A comfortable retirement depends, in large part, on the choices you make today. Fewer than 20% of service members remain on active duty long enough to earn a military pension. Of those who do, very few retire from the military without ever working again.
Whether we retire with a military pension or not, the majority of us will need to be proactive with our retirement savings to ensure we can have a comfortable retirement. This means setting aside money each month in our Thrift Savings Plan, IRAs, 401(k) plans, or other investment accounts.
But how do you find the money needed to make the most of your retirement savings? Where does the extra money to fund your future come from?
Here a few ways you can find more money to put toward retirement.
Begin by Trimming the Fat from Your Budget
Your first step is to look at your own spending. How much of your income each month is going toward things you don't need or even want?
Keep a log of your spending for a few weeks. Pay attention to impulse purchases and review your subscriptions and other spending. Are you really watching enough TV to justify spending money on a premium channel add-on or multiple streaming services? How frequently do you eat out instead of cooking at home?
Pay attention to where money might be going to waste and cut those expenses from your budget. Redirect the wasted money into your retirement account so that, rather than draining you, it can begin working on your behalf.
Start a Side Hustle
At some point, you can't cut anything else from your budget. Whether you don't want to reduce your quality of life, or you just don't have anything left to trim from the budget, there comes a time when earning more money is a better solution than cutting back.
This is where a side hustle may be able to help. A side hustle is simply a job you work outside of your regular position, or something you do "on the side." There are many great ways you can make money from home, often getting paid to do things you enjoy doing.
This can include things such as working as a remote assistant, teaching English online, providing writing or editing services, graphic design, selling items and more. You can also start a business on the side, using your skills or hobbies.
If you don't mind leaving home, you can also earn money by driving for a rideshare company a few days a week, or spend a couple of hours a day delivering groceries.
No matter how you do it, the key is to figure out your needs and then see if there's a way to earn a little extra money on the side that you can put toward increasing what goes into your retirement account.
Set up Automatic Contribution Increases
Sometimes, the best way to save more money is to make it automatic. The TSP offers automatic enrollment, but it doesn't offer the ability to make automatic contribution increases each year. However, you should be able to change your TSP contributions at any time.
If you work in the civilian sector, you may be able to set up automatic contribution increases each year. For example, you might be able to let your HR department know that you want your plan contributions to increase by 1% of your income each year. So, if you're contributing 6% of your income this year, next year it will automatically increase to 7% of your income.
For example, let's say you earn $2,500 per paycheck, and you're paid twice a month. At a 6% contribution rate, you would make a $150 contribution to your retirement account with each check, or $300 per month. But if you increase it to 7%, that's now $175 per paycheck, or $50 extra per month. It doesn't seem like much on the surface, but you would get an extra $600 for the year in your retirement account, and you might not even notice the extra bit taken from your paycheck!
Do this each year, and watch as it's further boosted by the power of compounding returns. Over time, this can make a huge difference, especially if you're more than 10 years away from retirement.
Designate Windfalls for Retirement
Make it a habit to put at least a portion of any windfall you get into your retirement account. If you get a bonus, put that money toward retirement. If you end up with a raise, adjust the amount of your paycheck going toward retirement contributions so that a good portion of the raise goes toward your future, rather than lifestyle inflation.
This rule can also apply for gifts, tax refunds, inheritances and other unexpected sources of money. You could even take the cash back you earn from credit card rewards and earmark it for retirement account contributions.
When you use this approach, it requires that you adjust your mindset and assumed priorities in a way that puts the focus on saving for retirement. You don't have to put the entire windfall toward retirement, but consider using half for retirement. So, if you get $1,000 unexpectedly, you put $500 toward retirement and use the other $500 toward something else.
In the end, if you want to put more money toward retirement, it's up to you to make it a priority. Identify increased retirement savings as a major goal for you, and then make adjustments in your financial choices to make it a reality.
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