Half of Us Can’t Afford Retirement. Start with These 4 Things

A retired couple float in a pool. This photo is meant to represent a story about financial strategies to take to retire.
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You’ve probably heard there’s a retirement crisis in America. In study after study, half of Americans expect to struggle financially in their golden years because they won’t have enough retirement savings.

Did you know it’s getting even worse, though? Now it’s more than half of Americans, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s an example: Boston College has a Center for Retirement Research, which puts together a National Retirement Risk Index. Before the pandemic, it said 50% of U.S. households probably won’t be able to maintain their standard of living after they stop working. Now, after the pandemic has tanked the economy, that number has jumped to 55%.

So what about you? What can you do?

We have four suggestions:

1. Maximize Your 401(k)

If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, contributing to it is a no-brainer. It reduces your taxable income, keeping more money in your pocket and out of Uncle Sam’s. And your employer’s 401(k) match is basically a raise.

At the very least, you should be contributing enough to get your employer’s full match. If your employer matches your contributions up to 4%, make sure you get every penny.

Your 401(k) isn’t just savings; it’s an investment. Through the magic of compound interest, it can potentially grow a lot with time.

If you invest $25 a week — or $1,300 a year — starting when you’re 21, for example, a typical return of 7% would give you more than $25,000 a year to live on in retirement. If your employer matches your investment, you only have to give up $12.50 a week.

2. Wipe Out Your Expensive Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt will eat up your savings. It’s the most expensive kind of debt there is, thanks to the absurdly high interest rates credit card companies charge.

A free website called AmOne can help you wipe out your credit card debt faster, potentially saving you thousands of dollars in the long run. That’s money you could bank for retirement.

AmOne will match you with a low-interest loan to pay off all your credit cards at once. Its interest rates start at 3.99% — way lower than the 20% or more you’re probably paying your credit card company.

Plus, you’ll be debt-free that much faster.

AmOne keeps your information confidential and secure, which is probably why after 20 years in business, it still has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000.

3. Start Investing

If you don’t have access to a 401(k) plan through your employer, you’ll have to save for retirement by yourself. Consider opening an IRA, which is an individual retirement account that’s not attached to an employer. It stays with you regardless of where you live and work.

You contribute when it’s convenient for you and choose what mutual funds, stocks and/or bonds you want to invest your money in.

If that sounds intimidating, start small and simple. Investing doesn’t require you to immediately plow thousands of dollars into the stock market. In fact, you can get started with as little as $1.*

We like a micro-investing app called Stash because it lets you choose from hundreds of stocks and funds to build your own investment portfolio. But it makes it simple by breaking them down into categories based on your personal goals. Want to invest conservatively right now? Totally get it! Want to dip in with moderate or aggressive risk? Do what you feel.

Plus, with Stash, you’re able to invest in fractions of shares, which means you can invest in funds you wouldn’t normally be able to afford.

If you sign up now (it takes two minutes), Stash will give you $5 after you add $5 to your invest account. Subscription plans start at $1 a month.**

4. Try the Budget for People Who Hate Budgets

The 50/30/20 method for budgeting is one of the simplest ways to get your spending in check. No 100-line spreadsheets or major lifestyle changes required.

Here’s how it works: Take your total after-tax income each month, and divide it in half. That’s your essentials budget (50%). Take the rest, and divide it into personal spending (30%) and financial goals (20%).

Let’s break it down: That’s 50% for things like utilities, groceries, medications, minimum debt payments and other essential spending. Then there’s 30% for fun: Thai takeout, your Netflix subscription, dressing up a skeleton on your lawn for Halloween.

That leaves 20% for your financial goals, like additional debt-reduction payments (anything above the minimum monthly payment) along with retirement savings and investments.

If you can get rid of your debt, you’ll have that much more to invest and save for retirement.

And when retirement comes, you can be part of the 50% of people who won’t have to worry so much.

*For Securities priced over $1,000, purchase of fractional shares starts at $0.05.

**You’ll also bear the standard fees and expenses reflected in the pricing of the ETFs in your account, plus fees for various ancillary services charged by Stash and the custodian.