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Not Feeling Retirement Ready? 6 Painless Ways to Beef Up Your Account

If saving for retirement is your goal but you can't quite get started, here are a few simple, actionable steps to get you up and running.

When asked to share financial regrets, respondents to Bankrate's 2019 Financial Security Index survey named “not saving early enough for retirement” as their biggest one.

The goal of saving enough money to fund several decades of your life can feel like a daunting (and perhaps impossible) task in the best of circumstances. If you're among the millions of workers whose income and job security was impacted by the global pandemic, that feat may now seem insurmountable. Though saving for retirement remains a significant long-term financial goal that requires consistency and commitment on your part, rest assured that reaching your retirement savings goal is still feasible — regardless of the number you ultimately need to reach. Here are some ideas you can put into action to beef up your retirement savings, and improve the chances that you're financially empowered to retire when, how, and where you want.

1. Act Small to Save Big

Your total retirement goal may be a large number, but it can be within reach if you consistently work to contribute to your retirement accounts — even if the amounts seem insignificant.

Suppose you cut out one or two small expenses each week that amount to an additional savings of just $25. That may be accomplished by passing on an impulse buy when browsing online shops, finding a favorite at-home workout instead of maintaining a pricey fitness studio membership, or learning to enjoy cooking at home instead of handing over your hard-earned cash to DoorDash.

None of these little actions will dramatically impact your life now — but eliminating them may free up an extra $100 a month to contribute toward retirement. Keep the habit up every year for 30 years, and you'll have more than $197,000 saved in your retirement account (assuming you earn 10% in interest each year, compounded annually).

An info graphic explaining how you'd have $197,000 after 30 years of saving $100 per month. 

2. Automate Retirement Contributions

If you haven't already, establish automatic contributions that will dedicate a specific amount of money from each paycheck to go into an employer-sponsored retirement account (if you have one) or an individual retirement account or Roth you've established on your own. If you've lost income due to the global pandemic, focus on managing your expenses as much as possible, before you assume you cannot afford to put money towards retirement — even if you have to reduce how much you contribute temporarily.

Renowned behavioral economist Richard H. Thaler, author of Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, calls automation a “nudge" of sorts. He explains that it can help even the most financially savvy resist their most basic (and irrational) human impulses, like spending when they should save, or procrastinating when or how much they put into retirement savings.

3. Consider Market Declines an Opportunity

Investing for retirement is a long-term strategy that requires a plan, discipline and the ability to resist getting "spooked" by market ups and downs. While your retirement savings balance may have gone on a roller coaster ride over the last several months, experts at Forbes say retirement savers can consider market downturns as a time to evaluate new investment opportunities that may be "on sale," and available for purchase at a significant discount.

4. Invest Windfalls in Your Future

Have you received an unexpected windfall in the form of a tax refund, government stimulus check or inheritance? Perhaps you've finally paid off that student loan or credit card debt, and now find yourself with more cash flow.

When you're lucky enough to come into some unexpected cash, direct at least a portion of it to your retirement savings accounts.

You'll resist the phenomenon known as “lifestyle creep," which is the tendency to spend a little more freely — and budget less carefully — as your income or cash on hand increases. When you don't see the money, you won't miss it, but it will be hard at work behind the scenes, bringing you one step closer to your retirement goal.

5. Make Retirement Real

Saving for retirement is easy to postpone when it's decades away; it simply doesn't feel like part of your reality. Dan Goldstein, principal researcher at Microsoft Research and Honorary Research Fellow at London Business School, tested whether seeing images of a "future self" could make retirement feel more real, and if that may encourage people to contribute more to retirement as a result.

Goldstein and his team asked research participants — who were between the ages of 18 and 35 — how much of their hypothetical income they would contribute to retirement. They then showed the participant’s age-progressed images of themselves, along with a current image; their current and future head shots were placed on either end of a sliding-scale style line.

Participants were then asked to determine what percentage of their current hypothetical salary they'd allocate to retirement. The researchers found that the majority of participants in the study increased their retirement contributions when they had a visual representation of their future "self" staring back at them.

A graphic showing the reality of retirement setting in. 

You can replicate the benefits of this study with a low-cost app that provides age-morphing effects. With an image of your retirement-aged self kept top of mind, you may find it harder to procrastinate on investing in your future.

6. Identify the Meaning Behind Your Retirement Goals

The Allianz Global Investors Center for Behavioral Finance recommends that retirement savers identify goals they hope to achieve with their retirement savings. When you give retirement a meaning beyond money, saving for it can feel less like a sacrifice.

An infographic explaining good goals to have for retirement. 

Prioritize these goals in order of most to least important, to remind yourself why it's as important to invest in the future, as it is in your present.

For more help managing your financial future, contact your Financial Advisor at First Horizon Advisors, Inc. or schedule an appointment with one today to discuss other ways you can plan for retirement.

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