Editors' pick: Originally published Jan. 4.
Beginning your retirement savings in your 20s and 30s is a great strategy, recommended by many financial planners. But many people wait until their 40s - after they have settled into family life with marriage, automobiles, kids and first homes. That's just the reality.
But it's still not too late to begin savings habits that will pay off handsomely once you reach retirement age.
"As you get into your 40s, chances are you are making a little more money, starting to hit stride in your career, and maybe you have kids," says Tom Mingone, founder and managing partner of Capital Management Group. "You may have discretionary income."
The most effective method to save is out of your paycheck, through your 401(k), he says.
"The best way to save is a direct deduction out of your check," Mingone says. "Extra money is like extra closet space. There is no such thing. You use what you have. Pay yourself first. Have money coming out on the 1st or 15th (of the month). You will get used to living on less."
In their 40s is when people have a job history and higher income, says Laurie Blackburn, first vice president, Investments at the Speck - Caudron Investment Group of Wells Fargo Advisors in Alexandria, Va.
"It is time to start maxing out your IRA and 401(k) contributions, if they haven't," she says. "If you start younger, you can increase that amount every year. A lot of 401(k)s have a built-in escalator - 3% (contribution rate) goes to 4%. Every year, your contribution increases 1 percent, till you are maxed out."
By the time you are in your 40s, you should be maxed out, she recommends.
Next up, you should look at your asset allocation and risk tolerance, she says.
Bob Stammers, director of investor engagement for the CFA Institute, says that even though their 40s are top earning years for many, it is also the time when people have many claims on their income, especially things like their kids' college tuition. For that reason he says he would like to see the retirement system go from annual dollar limits to lifetime limits.
"At different times of people's lives they have significant income they can contribute to retirement plans," he says. "For most people, it's in their 40s. People need to think about maintaining their lifestyles and put away any windfall or increase in salary."
Of course, many people in their 40s start to consumer more, because they're earning more.
"Those that don't get disciplined about savings habits and tracking expenses don't have money they can put toward retirement," Stammers adds.
Mingone says no matter which stage you are in life, you also need to think about taxes.
"You always want to be aware of your tax bite," he says. "We think of saving for retirement in three bucket - taxes now, taxes later and taxes never," he says. "Taxes now are mutual funds. You pay taxes now on gains. Taxes later are things like 401(k) and IRAs. You get a deduction, but you don't pay taxes now. You pay taxes later. Taxes never are things like Roth 401(k), Roth IRA and life insurance. If you structure it property, all you income will be tax free."
He says it's also important to be actively manage your investments at the end of the year: Harvest your losses and minimize earnings. "You don't want to be taxed heavily," he adds.