Will Stagnant Wages Hurt Your Retirement?

In an ideal world, we'd all get a raise every year not just as a reward for our hard work, but as an acknowledgment that pay increases are needed to keep up with the ever-rising cost of living. Unfortunately, raises are by no means a given in today's workforce, and a recent report by Bankrate further highlights this point.

Over the past 12 months, a good 52% of U.S. workers did not receive a salary increase. What's just as alarming, though, is that this percentage climbs for older workers. An estimated 64% of employees aged 53 and older did not see a bump in salary this past year, compared to 47% of younger workers.

All told, only 38% of workers got a raise through their current employers. Another 18% managed to snag pay increases by virtue of jumping ship and accepting an offer elsewhere. And this data paints a troubling picture for workers across the board.

The trouble with stagnant wages

The obvious problem with stagnant wages is that you're likely to struggle to keep up with your current living expenses. Think about it: Most costs tend to go up over time. Rents rise. Cable plans increase. If your earnings don't get a modest boost, you'll be forced to either cut corners or risk falling behind on your bills.

There's a long-term problem at play, too. If you don't get a raise year after year, you're less likely to have money left over to put into an IRA or 401(k). And that could put your retirement in jeopardy.

Imagine you're contributing $2,000 a year to a retirement fund, but in the absence of a raise, you're forced to start collecting that money in your paychecks instead to cover your living expenses. Assuming a 7% return on investment, over a 25-year period, you'll lose out on $126,000 in retirement savings if you're unable to save at your previous level during that time. That's a lot of income to forgo.

But that's not the only way not getting a raise could wreck your retirement; you might also wind up with considerably less in Social Security benefits. That's because those benefits are calculated based on your 35 highest years of earnings on record. If you have an extended period where your wages don't go up, you'll lose out on Social Security income in the long run.

These are just come of the reasons why it's crucial to fight for a raise if your company doesn't seem eager to give you one. Losing out on even a single increase could impact your finances over time, so if your employer is being stingy this year, it's on you to fight back.

How to negotiate a raise

Fighting for a raise isn't easy, but if you go in prepared, you have a greater chance of success. First, do your research beforehand to see what you're worth. Sites like Glassdoor let you access salary information based on not just your title but your geographic location as well. Going in armed with data is one of the best ways to build your case.

From there, it's mostly a matter of listing out your various tasks and accomplishments and proving what a valuable employee you are. Better yet, use hard numbers when fighting for that pay increase. If your efforts on a marketing campaign drove sales up by 10%, for example, bring that data to your manager's attention.

Finally, practice your pitch in advance so you don't get stuck or flustered on the spot. Negotiating a raise can be an intimidating process, so the more prepared you are going into it, the more persuasive you're likely to be.

Asking for a raise may be an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it's a critical one nonetheless. After all, your retirement might actually depend on it.

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