10 Steps to a Healthy Retirement

Start planning -- and saving -- today, no matter how small the amount.
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Procrastination is the greatest obstacle to most people accumulating a healthy, well-funded retirement account.

There are hundreds of excuses you can use to explain why you aren't saving for retirement, but none of them are going to help when you turn 65. The truth is, most people can save for retirement with just a little bit of organization and self-discipline.

Here are the basic steps that you need to take today to ensure you have enough retirement savings:

1. Begin today:

No matter what your age, the time to start saving for retirement is now. Decide today and commit to it. The longer you postpone saving for retirement, the more difficult it will in your later years.

Time and compound interest are your friend, which means the sooner you begin, the less painful it will be.

2. Start saving any amount:

The amount you start with really doesn't matter. It's the process of placing money aside for retirement that is the important habit you want to establish. Choose as big an amount that you feel comfortable setting aside. If you don't feel that you can afford anything, force yourself to place aside a small amount, even if it is only $50, $25 or even $10 to begin. Once you get into the habit of placing money into your retirement account, you should find it possible to increase this amount over time.

3. Choose a method:

If your company offers a 401(k) and matches a portion of your contributions, opt for it and set a goal of reaching the amount of the match. If your company doesn't offer a 401(k) plan, save money in a standard IRA or Roth IRA (

this calculator can help you decide which is best) with the goal being to fund the maximum amount you can each year.

4. Make it monthly:

Get in the habit of making a payment to your retirement on a monthly basis -- just like any other monthly bill you pay. It's a bill for your retirement. If you don't set up a monthly system, there is a much greater likelihood that your retirement account won't get funded.

5. Make it automatic:

Once you have committed to saving for retirement, make the savings automatic. If you are going to save through your company's 401(k) plan, talk to your personnel manager to arrange for the money to be automatically taken out of each paycheck. If you decide to save through an IRA, set it up so that when your paycheck is deposited into the bank, a specified amount of money is automatically transferred to your retirement account.

6. Be aggressive:

Make sure that the amount you are saving is placed into an account that is aggressive, especially in your younger years. You want to earn an interest rate that is well above the inflation rate. Stock funds are much more likely to achieve this goal than money market accounts.

7. Establish a goal:

Once you have established an account and are contributing to it on a monthly basis, make a goal of when you'd like to retire. You can use

this calculator to help you figure out how much you will need to contribute to reach your goal.

8. Don't get discouraged:

Your retirement goal probably is not possible with your current retirement contributions. Don't be discouraged. It will take time to build up the amount you contribute, and it won't happen overnight. Many people look at the numbers and give up, but this is the worst thing you can do. Doing nothing will not help the situation, and the fact that you have started to make contributions is the first step in reaching your retirement goal.

9. Start a small business:

If you find that you are far behind in your retirement savings, consider starting a part-time home business. If successful, you will not only increase your income, but owning a small business can give you a number of quality tax breaks. In addition, it gives you the opportunity to open a

Simplified Employee Pension plan (SEP). You should talk with your personal financial planner to see if this is a viable option for you to increase your retirement savings.

10. Brainstorm ways to increase contributions:

There are a number of ways that you can either save or earn extra money to add to your retirement savings. Take the time to think of ways that you can increase the amount of your contributions to reach the retirement goal you have. While this will entail effort today, it will be well worth the reward when you reach retirement.

Here are a few places you can start that should save you enough money to begin your retirement fund:

  • How to Save Money Without Sacrifice
  • How to Ask For A Better Deal
  • How to Save Money With Junk Mail
  • How to Save Money on Banking
  • Save the Earth (Plus a Few Bucks)
  • Nine Things You Should Buy to Save You Money
  • Four Ways to Save on Car Insurance
  • Six Ways to Save Money and Stay Cool
  • 10 Ways to Reduce Child Care Costs
  • Eight Ways to Save on Your Commute

The choice is yours. You can make another excuse for not starting your retirement savings or you can make the commitment to begin the process. The sooner you do, the healthier your retirement account will be -- and that ultimately will mean the earlier you are able to retire.

Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.