Retirement is a major milestone that many of us look forward to. It’s a time when we can relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor without the constraints of work schedules and deadlines.
Planning for retirement sooner than later is essential in order to ensure a comfortable and financially stable future. Financial advisors share their top retirement hacks that many people forget to consider.
1. Maximize your income
Jesse Carlucci, Ph.D., CFP, Chief Investment Officer at Arrow Investment Management LLC, offers the first five great insights for hacking retirement.
He first shares, “While it seems obvious, it is sometimes overlooked that your income is by far your greatest tool to reach early retirement. 15% of 150k is more than 15% of 50k.
That means the best “return” you can possibly get is by investing in yourself. Additional education, certifications, a willingness to relocate or leave a comfortable job for a higher paying one are all part of the early retirement recipe.”
2. Contribute while you’re young
The power of compound interest is always going to benefit those with more time, and history has shown that time is the most valuable resource in building extreme wealth. In addition, getting into the habit of investing early (and regularly) builds good money habits that can last for decades.
3. Take advantage of free money
The most obvious form of free money for most Americans is an employer match in their qualified retirement plan (401k, 403b, etc.).
Unfortunately, a CNBC survey shows that 40% of Americans don’t contribute to their 401k at all due to financial stress. While it can feel impossible, finding ways to spend less and save more now will greatly increase your chances of having enough to retire on.
4. Avoid financial vampires
Carlucci defines a financial vampire as an asset whose value rapidly depreciates shortly after purchase. Common examples are vehicles, boats, expensive jewelry, and other “status” items.
Ever heard the joke that a boat is a hole in the water that you throw money into? It’s a perfect example of a financial vampire.
5. Contribute where it makes the most impact
The order in which you put money into your investments can really impact your long-term savings goals. Carlucci recommends the following order:
1. 401k until employer contribution is fully matched.
2. Traditional or Roth IRA (depending on your tax situation and income).
3. Back to the 401k until it’s maxed out ($23,000 contribution limit in 2024).
4. Brokerage account (see more about this in #7)
6. Diversify your accounts
Bonnie Maize, JD, AIF of Maize Financial, recommends ensuring your retirement accounts are diversified.
She writes, “By having a mix of taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-free accounts, you can manage your tax burden more effectively in retirement. Diversity gives you options. No one knows what future tax laws will look like!”
7. Open a brokerage account
To diversify your retirement accounts, you may have noticed the mention of a brokerage account in #5. Brett A. Koeppel, a certified financial planner at Eudaimonia Wealth explains why this is a smart move.
“With traditional retirement accounts, you’ll receive an upfront tax deduction but must then pay income tax when you take the money out. If all of your savings still need to be taxed, you might incur more tax than you planned on when you retire (and you can’t withdraw that money without penalty before age 59.5).
Saving within a brokerage account (in addition to a retirement account) provides you with flexibility of where and when you decide to draw money from in retirement (based upon your projected tax rate in a given year).”
9. Know your numbers
Maize also recommends keeping close tabs on all the data related to your retirement. She recommends, “Check your Social Security statements at ssa.gov to ensure your earnings have been reported correctly. Look at the estimate for your benefits in retirement.”
She also recommends having an idea of how your retirement funds will be taxed. Knowing what to expect will keep you from panicking when you have less money than you realized due to poor planning or assumptions.
9. Try Roth conversions during life changes
Marianne M Nolte, CFP at Imagine Financial Services shares her favorite hack for maximizing future retirement savings.
“Roth conversions are one of my favorite retirement hacks! If a person changes careers, takes a temporary work sabbatical, or is in the first few years of retirement, these scenarios often correlate with a reduction in annual income. Decreased income can put a person in a lower tax bracket. A lower tax bracket may be an ideal time to elect a Roth conversion which in turn can lead to big tax savings later in retirement. “
Don’t know what a Roth IRA is comapard to a traditional IRA? Talk to your financial planner about your options for retirement and whether this might work for you.
10. Delay social security benefits
Tamara Witham, CFP, CPA at Green Life Advisors, shares the benefits of waiting to take advantage of social security benefits.
