How to Make Saving 10% for Retirement a Reality

If you are looking for the magic savings number for retirement, experts say it might be 10.

Whether you make $30,000 a year or $100,000 saving 10% of your income annually will put you in a good position come retirement.  While saving any amount is better than nothing, financial pros say 10% is the sweet spot to be financially comfortable in retirement.

“Ten percent of your year’s total gross income is commiserate with what you are going to need in retirement,” says Brian Neal, wealth partner at Hefty Wealth Partners.

A recent survey by Putnam Investments found households that put aside 10% or more of their income for retirement savings are on track to replace 106% of their pre-retirement income. Put away 15% or more, and that percentage jumps to 121%.

But saving is easier said than done, especially with many individuals and families living paycheck to paycheck. But even if you are struggling to make ends meet, financial planners say there are ways to sock away 10% of your paycheck. Here’s how.

Take Advantage of Employer Matching Programs

One of the easiest ways to increase retirement funds is to participate in your company’s 401(k) program if it offers one. Companies will often match a certain percentage of your pre-tax investments, which is an easy way to save more without feeling the pain.

“Most employers out there offer a range of 3% to 5% in terms of matching contributions,” says Neal. “Taking advantage of that will get you close to that 10%.”

Change your Mindset

Rewind 50 years and most people wouldn’t blink at saving 10% or more of their income for retirement. In fact, people not saving in the 50s or 60s were the exception.

“Americans saved [backed then] and it’s very important that we do what we were doing then,” says Jorge Salazar-Carrillo, an economics professor at Florida International University.

To ignore daily impulse buys, he says to keep in mind that saving now will help support a certain lifestyle in retirement and cover any unexpected costs like medical expenses.

Budget the 10% into Your Spending

When it comes to saving, many people treat it as an afterthought, meaning they cover any bills first, then set aside money for their lifestyle and if there is anything left over, maybe save it. But according to Neal, a surefire way to prioritize savings is to put the 10% away before you do anything else.  “Right after you get paid get that 10% out first and whatever is left should be how you create your lifestyle,” says Neal.

Make it Automatic

Saving on a whim isn’t going to create a healthy nest egg. You have to save regularly, and a great way to ensure money is being set aside without any effort on your part, is to have a certain percentage of your paycheck distributed into a different account automatically.

Whether it’s going directly into a 401(k) or an IRA, financial experts say if you automate savings, a substantial retirement account will follow. “Out of sight out of mind. Money in hand is money spent,” says Neal.

Curb Expenses

Review your budget and spending habits carefully and honestly to find any expenses that can be eliminated to increase savings. That may mean you don’t eat out every Saturday night or you give up some of your cable channels.

“An essential part of a budget is the future, not today,” says Salazar-Carrillo. “They have to cut corners or tighten the belt.”

He also urges savers to get rid of all their credit cards and debit cards and pay for everything with cash.  “With money you can see it disappearing.”