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How to Take the Stress Out of Saving for Retirement

Stop feeling stressed and start saving today.
Image: Money jar
Many people aren't prepared for retirement because they don't know what to do — and it stresses them out. Syda Productions / Shutterstock

Regardless of how old you are, how much money you make or when you plan to retire, the chances are you’re experiencing at least a little stress about saving for retirement. It’s a concern many young people avoid altogether, but as you grow older, it becomes harder to ignore.

About one in three Americans has no retirement savings whatsoever, and 56 percent of Americans have $10,000 or less put away. Since most people would need several hundred thousand dollars or more to retire comfortably, it’s understandable that many are currently stressed.

But let’s take a look at the causes of those stressors, and what you can do — right now — to alleviate your own burden.

Most people simply don’t know what to do to start saving for retirement … and that lack of knowledge leads to anxiety whenever the subject arises.

4 Reasons Saving for Retirement Stresses You Out

These are some of the main reasons Americans are stressed about retirement:

  • Not knowing what to do. “Retirement saving” is an enormous category, with dozens, if not hundreds, of possible options. Tax strategies, retirement accounts, investment vehicles and investment markets are all possibilities, and these aren’t topics that are usually covered in school, unfortunately. Most people simply don’t know what to do to start saving for retirement … and that lack of knowledge leads to anxiety whenever the subject arises.
  • Insecurities about investment knowledge. Many people know, inherently, that long-term investments are the best way to build wealth and achieve financial stability, but they don’t feel comfortable making those investments because they don’t trust their knowledge. About 25 percent of people avoid the stock market entirely because they feel they don’t know enough about it.
  • Limited resources. Some people are stressed because they know they simply don’t earn enough money to save any for retirement. Roughly half of American families live paycheck to paycheck, so this is a major source of stress.
  • Emergency savings and unexpected developments. Planning to save $500 a month for retirement seems like a reasonable idea, but what happens when your car breaks down? Or your child needs emergency medical care? The thought of having money tied up for retirement can be another source of stress.

How to Feel Better About Saving for Retirement in Just Minutes

There’s no quick strategy to build sufficient funds for retirement, nor is there any immediate way to relieve retirement-related stress. But there are a handful of things you can do — all of which take only a few minutes — to reduce some of your stress, at least temporarily:

  1. Gather more information on investment opportunities. Go online and find some introductory content on how to start an investment program. Many authorities, like RJO Futures, offer webinars, videos, and guides to explain investing basics in a way that even a total amateur can grasp. If one source doesn’t make sense to you, move to another. Eventually, you should find a resource that makes sense. You’ll learn something new, and you’ll have a new bookmark you can consult for future financial questions.
  2. Run an audit. Do you know how much you have saved for retirement right now? Does it create anxiety to recognize that you don’t know? Now’s your chance to figure it out. Take 10 minutes to check your main accounts (including your 401(k) and any other financial accounts you have open), and calculate how much you’ve saved. If the total seems low, you’ll at least know how low, and that will give you the impetus to plan your next steps.
  3. Schedule time to talk to an expert. If you’re completely new to the investment game, you might want to talk to an investment advisor. A few hours with an advisor can give you the foundation you need to make better decisions moving forward. Of course, you don’t need to do this all at once. For now, do a little research and schedule time for an introductory appointment with an expert.
  4. Open an account. If you don’t have any retirement accounts, take 10 minutes to open one. All you need is a few hundred dollars. You don’t have to chart out your entire financial future right away, but merely opening an account will give you a reliable and familiar platform you can use the next time you want to make a contribution or a change to your long-term plan. Plus, you’ll feel better just having taken a concrete step toward financial independence.
  5. Sketch out a budget. Finally, take a few moments to sketch out your current budget, including how much you’d like to save for retirement. There are a number of apps that will help you do this, including top performers like Mint and PocketGuard. A budget outline will give you the vision and structure you need to start making meaningful changes in your life.

These strategies alone won’t be sufficient to set you up for a comfortable retirement, but they should help you establish a mental and emotional foundation on which to think more seriously about what you want to do for retirement.

From there, learning saving, and investing will all become easier, and step by step, you’ll be able to build the financial model that will enable you to retire comfortably.

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