“Clients are often not aware of the upside of delaying Social Security past full retirement age. Their benefit amount increases roughly 8% per year up to age 70. That’s an attractive return versus taking the benefit early and spending or investing it.”
11. Invest in a health savings account
Witham also shared that she likes the advantages of a health savings account (HSA).
“Contributions are pre-tax, growth is tax-free, and withdrawals for qualifying medical expenses pre-retirement are also not taxed. Unlike a flexible savings account (FSA), the HSA can be rolled over year after year, making it a great retirement savings account, maybe even better than the better-known 401(k). The HSA is also portable, meaning you don’t leave it behind if you switch employers.”
12. Get creative with building savings
Jing Zheng, CFP, EA, MBA, Founder and Financial Planner at Neat Financial Planning, LLC, shares a unique tip for putting away more money when you can.
“For those who enjoy traveling, a smart strategy could be renting out your home for up to 14 days each year while you’re away. There’s a beneficial rule in place that allows you to exclude this rental income from your taxes. If your home is located in a sought-after area, this could potentially generate a significant amount of money, which you can then contribute to your retirement fund.”
Other creative options include picking up a side hustle or freelancing gig, selling items you no longer need or use, and reducing expenses where possible. Every little bit counts when it comes to building long-term wealth.
13. Automate 20 percent savings
Michael R. Acosta, CFP, ChFC, RICP, CSLP at Genesis Wealth Planning, offers some great benefits of automating savings.
“Get into the habit of saving 20% of your annual gross income back on your balance sheet in some form or fashion. By saving 20%, you become accustomed early on to living off 80%, making the bridge into retirement years that much smoother. The automation improves the probability of success with hitting your savings target(s) and also saves your money from you spending it if it hits your checking account first.
14. Set a target retirement age
Jennifer Kirby, CIMA, CSRIC, Senior Financial Advisor at Talisman Wealth Advisors, offers solid financial advice for future retirees. “If you want to retire early, don’t wing it.”
When you do this, you can really monitor if you are on track and adjust as you go. The closer you get to your desired date, the harder it will be to adjust if you haven’t been doing so all along.
15. Be nimble
Kirby continues, “Planning for retirement is really about being able to make the tweaks you need on an ongoing basis rather than having an ideal plan. A plan is a living process, not static. While many factors are in your control, many are not, such as health, layoffs, and unexpected expenses.”
Being married to a specific plan can lead to disappointment or financial difficulties if things don’t go exactly as planned. Be prepared and adapt when necessary.
16. Play well with others
Kirby goes on the point out that being a “Scrooge” is never financially advantageous or the recipe for a high quality of life.
She shares, “The people who are the most financially successful are the people who work well with others, focus on goals, and do not need to be right or get credit. When you are that person, more people want to work with you, your networks are stronger, and the more likely you are to experience financial opportunities.”
17. Let go of ideals
Many of us tend to get stuck in the comparison game. Retirement is no different. Worrying about what others are doing can lead to unnecessary stress.
Kirby writes, “Every retirement looks different. What matters is that your retirement is specific to you and your needs.”
18. Leverage an investment property for long-term care
Kirby also offers some outside-the-box advice. Instead of buying a long-term care policy, you can use a vacation or investment property to fund your needs. This is great, especially if you don’t qualify or if the constraints of the policies concern you. Put away the profits from renting towards a long-term care “bucket.” You also have the option to sell or finance the property to fund care needs.
19. Start making spending adjustments
Finally, Kirby recommends that the most important focus in the few years prior to retirement is to start making spending adjustments to fit their retirement budget and monthly allotment. She shares this is much more important than trying to rack up a few more dollars in savings unless there is a possibility of a larger sum. This ensures a smooth transition from working to retirement life.
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JayDee Vykoukal is a writer, author, mom, and Doctor of Physical Therapy. She has been writing about everything motherhood and health-related since 2018 when her first daughter was born, and she wanted to stay home. She loves to research new topics and fun facts with her kids to teach them about the world.