Saving for Retirement: How to Avoid Financial Procrastination

You must remember that time is money. –James Fenimore Cooper

By Gretchen Gorline
AFC® Candidate
FINRA Military Spouse Fellow

While James Fenimore Cooper may have been referring to opportunity cost or even to lost wages, the same can be said of retirement investments. Historically, investments grow over time by the power of compounding. A key to building wealth is not just the amount of money invested but also how long it is invested.

This concept is especially pertinent in relation to retirement savings. There are calculators, illustrations, scenarios and articles that belabor this simple point: start saving early.

And yet, most people do not heed this advice! This is Financial Procrastination: knowing what should be done but never getting around to doing it. Here are some of the most common reasons for procrastination and how to avoid them:

Analysis Paralysis Open the business section of any newspaper and take a quick look at pages with stock, bond and mutual fund prices.  Overwhelmed?  Absolutely! There are so many choices. Financial experts, magazines, bloggers, columnists and commentators all have their favorite investments, but which one is right for a particular person in a particular situation? Who has time or energy to really research investment options? Sometimes trying to sort out all of the options is paralyzing, which results in doing nothing.

Solution: There is no one perfect investment choice. Of the thousands out there, there are dozens that would provide retirement income. The Thrift Savings Plan is also a good place to start; you can research the funds in the TSP at www.tsp.gov.  Another option is to look for a mutual fund with a long track record and a rate of return that beats inflation. Choose 4 or 5 that fit this description, and then check out the fund analyzer tool at saveandinvest.org.  Then move forward: Choose one (or two!) and invest.  

Get Rich Slow: Maximizing Your Retirement in 2013

The Tyranny of the Immediate Most people spend probably 90% of their time doing things that have immediate consequences: buying groceries, getting a haircut, paying a bill, getting a car repaired, or spending time with family or friends. While all of these things can be important, they often squeeze out those things that have long-term consequences, such as investing for retirement.

Solution: Make “Retirement Investing” an item on the daily “TO DO” list. Commit to spending just 30 minutes a day working on retirement until accounts are established. This could mean using saveandinvest.org, making an appointment with a financial advisor, reading a book on personal finance, or establishing an account. Set the account to be drafted each month from a paycheck or bank account and the process will be on autopilot. Contributions will be made regularly and automatically, and the investment will reap the rewards of dollar-cost averaging. It’s a win-win!

The Pain of Change If the bank account is already a little on the empty side at the end of the month it is hard to get motivated to start investing. Investing would mean changing spending habits and who wants to give up the morning latte and muffin? Everyday life in the here and now takes every dollar – how could investment even happen?

Solution: The phrase “no pain – no gain” could also apply here. Some sacrifices now may be necessary to provide a secure future. Start by setting up a monthly budget that forces financial discipline. According to financial writer Jane Bryant Quinn, most people can put 10% of their salary into savings before the paycheck even arrives without making significant lifestyle changes. If this seems impossible, start with 5% and work toward the 10% goal. “Pay yourself first,” and live on the rest.

The Elephant in the Room Financial issues are the source of plenty of disagreements and arguments among married couples. When one partner advocates a major change, arguments, drama, fireworks and general unhappiness may result if the other is not on board. That is reason enough for complete avoidance of the topic. How can retirement savings be gently broached?

Solution: Find neutral ground to work on a financial plan together. This could be a book, an article, a class, or a financial counselor. Let the experts guide the discussion instead of butting heads. Agree on reasonable goals and the steps to get there. The goal is to work together, not to prove one person right and the other wrong.

Git ‘R Done Sometimes the final step - which might be the simplest - becomes the most difficult: getting the account opened. This can actually be several steps: setting up a payroll deduction, establishing a bank account, and opening the investment account.  With small children underfoot, stay-at-home moms might have a hard time making “business” phone calls without interruption. Employed individuals may not be able to make phone calls or online transactions during normal business hours, or may not want to conduct personal financial transactions within earshot of co-workers. Who hasn’t attempted to make such a phone call only to be stumped when asked for account numbers, passwords, or other essential information?

Solution: Whether calling payroll, a bank, a financial advisor or the Thrift Savings Plan Thrift-line, the individual at the other end of the line is happy to take your call and will likely be quite helpful. To make the call easier, gather all necessary information before moving forward. Write down exactly what the goal of the call or transaction is so that each step is documented and vital information such as account numbers are recorded.

Time is money. Each day of procrastination is a day that investments could be reaping the benefits of compound interest. Move forward and save for retirement!

Think you can’t find the money to save?  We can help.  Find tips on saving and paying down debt at www.MilitarySaves.org.   Take the Military Saves Pledge today.

 

Tip of the Day

  • Written by Katie Bryan | December 16, 2013

    Check out the guide from @CFPB that helps you to know which questions to ask when shopping for a financial advisor http://ow.ly/rrjYO 

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