Thirtyish is a great time to undertake momentous change. J.K. Rowling, for example, was 30 when she finished the first manuscript of Harry Potter, and Amelia Earhart was only a year older when she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. By the time you’re in your 30s, in fact, as Mary Beth Storjohann writes in an excellent usnews.com piece, “you should be on the road to building a solid financial future. If you’re not quite there yet, don’t fret. Start by taking action on one of these six steps to get on track for a financially sound retirement.” Here are her strategies:
“1. Set aside at least 15 percent of your income. If you’re late to the savings game and haven’t been able to stash much away, you’ll want to aim to put aside 15 percent of your income in savings. This should preferably be 15 percent of your gross income, but if that feels too strained, aim to save 15 percent of your net (after tax) income. If you’re just starting out, focus on building up your retirement accounts with about 10 percent of the money and put the other 5 percent toward an emergency fund. Set money aside on a systematic basis each month.
“2. Guard against lifestyle inflation. Since you’re still early in your career, there are hopefully plenty of raises and income bumps on the horizon. Just because your income grows doesn’t mean you can automatically spend more every month. Each time you get a raise, aim to increase your savings rate by a percentage or two right away. This will ensure you don’t get used to the extra money in your budget and end up relying on it for everyday spending.
“3. Start envisioning your retirement. It may seem a long way off, but envisioning the type of retirement lifestyle you want for yourself will better prepare you for how much money you need to set aside for your future years. Do you picture a life with month-long trips abroad and second homes in the mountains or will you spend time close to home with family and do some volunteer work? These are two very different lifestyles that will likely command very different amounts of money to sustain.
“4. Pay attention to taxes. Taxes account for a significant chunk of your income that you don’t get to touch. Ensure you’re maximizing employer benefits in terms of flexible spending accounts, health savings accounts and 401(k) contributions. Do the math to see if saving in a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) will reduce your lifetime tax bill more than traditional retirement account contributions. Sometimes paying taxes today instead of in the future makes the most sense. Keep track of your donation receipts, and if you own a business, learn what counts as a write-off and what doesn’t.
“5. Rebalance your investments every six months. Now is not the time to gamble with picking hot stocks (at least not with the bulk of your portfolio). Select a well-diversified portfolio allocation based upon your time horizon and risk tolerance, and then mark a date to rebalance back in line with the intended allocation every six months. If you can’t stomach the portfolio swings that will happen over the years until retirement, it might be best to consult with a professional or select a more conservative allocation that could be less volatile.
“6. Learn to negotiate. Your ability to earn an income is one of your greatest assets, which is why it’s important to continuously invest in your skill set and get comfortable with negotiation. An average raise of $5,000 per year invested and earning a 6 percent annual return over 30 years will add $395,290 to your portfolio – all because you felt comfortable going in for the ask. Take time to list out your skills, do research on what comparable companies and positions pay and work with your boss to set a strategy to get your income to where you would like it to be. “