When you're young, or even middle-aged, and retirement seems to be a distant unreality, saving for that time which may never come doesn't seem like a good idea. There are numerous good excuses for spending your money on something more immediate and practical than saving it for retirement. But as the cliché goes, time flies and one day sooner than you think, you'll be retired - voluntarily or involuntarily - and you're going to need money. Here's the seven top excuses people give for not saving, and why these excuses don't add up. (Living comfortably can be easy if you follow a simple plan. See 5 Ways To Stretch Your Retirement Budget.)
TUTORIAL: Introduction To Retirement Plans
1. I Don't Make Enough Money
No matter what you earn, there's always room to cut an expense somewhere and save a few dollars every month, say 2% or even less of your take home pay. Whatever you can save on a regular basis adds up over time. When your income increases, you can increase the amount you save. As interest compounds on your savings, the money accumulates. Over a lifetime of working, usually about forty years or more, a substantial nest egg accumulates.
Low income taxpayers who save for retirement may qualify for a saver's tax credit if you contribute to an IRA or 401(k), if your adjusted gross income is less than $28, 250 or $56,500 for couples. You can also save small amounts of money in a Roth IRA, which you contribute to with after-tax money. When you withdraw the money from a Roth savings plan, there'll be no income tax on the cash.
2. I'm Saving for A College Education for My Children
My children's education comes first, say many parents who are putting money aside for a college degree for their offspring. But college students have opportunities to finance their educations; retirees don't have similar access to funding for their retirements. For college students there's student loans, government loans, grants, teaching assistantships to partially pay for tuition and scholarships. For retirees there aren't such options to pay for their retirement. For that reason, financial advisers urge people to make retirement their first saving priority.
3. Social Security Will Cover My Retirement Expenses
A recent report from the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees says Social Security funds may be exhausted by 2036, a result of the financial crisis which crippled the U.S. economy. Consequently, full benefits may no longer be paid and entitlement reforms will have to be initiated, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said at a press conference. With Social Security in trouble, and reforms likely, saving for retirement is more important now than ever. And even if Social Security survives, the average monthly payment is only $1,172 - an amount which may not be adequate for a retiree's monthly needs. (We'll show you how to choose between Roth IRAs, Traditional IRAs and 401(k)s. Check out Which Retirement Plan Is Best?)
4. When I Retire I'll Cut Expenses and Live a Less Costly Life
Numerous studies indicate that people need from 70-80% of the money they earned while working to live the lifestyle they anticipate in retirement. It's just not possible to cut back enough to justify not saving.
5. I Have Too Much Debt and Too Many Current Expenses
If you're burdened with debt and ongoing expenses, bite the bullet and draw up a tough budget. Review all your monthly expenses and see what can be cut. Try to renegotiate the amount of your monthly payments. Calculate the advantage of refinancing loans, or extending the duration of loans outstanding. If you can pry a surplus of cash from these efforts, stash it away for retirement.
6. I Don't Know Anything about Investing
For the uninformed, investing may seem like an impenetrable mystery. Yet, with a little time and effort, you can educate yourself at least in the simpler aspects of investing. But if you don't have time enough to study on your own, you can hire a certified financial planner or other qualified expert to guide you. Investing regularly over the years of your working life will add significantly to your retirement nest egg, even in low yield but relatively safe investments.
7. I'm Too Old and I Missed My Chance
No matter what you're age, it's not too late to start saving. Assuming you plan to work another ten, fifteen or twenty years, begin a savings program now and you'll reap the benefits later. You can start 401(k)s or IRAs, including the Roth plans which offer tax incentives. Older workers are allowed by law to contribute more money to their retirement plans than younger workers - $5,500 more to their 401(k) and $1,000 more to their IRAs. There are additional tax breaks for older savers, which can add to your retirement bottom line. It's best to consult with a tax accountant or experts for advice on your specific financial situation, but start putting aside money now.
No Excuse Stands Up To Logic
Depending on how inventive you are, you can probably find many other excuses not to save for retirement, but most of them won't stand up to logic for this simple reason: whatever amount you set aside today, you'll have for that distant or soon-to-arrive tomorrow when you retire. You may have to pay taxes on it, but when you're retired and not working, you'll probably be in a lower tax bracket. (Here are some personal finance tips for those who want to live well after work ends. See Life After Retirement.)