by David Bakke

David Bakke writes about ways to save money and live frugally on the personal finance blog, Money Crashers.

The military is known for offering some of the best pension benefits in the country. Serving 20 years and being guaranteed half of your military income (along with other benefits) throughout your sunset years is great, but you'd be misguided in thinking that you can live off that income alone. By starting to save for your retirement now, you can help secure your financial future and bolster those benefits Uncle Sam has guaranteed you. The following tips can help ensure you've got enough money to have the kind of retirement you've always dreamed of.

1. Pay Off Credit Card Debt

Paying down your credit card balances should always be a priority, but so should resolving to put this unnecessary form of debt behind you forever. Create a personal budget, reduce your spending so that it's less than your income, and send your monthly surplus in to your creditors until all your balances are gone for good. Once you're done, you may be shocked how much more money you have left at the end of each month to boost your retirement savings.

2. Reconsider Excessive Personal Purchases

Just because a new iPhone or a 70-inch flat screen TV hits the market doesn't mean you should run out and get it. This applies to any other extravagant personal purchases as well – vacations, expensive dinners, high-priced theater or sports tickets, and so on. If you exercise a little restraint throughout your working years, you can enjoy a stress-free retirement in which worrying about bills is a thing of the past.

3. Get an Emergency Fund in Place

If you should incur a major auto expense, medical bill, or other unforeseen costly event, an emergency fund can help prevent you from making that go-to move for your credit card. The interest you'd pay on that debt could inhibit your ability to save for retirement. Get to work now on building an emergency fund and work toward a goal of six to nine months' worth of living expenses. This strategy is going to free up cash down the road that can be put toward retirement.

4. Slice Your Food Bill

Most people view that weekly trip to the grocery store as a necessary nuisance and not much more. Instead, turn it into a challenge. Pick up a Sunday newspaper and get out those scissors. If you see coupons for foods you buy frequently, get an extra copy or two. Purchase your veggies from a local farmers market if there's one in your area, and consider buying generic products instead of brand names. There are endless ways to save on groceries, you just have to get a little creative to take advantage of them.

5. Experiment a Little

My brother served in the military and he's just embarked on an experiment I find quite shrewd. He is currently saving for retirement, but isn't sure he's doing enough. Based on his current contributions, he's come up with an estimate of what his retirement income is likely to be, and he's trying see if he can live off of that amount now. He's cutting monthly bills, shaving entertainment expenses, and more. Conduct this experiment for yourself and use it to gauge how much you need for your retirement. Save toward that goal, and you can ensure yourself a healthy life after you hang up that uniform.

What ways can you think of to set aside more cash for retirement?

Tip of the Day

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    Shop around for auto and homeowners' insurance: Before renewing your existing policies, check out the rates of competing companies whose annual premiums could be several hundred dollars lower. 

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