Finding yourself with no retirement funds late in life can be stressful, but it's never too late to start investing in your future. If you are willing to put in the work, you can retire in 10 years, even if you have no savings.
However, just like losing weight, this process will take discipline and commitment, and success won't happen overnight. Follow the steps below diligently to create a retirement nest egg to sustain you through your golden years.
- If you're 10 years away from retirement, you still have time to tuck some money away.
- Set yourself up by reducing expenses and then developing a plan to save the amount you need to cover monthly expenses in retirement.
- Learn more about financial growth, and continue to earn and save.
Settle on a Figure
You should be realistic about what's possible, given this time frame, but don't let it deter you from starting and giving it your all. Drafting a retirement budget will provide you with an idea of how much you'll need to cover each month in expenses.
Your monthly requirements will also depend on how long you can put off claiming Social Security and how much those benefits will be. If you delay claiming Social Security until age 70, you can claim 132% of your benefits.
You can deposit up to $6,000 a year in a Roth IRA, which would mean setting aside $500 a month ($7,000 per year or $583 a month if you're age 50 or older and making catch-up contributions). In 10 years, at a rate of return of 6%, saving $583 a month you would put you at $96,227.
If you have a 401(k), you can contribute up to $25,000 to it if you're 50 or older—that's $2,083 each month. In 10 years, at a rate of return of 6%, you'd have $343,810. Your 401(k) savings and IRA savings together would be $440,037, a significant nest egg for supplementing your Social Security benefits.
Saving $2,666 (IRA plus 401(k) contributions) a month may be beyond your means, but it does show you what's possible in the space of 10 years.
Year One: Set the Framework
Decide you are going to commit to this plan no matter what it takes. You're responsible for your own future, and you might need to make some drastic changes to make it to retirement in one decade.
Friends, family, and even your spouse may try to talk you out of these changes, but don’t let them distract you from your goal. Imagine what it will be like to be financially secure and commit to keep taking baby steps until you get there. Write your commitment down, and read it every day to keep your motivation strong.
Months One through Three
Begin a bare-bones lifestyle. Your first priority is to slash expenses so that you have extra cash every month. Using every possible way you can think of to spend less will powerfully accelerate your retirement savings, which you'll need with a 10-year time frame.
This phase entails living on next-to-nothing while you get out of debt and build up savings. That won't be easy, but it will be worth it. Consider drastic moves, like downsizing your home, switching to public transportation, shopping at thrift stores, and cooking at home instead of dining out. Skip the cable TV and expensive cell phone plan. It doesn't have to be forever, but if you are willing to live very frugally for even a short while, you'll be surprised at the progress you can make.
Review your commitment to your retirement often to keep yourself motivated.
Develop a tracking system. Find a way to track your spending, debts, account balances—anything related to your money. Tracking systems can be as simple as writing down account balances and total withdrawals at the end of each month or as complex as using budgeting software to categorize spending and analyze data. Many people find it's easier to keep up with a simple system.
The key is to find a way to organize your finances that works for you so that you'll stick with it. When you track your spending, you can see patterns over time and spot problems quickly. It is also a powerful motivator to be able to look back and see the progress you have made.
Months Five through 12
Save all of your remaining money. Now that you’re spending less and paying down debt, start putting money away in a savings account or other safe investment. Get comfortable having and keeping money in the bank, and challenge yourself to accumulate more. Before every purchase, think about how much the money you're about to spend could grow your savings instead.
Then, if you don't already have one, set up a retirement investment account, such as an IRA, so the money you save can start to earn interest.
Year Two: Increase Income
Maybe you were in the habit of wasting money; now, you can build the habit of making it. Even if it involves picking up aluminum cans for recycling at five cents each, there is always something you could be doing with your spare time to get more cash.
Consider picking up more hours at work. A bonus comes from working more. Not only will you bring home more money, but you'll also have less time to spend it.
If you can't pick up more hours at your day job, try adding a part-time job as a way to increase your income.
Instead of picking up more hours, you could try to increase your pay. Can you get better at your trade, change jobs, learn a new skill, or improve your sales abilities? Talk to people who earn more, to find out what it takes. Go to night school if you need to, or take online classes. And don’t forget about the importance of social skills. Maybe you have the right technical skills, but your people skills need work. Ask your friends, co-workers, and boss for honest feedback. This is the time to put your ego aside and make the changes necessary to get ahead.
Year Three: Grow Your Knowledge
Now that you have the basics in place, find one money-related book to read each month. It might be about making money, investing, real estate, or improving job skills.
You may not understand everything you read at first, but you will absorb the knowledge if you stick with it. The more you learn about managing money and building wealth, the better you can apply this information to your own life. You also might be inspired to try new techniques to boost your results.
Year Four: Keep Your Spending Under Control
As you start to bring in more income, it is far too easy to let your spending rise to match until you find yourself broke again. Avoid this by continuously monitoring your financial situation with the tracking system you set up in the first year. Any time you get a raise or pull in some unexpected cash, stash it away.
Re-read the commitment you wrote to yourself on Day One, and remember why you're working so hard: Your financial security is only six years away.
Years Five Through 10: Stay the Course
If you’ve followed the steps above, by the time you get to year five, you will be well on your way to financial security. Don't let your success and your ballooning bank balance affect your discipline—just like you won’t get physically fit by exercising just a few times a year, it takes more than the occasional check-in to stay financially fit, too.
Financial success is about building habits you can stick with for a lifetime. At this point, you’ve had a few years to build good habits, and you should have a pretty good handle on how much you need to retire. Update your financial goals if necessary, make the required refinements to your strategy, and continue following the steps above until you reach your retirement goal.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How much money do you need saved to retire?
The exact amount you'll need to have saved to retire comfortably will depend on your expenses and income in retirement. One helpful guideline is to consider the "4% rule." This rule of thumb states that you can expect your investments to make roughly 4% per year, so you can sustainably withdraw 4% of your account per year. If that's the case, then you need to have enough saved so that one year's worth of expenses is equal to 4% of your retirement portfolio. Remember, this is just a rule of thumb, and you should customize your approach based on your situation.
How old do you have to be to retire?
There isn't a set age at which you're allowed to retire. Whenever you have enough money to feel comfortable quitting your job for good, you're free to do so. However, if you want to collect Social Security benefits, there are some age thresholds you'll have to meet. You can begin withdrawing from Social Security at age 62, but you won't get full benefits until age 65 to 67 (depending on the year in which you were born). If you wait for longer, you'll receive more money until age 70, when you reach maximum benefits. Similarly, if you have a retirement account like an IRA or 401(k), then you must wait until age 59 1/2 to withdraw, or else you'll likely face penalty taxes.