Retiring as a millionaire is only done with multiple components. As you make your journey to a seven-figure retirement, you'll need discipline, creativity, hard work, and a little bit of luck along the way as well.
Perhaps even more importantly, retiring as a millionaire also takes vision, which can be in short supply when money is plugged into the equation.
Vision can really make a difference. Just like Muhammad Ali knew where his next punch should land or how Wayne Gretzky knew not to go to where the hockey puck is, but where it's going, having a vision for retiring as a millionaire may be the most important element in your retirement toolbelt.
Not worried about having at least $1 million in retirement? You should be. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans aged-65-or-over spend, on average, $46,000 in retirement every year. Try doing that on a $2,000 per month Social Security check and little or no savings.
That's where the millionaire vision enters stage right. If you can imagine yourself being a retirement millionaire, that's a big step in getting the task done. The rest isn't easy, but it is doable (that's where discipline, creativity, hard work, and luck come in.)
To get going, use this handy checklist of moves to make to retire as a millionaire, and make that vision come to life.
How to Retire a Millionaire in 2019: 10 Steps
1. Know What You Need To Save
Every mission has a goal and your march toward millionaire status is no different. If you're retiring, say, at age 65, and you're reasonably healthy, then you can expect to live another 20 or 30 years. Get a good retirement planning calculator (Vanguard has a handy-dandy one and start calculating how much money you have saved up and how much money you'll need saved up to make it to age 85 or even 95.)
2. Start Saving As Early As You Can
Study after study shows the earlier you start saving for retirement, the more money you'll save. Check this savings scenario out. Brian and Leslie both stash away $100 per month at a 5% annual rate of return. Brian started his retirement savings campaign at age 25 while Leslie waited until age 35 to start saving. That additional decade of saving landed Brian roughly $162,000 in his retirement account at age 65. Not so for Leslie, who only has $89,000 saved up by the same age by waiting an extra 10 years.
3. Learn How to Cut Debt, Now and Forever
By living on a reasonable budget, you can put more money away for retirement and reach your $1 million savings account more quickly. That could mean cutting the cable cord, downsizing your home, or slashing your credit card debt, or more. Doing so is more than just liberating emotionally. Rather, ditching debt is good business when it comes to saving for retirement.
4. Take Advantage of 401k Company Matching
If you have an employer 401k plan, or similar employer-sponsored investment vehicle, chances are good that you have access to company matching on your 401k plan contributions. While matching levels vary from company to company, a reasonable employer matching amount is 3% or 4% of your contributions. That means if you're contributing 3% of your annual salary to your 401k savings plan, your employer will match that with a 3% contribution of its own (some companies even offer 5% or 6% matching contributions.) That's free money and if you're not taking advantage of company matching, you're leaving that free money on the table.
5. Max Out On Your Retirement Savings Plan
One of the biggest benefits of a 401k plan is that it's offered on a tax-advantaged basis. That means the more cash you plow into your 401k plan annually, the less you'll pay in taxes to Uncle Sam. In 2019, the maximum allowable 401k contribution is $19,000. If you contribute that $19,000 to your 401k plan, that's $19,000 of your money Uncle Sam can't tax right now. Plus, if you're 50 or older, you get an additional $6,000 "make-up" contribution limit (it's $1,000 for IRA's) on top of the regular $19,000 limit.
6. Put the Pedal to the Metal, Especially Early On
Yes, it's always wise to keep a sober outlook on your retirement investments. But it's just as clear the more aggressive you are as an investor, the more money you can accumulate in your retirement fund. History shows stocks outperform bonds by a wide margin, so if you want to get to $1 million faster, opt for a higher percentage of stocks and stock funds in your retirement portfolio than bonds or cash. This tactic works especially well for younger investors, who have more time to rebound from tough financial markets than someone who is 50 or older, and needs to be more prudent with their retirement portfolio asset allocation.
7. Get Educated
There are plenty of books, podcasts, web sites, mobile apps, and content platforms that can help you learn - and earn - from researching money, finance and investments. Just 90 minutes a week studying the markets can make you a smarter and better retirement investor. Start with a Dave Ramsey podcast or read TheStreet.com every day. Watch your knowledge of money and finance soar and, eventually, watch your retirement portfolio soar as well.
8. Don't Borrow From Your Long-Term Savings
As tempting as it might be, borrowing from your 401k or other retirement savings account is a bad idea. Taking money out of your retirement account weakens the power of compound interest, which is the fuel that makes your retirement portfolio grow. In a word, compound interest is interest earned on cash that had already earned interest. Otherwise known as exponential growth, compound interest earns interest not only on the initial cash deposit in an investment account, but also on the interest you've already earned.
For example, if you deposit $100 into your investment account for a single year at 7% interest, you'll earn $7 on that original deposit. The next year, you'll earn 7% interest on the $107, thereby increasing the size of your deposit and making your money grow at a faster rate, and so on and so on. If you borrow money from your retirement account, you'll lose the power of compound interest, and the Internal Revenue Service will whack you with a 10% early withdrawal penalty.
9. Track Your Portfolio's Process
Investing is as much about monitoring your investment portfolio as it is making the right investment decisions. You don't need to track your portfolio every day, but a monthly review of your investment portfolio to see how your stocks, bonds and funds are performing is good due diligence. Additionally, checking your retirement account once or twice a year to ensure your account assets are allocated properly is a good idea as well.
10. Work With an Investment Professional
You wouldn't pull your own tooth - you'd have a trained dentist to do it for you. In the same way, you shouldn't handle your all-important retirement investments on your own. Instead, hire a good financial planner to advise you on your long-term investment decisions every step of the way. It will likely cost you 1% or 2% of your investment account value every year, but having a professional steward on hand to guide your financial decisions is well worth the effort.
A recent study from AXA Equitable Life shows that retirement investors who work with financial advisors almost doubled the retirement assets in their retirement plans compared to investors who handled their own retirement financial planning decisions.