Save Fuel: Safe Driving Tip for the Road to Retirement

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

By Richard Schmitt

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- "You can't get there from here." Although not normally the response -- except when driving in New England -- you might hear someone say that when asked for directions for the way to retirement.

When you consider that two of the three pillars underlying retirement, income security -- Social Security and employer-sponsored retirement plans -- has fallen into some disrepair; personal savings takes on significantly more importance. For that reason, safe driving tip no. 1 on the road to retirement is:

Save fuel

If fuel (gas or electricity, your choice) is the lifeblood of your car, cash is what drives your retirement savings. Rather than gunning your consumption engine while working your way along the road to retirement, just set your saving on cruise control at a decent speed and avoid braking to further your chances for a smooth ride. Only after dutiful saving (and investing) during your working journey can you consider coasting into retirement.

By the end of your working journey, you need to make your sure your cash tank is full by saving at every opportunity in an efficient manner. Saving in tax-deferred retirement savings vehicles, like 401(k), 403(b), 457, and IRA plans, pays off in two ways:

1. You do not have to pay immediate taxes on amounts you defer from pay (within limits) into your accounts and on investment earnings within your accounts. You only pay tax on contributions and investment earnings not already taxed upon eventual distribution of your accounts.

2. You may be able to get free money in the form of an employer match on your contributions to an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan.

If you cannot save at least 10% to 15% of pay (or more depending on your age when you start saving) that financial advisers suggest, save what you can on a regular basis. For each ongoing payroll contribution into a stock account, you would reap the benefit of dollar cost averaging, where recurring deposits at regular intervals in times of fluctuating stock prices have the favorable result of buying more stock when prices are low and less stock when prices are high.

Savings also builds capital upon which you can increase your take with investment earnings. From another perspective, savings beget investment earnings, reducing your burden for future savings. Of course, you lose any chance of earning a return on your investment if there is no invested savings to begin with.

Don't delay in saving for retirement and expect to be able to go full throttle near the finish line to make up the difference. Fast and furious may make driving more fun, but starting early at a slow (or maybe moderate) and steady pace works best for saving. Then you can direct your attention to investing like a road hog in an upcoming Safe Driving Tip No. 2.

This article was written by Richard Schmitt, author of "401(k) Day Trading: The Art of Cashing in on a Shaky Market in Minutes a Day." Outside of his appearances on Fox Business News, KCBS, and Business News Talk Radio, he is an Adjunct Professor teaching retirement planning at the Edward S. Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University.


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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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