Steve Repak, Professional Speaker and the Author of Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training For Your Money, contributed this article to BusinessNewsDaily's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Will there be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or will you be one of many who won't have a pot to pee in? I have always said that Retirement isn't a question of "if," it is a question of "when," so if you don't want to work well into your mid-70s as a greeter at your local supercenter eating cat food for dinner and playing with the squirrels, it is time you start taking the following keys steps before it is too late.
Reduce your spending
The only difference between people who have money and people who don't is the ones who have it spend less than they make. The truth is people really don't think about money, they just spend it. At least twice a year you should keep a spending journal for at least 30 days. Once your 30 days are complete, you can review exactly where you spent those precious dollars you worked so hard for and then make decisions where you can either cut out completely or at least reduce some of that spending. Look for the low hanging fruit first and then concentrate on other areas that might be harder.
Build your short-term savings
Nobody likes to plan on things going wrong, but you need to have some cash in safe, short term savings to cover the unexpected emergency, because once again, it isn't a matter of if they will happen, it is only a matter of when. If you don't have anything in savings and an emergency does come up, you won't have any choice but to use a credit card. Your ultimate goal is to have at least 3-6 months of your monthly non-discretionary spending in an account separate from your checking account and your long-term savings account. For those who are planning to retire it should be at least 18 months of your non-discretionary. That number might sound frightening if you are getting close to retirement, but it is a must unless you want to go back to work once you have retired.
Take full advantage of your long-term savings
If the company you work for offers you the opportunity to contribute to their retirement plan and they are giving you free money in addition, this is a no brainer Many companies eliminated this benefit during the Great Recession, but as the economy has gotten a little better companies are once again starting to match. Depending on the plan, you could get an additional 3-5 percent of your salary each year in matching benefits from your employer. That means if you put money into your account, they will put money into your account. Do not pass this up. You should plan on contributing, at a minimum, enough to max out the employer's contribution so that you don't leave any free money on the table. This concept warrants repeating … this is FREE money!
Eliminate your debt
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that you will have more money if you are earning interest on it instead of paying interest to someone else. Once you have cut some of your spending, use a part of that extra cash at the end of the month to make additional payments towards your debt. An extra $75 dollars in addition your regular $150 dollars payment made on a credit card balance of $7,000 can knock off as much as 7.5 years of payments depending on the interest you are being charged and you will have saved over $5000 of interest payments! Another benefit of having no debt is your retirement dollars will go further to provide you with your essential needs like food, shelter, clothing, transportation and health care cost.
There's an old saying "don't do today what you can put off 'til tomorrow." Most people don't even think about retirement until they are in their 50s and that is a formula for disaster. Your golden years are right around the corner so start taking those four key steps today to fill your pot!
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.