Do you ever wonder how you would spend a million dollars? It’s one of my favorite ways to daydream. I’m a little boring, though. I’d pay off my partner’s student loan debt, buy a two-bedroom house, spend four months in Europe, and invest the rest. I’d be investing around $600,000, by my estimate. That’s one heck of a nest egg.
I’m 28 and building my nest egg is on my mind a lot. I thought I’d be the one person in the history of the world who could avoid aging, but I’m realizing that’s not going to happen. I need to act now to make sure that future me is taken care of.
Planning for the Future
While I don’t have $600,000 today, I could accrue that much someday by starting to save now. The power of compound interest — and of starting to save young — means that you can build up huge sums of money over time.
I opened my IRA with $3,000 two years ago. Today I have more than quadrupled the amount in there, even though my income has remained the same. How did I do this? The maximum amount you can save in an IRA each year is $5,500. I've done that for the last two years, and then this year put $1,000 in a solo 401(k).
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I first saved the $3,000 in a separate account and opened the IRA in July 2015. Then I continued to use that savings account until I had the other $2,500 saved. That happened in December 2015.
I only made $15,000 total in 2014. With an income level that low, I had no real emergency fund, and certainly no retirement funds. I simply didn’t have the money to spare.
In 2015, I concentrated on growing my income, and I more than doubled it by working odd jobs and growing my freelance work. I worked seasonally as a coach, I babysat, I catered. If it was a job, I took it.
The best thing that anyone can do to watch their savings grow is to commit to it.
I prioritized my retirement savings over other expenses like travel or eating out. Naturally, my retirement savings have grown very quickly in just two years.
Here are three action items I used to grow my retirement account over the past two years.
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1) Set Up a Separate Savings Account
I saved $3,000 in a savings account labeled “retirement” before I opened my Vanguard account. ($3,000 was the minimum needed to buy the stock I specifically wanted.)
Keeping the money separate from the rest of my savings allowed me to home in on my goal and not have the money get lost to other spending habits or savings goals.
Once opened, automate your savings every month into the account. You can open an IRA with Vanguard for $1,000. You can also start investing today with Stash Invest. First, you link your bank account to its app, and you can invest as little as $5 at a time.
Wealthfront is another robo investor. You can open an account with $500, and the first $15,000 you invest is fee-free. After that, there’s a flat 0.25 percent annual fee. Wealthfront helps you set goals, and uses charts to show your progress.
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2) Create a ‘Fun' Match
If you work for a company, you might have the option to match your retirement contributions. You should take that savings match. It's part of the personal finance bible: Your company is giving you “free money.”
For those who don't have an employer match, I recommend creating a “fun match” to motivate you to keep saving. Plan to save three percent of your monthly income for retirement.
For each month that you hit that goal, match it with a little treat. I'm not saying go out and blow your budget each month. Rather, treat yourself to small things that will keep you going. Maybe a date night with your partner or a girls’ night in with your best friend and a Mean Girls DVD. I like to get a pint of my favorite ice cream.
3) Design Your Future
I think a lot of young people have trouble saving for retirement because they can't even imagine it. Trying to picture yourself at 70 is hard. In my 60s, I want to visit every national park in the U.S. and Canada. Knowing that helps motivate me to save now.
I encourage you to come up with a general idea of what your retirement will look like. It can be spending your days golfing and traveling. It can be paying off your mortgage and helping your kids pay for college. You name it. Start saving today with those goals in mind.
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