Thinking retirement? It’s never too late to act now

published by the Nashville Business Journal

It’s never too early to start preparing for retirement. Congress passed Social Security about 80 years ago to help seniors supplement the cost of retirement, and today there is much speculation about the long-term health of the program. In fact it’s nearly impossible to exist on Social Security alone. You have to create a more comprehensive financial plan to ensure you’re as successful in life after work as you were during it. 

My own story about the power of long-term saving might serve as an example. When Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) first came into existence in the late 1970s I started saving for retirement by contributing the annual maximum amount of $1,500, which I continued for three years. 

Interest rates were very high so I invested in Certificates of Deposit (CDs) with my local bank and later in money market funds. When the maximum IRA contribution amount was later raised to $2,000, I contributed that maximum for the next 17 years, which means I invested a total of $38,500 over 20 years. When interest rates fell in the early 80s, I switched to a mutual fund that I still own today.

While this initial investment might not sound like much, when you save incrementally and refrain from withdrawing the growth can be tremendous. On an investment of $38,500 my results looked like this:

1990: $49,700

2000: $398,000

2010: $448,000 

Today: $747,000 

This example was all my money, but today most people have the option to participate in company-sponsored 401(k) retirement plans in which your employer matches a portion of your contribution, as much a 100 percent in some companies. Think about that. You put up a dollar and the boss kicks in another 50 cents or a dollar. What could be easier? And, remember, your contribution is in pre-tax money. The point is no matter what work plan you have, starting to save now for retirement will net you more money than you might think. 

The key to success in retirement planning is to look long-term. A dollar put aside today might be $5 or even $20 by the time you retire. Small amounts grow well when invested intelligently—and left alone. If you are unsure about investment choices seek professional advice from a Certified Financial Planner, your banker or another trusted professional. 

One more word of financial advice: Investments go up and go down. It’s the nature of the game. So don’t panic when markets fluctuate. That’s what they do. The most critical components to retirement saving are regular contributions, solid growth investments, and, perhaps the hardest of all, not touching the account until you are ready to crash permanently on the beach.

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