actions you take to increase earnings provide opportunities to max out 401(k) plans and contribute the full amount to your IRA account. Those who are most successful at building retirement accounts save up to 30 percent of their income.
Choose Tax-Advantaged Savings
Saving alone isn’t enough. Taxes eat away at savings, so it’s important to save in a way that offers a tax advantage, either initially through a 401(k) plan or Traditional IRA or on the distribution side through a Roth-type account.
Ignore Market Fluctuations
Make an annual adjustment in your retirement account, but not much more than that. Trying to time the market is mostly a futile effort and can pile up transaction fees. The best strategy is to keep your hands off.
Use index funds and ETFs to take advantage of low fees. Best of all, index funds and ETFs generally outperform managed mutual funds over time.
Have retirement savings taken out at work before you get the money. Consider automatic escalation, a type of program in which your savings rate goes up incrementally each year.
Invest Found Money
When extra money comes in, invest it. This could include tax refunds, gifts, commissions or, if you’re lucky, lottery winnings. If it’s not expected income, it’s found money and should be saved.
Surprisingly, more than 60 percent of Americans don’t track their spending. Tracking your finances reveals where your money goes and gives you the opportunity to stop the bleeding when you see it.
Maintain a Positive Cash Flow
Spend less than you take in. It’s really that simple. It’s also the only way you can ensure you will be able to support yourself in retirement, when the amount you take in is substantially less.
You cannot live on credit and have a positive cash flow at the same time. The same compound interest that helps you save more works against you on the debt side. Pay off debt, especially credit cards.
Recognize a Deal
The ability to see a good deal and take advantage of it can save you money in the long run. Spending now to save later is still saving.
Putting It Together
The combination of attitude and action helps produce lasting habits that lead to a secure retirement future. If you are willing to adopt these habits, an above average retirement isn’t just possible—it’s likely.