“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”
We all have our favorite procrastinations: the things we like to put off “until the day after tomorrow.” Some procrastination makes a certain amount of sense—we have only so much mental energy to expend on all the thoughts, worries and duties that fill up our daily lives, so it’s completely sensible to “table” some of these, and to only deal today with the things that absolutely must be done today.
There are a couple of problems with this approach. First, if you wait to do things until the moment of absolute necessity, you live your life in a state of constant high alert, running around putting out fires which constantly threaten to blaze out of control—an incredibly stressful (and exhausting!) way to live.
Second, some things just can’t be done at the last minute. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and thank goodness they didn’t try. Long-term projects can’t be rushed into right before the deadline, without the results being at best disappointing and at worst disastrous.
Saving for retirement is one such long-term project. Retirement is like a rainbow—even as we move straight toward it, it always seems unreachably far-off. Even when we daydream about what we’ll do when all of our time is our time, it’s easy to not bother with the idea of how exactly we’ll pay for those Mediterranean cruises or those delightfully long days tending the garden. But the reality is that every day brings us one step closer to retirement, and it’s never too soon to start saving for it.
The good news is, there are a lot of tools available to help save for retirement. Financial advice sites like Mint, Wise Bread, the Personal Finance section at How Stuff Works, and the government-run MyMoney.gov (you might as well use it; you’re already paying for it) all offer tips on how to get the most out of your money, including when it comes to retirement. These are no substitute for meeting with a financial advisor, of course, but they are great places to start.
Once you have a retirement account set up, the most important thing to do is to consistently contribute to it (and avoid withdrawing from it!). There are some good ways to do this:
Budget for it. Create a monthly budget which includes “retirement contribution” as a monthly expense, just like car insurance, a mortgage payment, or a credit card bill. Don’t promise to save “whatever’s left over” at the end of the month; come up with a number that makes sense for you, and stick to it.
Use automatic savings. One of the trickiest parts of saving is making the conscious choice to save every single time you do it. A big part of your brain hates to do this, because saving money can feel like losing it—even though this obviously isn’t the case, it can be hard to convince your brain otherwise. Enrolling in an automatic savings program gets around this problem nicely: by deciding on how much you want to save and then having that money transferred automatically from your checking to your savings account, you can save without thinking about it. By doing this frequently (i.e. daily, or with every purchase), you can set aside just a little bit of money at a time (say, 5% of your daily expenses) and still come up with a good amount of money at the end of the month.
Pay down your credit. If you are carrying a credit card balance, the interest you pay every month is money you could be saving for your golden years instead. Adopt an aggressive strategy to pay off your cards. When you are no longer carrying a balance, switch those credit card payments over to your retirement account.
Now hands off! This one is mostly about a state of mind: you need to think of that retirement money as off-limits until retirement. It is not yours; it belongs to some lovely (and financially secure) older person a few decades from now.
And, come on, you wouldn’t steal from the elderly, would you?