Retirement planning: Stop making these 10 savings excuses

Retirement planning can feel like a drag, especially when you'll be working for a few more decades. But it's never too early to start. 

Jacob Turcotte/Staff/File
With retirement planning, it's never too early to save.

Saving for retirement can often feel like a drag, and many of us come up with excuses for avoiding it. After all, who wants to think about finances at age 70 when you're decades away and enjoying life now?

But no matter what excuse you come up with, there's no denying that putting as much money aside as you can — as early as you can — will help you maintain your lifestyle even after you stop working.

Here are some of the top excuses people use to avoid saving for retirement, and why they're way off-base. 

1. "I Have a Pension"

If your company is one of the few remaining organizations that offers a defined benefit plan, that's great. But it should not be a reason to refrain from saving additional money for retirement. Having additional savings on top of your pension can make retirement that much sweeter. And pensions have been under assault in recent years, with companies and governments backing off of promises to retirees due to financial troubles. Protect against this uncertainty by opening an individual retirement account (otherwise known as an IRA).

2."I'm Self-Employed" or "My Company Doesn't Offer a Retirement Plan"

You may not have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but that does not mean you can't save a lot for retirement. Any individual can open a traditional IRA or Roth IRA and contribute up to $5,500 annually. With a traditional IRA, contributions are made from your pre-tax income. With a Roth IRA, you pay taxes up-front, so that you won't have to pay them when you withdraw the money at retirement age. In addition, the federal government now offers a "myRA" plan, which works like a Roth IRA and allows anyone to invest in treasury securities with no startup costs or fees.

3. "I Won't Be at This Company for Very Long"

One of the key advantages to 401K plans offered by employers is that they are portable. This means that any money you contribute to a plan will follow you wherever you go. In some cases, contributions from your company need to "vest" for a certain amount of time before you get to keep the them, but usually only for a year or so. There's no real downside to contributing to a company retirement plan, even if you don't plan to be there for very long.

4. "The Expenses Are High"

It's very true that many investment products, including mutual funds, have high costs tied to them. It's annoying to buy funds and notice an expense ratio of more than 1%, thus reducing your potential profits. But fees are not a good enough reason to avoid investing, altogether. Over the long haul, your investments will easily rise in value and more than offset any costs. And if you direct your investments to low-cost mutual funds and ETFs, you'll likely find the fees aren't so objectionable. Look for mutual funds with expense ratios of less than 0.1%, and for those that trade without a commission.

5. "I Need to Fund My Kids' College Education"

Putting money aside to pay for college is a wonderful idea, but it should not be done at the expense of your own retirement. Your kids can always work to pay for college or even take out loans, if necessary. But you can't borrow for your own retirement, and you don't want to find yourself working into old age because you didn't save for yourself. In an ideal world, you can save for both college and your own retirement, but you should always think of your own retirement first.

6. "My 401K Plan Isn't Very Good" or "My Company Doesn't Match Contributions"

I'll occasionally hear someone say that they won't contribute to their retirement plan because it's a bad one. No employer match, bad investment options, or high fees can kill any motivation to save. But contributing to even a bad 401K is better than not saving at all. And if you're not thrilled with the offered 401K plan, you can take a look at traditional or Roth IRAs, or even stocks and mutual funds in taxable accounts. There are many bad retirement plans out there, but they are almost all better than nothing.

6. "I Don't Understand Investing"

There's no question that investing can be a very intimidating thing. It takes a while to grasp even the basics of how to invest, and the number of investment products can be bewildering. Don't let fear hold you back from achieving your dreams in retirement. These days, there's a lot of great free information about investing that can help you get started. And many discount brokerages, such as Fidelity, offer free advice if you have an account. Certified Financial Planners are also plentiful — and often reasonably priced — and can help you establish a plan to save for retirement and keep you on track.

7. "I Don't Earn Enough"

It's definitely hard to think about retirement when you're having trouble making ends meet now. But it's important to recognize setting aside even a modest amount of money each month can help you achieve financial freedom. Consider that even $25 a month into an index fund can grow to tens of thousands of dollars after 30 years.

8. "I'm Young — I Have Plenty of Time"

If you're not saving for retirement when you're young, you are costing your future self a lot of money. Thanks to the magic of compound interest and earnings, someone who begins saving in their early 20s can really see big gains over time. If you have $10,000 at age 20 and begin setting aside $200 a month until age 65, you'll have nearly a million dollars, based on an average market return. But if you wait until age 35, you'll end up with barely one-third of that.

9. "It's Too Late for Me"

It's true that the earlier you start investing, the more money you'll likely end up with. But hope is not entirely lost for those who are approaching retirement age but have not saved. Even five to 10 years of aggressive saving and the right investments can result in a nice nest egg. Older people can take advantage of higher limits on contributions to retirement plans including IRAs and 401Ks.

10. "I'll Get Social Security"

You've been contributing to Social Security all your life, but that doesn't mean it guarantees a comfortable retirement. A typical Social Security benefit these days is about $1,300 a month. That's enough to keep you from starving, but you won't be able to do much else. Moreover, concerns over federal budget deficits suggest there is no guarantee of Social Security funds being available when you retire. For certain, there is constant talk by lawmakers of entitlement reform, which could mean to lower benefits or other changes.

This article first appeared in Wise Bread. 

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