Millennials Saving for Retirement | Art by Jonan Everett

Art by Jonan Everett

Millennials Saving for Retirement: Are You on the Right Track?

•  4 minute read

Other millennials may not be saving enough for retirement, but that’s no excuse for you to shirk your responsibility. The early years are the most important in terms of compounding returns.

It makes me sad to report that millennials aren’t getting on board with saving for retirement. According to Millennials and Retirement: Already Falling Short, a report by the National Institute on Retirement Security, 66.2 percent of working millennials have nothing saved for when they stop working. While I do understand the financial hardships that they face, not putting away a penny for the future is downright unfathomable.

The Stats on Millennials Saving for Retirement

The report suggests that millennials should be saving 15 to 22 percent of their income for retirement, which is quite a lofty goal. And the 14.2 percent of millennials who have savings do sock away 15 percent or more of their salary, including both employee and employer contributions.

However, the remaining 85.8 percent of millennials who have savings contribute less than suggested. In fact, 53.8 percent of that group is saving just nine percent or less for retirement, including employee and employer contributions.

Unfortunately, 40.2 percent of millennials say that they don’t contribute to a retirement plan because of eligibility requirements. Some employers require you to work a certain number of hours, be a full-time employee, or work for their company for a set number of months or years to qualify for an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Millennials who work part-time or who don’t have the necessary tenure at a company may not qualify for a work-based retirement plan.

Further Reading: Get the lowdown on 401(k)s.

What Does All of This Mean for You?

If you’re in the minority and already saving 15 percent or more of your salary for retirement, you’re ahead of the game. That said, rather than compare yourself with others, it’s better to measure where you are in relation to your retirement goals. There’s a chance that saving just that percentage isn’t enough to reach those goals and you need to step up your game.

If you’re among the great majority of millennials who aren’t saving enough — or anything at all — for retirement, then it’s time to get started. Here’s why:

Starting Earlier Is Better

The earliest years of your career are the best time to start saving for retirement, thanks to compound interest. People are likely to most regret missing out on this optimal time down the road.

Below is a simple chart that shows the impact of delaying retirement saving. In this example, let’s say a person saves $50, $250, or $500 per month for retirement and earns a conservative six-percent return on his or her investments every year. How much money will each investment yield after 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, or 40 years?

$50 per month$250 per month$500 per month
10 years$8,383$41,914$83,829
20 years$23,395$116,978$233,956
30 years$50,281$251,405$502,810
40 years$98,428$492,143$984,286

Here’s another example, in which a person saves for only 10 years — from age 25 to age 35 — and then doesn’t contribute another dime before age 65:

$50 per month$250 per month$500 per month
Ending amount
at 65
$48,147$240,732$481,471

If somebody starts saving for retirement at 25, stashing away $500 per month for 10 years yields $481,471. Meanwhile, saving $500 per month for 30 years would yield $502,810. The 30-year savings plan beats out the 10-year one by just $21,339. However, the person who saved for only 10 years early in life contributed just $60,000 to end up with her final amount, while the person who saved for 30 years contributed $180,000 to end up with his.

Further Reading: Learn more about why it’s important to start saving for retirement in your 20s.

The Easiest Way to Start Saving for Retirement

In my experience, the easiest way to start saving for retirement is to set aside money from your first paycheck. From there, continue to put away as much as possible for retirement, aiming for at least the suggested 15 percent.

I began to set aside money for retirement during my first job after college, but I decided to save only 10 percent of my salary at the time. It was super easy because I wasn’t used to making any money at all, so I never missed the negligible amount that I was putting away. In retrospect, I wish I had contributed even more because once you get used to your take-home pay, parting with more of it is a tough task. 

Pulling Off the Band-Aid

If you’re already working and not saving for retirement — or not saving enough — it’s time to pull off the Band-Aid; start saving whether you think you can afford it or not.

It’s amazing how much further your money will go each month when you have to make it work.

Start by saving a small percentage of your income — maybe even as low as one to five percent if you really don’t think you can afford more. Then set reminders for a predetermined interval — such as each month, each quarter, or each year — and increase your retirement contributions by another one percent, two percent, five percent, and so on.

If possible, set up automatic increases to your contributions through your workplace retirement plan. That way, you can’t forget to increase your contributions. In fact, you may not notice that the money is missing at all.

You Can Save Even on a Small Salary

Perhaps you’re thinking it’s easy for a person earning $75,000 a year to start saving for retirement, but what if you’re making only $30,000 a year? While your circumstances will determine how difficult it is to set money aside, it’s still important to get the savings habit started.

In fact, it’s entirely possible to put away sizable amounts of money on a small salary. Kara Perez, founder of Bravely, a financial platform for women, managed to max out her IRA in a year in which she made about $30,000. “A huge part of it was committing to it; I had a goal and I pursued it,” Perez says. “I also worked every weekend for a year to make sure I hit that goal. So for me, it was keeping my eye on the prize and looking for ways to get it done.”

You Don’t Have to Use a Work-Based Plan

If you don’t have a work-based retirement plan, it’s easy to use that as an excuse to avoid saving for retirement, but that won’t fly. Instead, open a traditional or Roth IRA with a brokerage firm or robo-adviser that lets you start an account with no minimum. Then simply set up automatic contributions to the account, scheduling them to come out of your bank account a day after each paycheck. These accounts do have maximum annual contributions, but even after you reach those, you can open a regular brokerage account and continue to save money there.

Saving for retirement is tough because it is the ultimate example of delayed gratification. The money you put away now probably won’t be used for 30 years or more. However, it’s crucial to start saving early so you can ultimately live a comfortable retirement.