Here's how to save for retirement

Ask The Expert: How To Save For Retirement?

Question: I’m a 57-year-old divorcee with a grown daughter on her own. Somehow, she got through college with very little in student loans, which she’s already paying off. I’m proud of her, except for one thing: She refuses to save for retirement.

I realize it’s difficult to convince a 24-year-old to set aside even a dime that won’t be spent for more than 40 years. She tells me she simply has not even a dollar to invest in her future. Can you give some wisdom to open her eyes? 

— Audra in Georgia

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Howard Dvorkin on how to get out of debt fastTo be blunt, I don’t believe most people when they say they can’t save anything. I’m not insensitive to the crushing poverty in this country, nor to the plight of single parents struggling to provide for their children.

However, many of the lamest excuses I hear are from those who are gainfully employed and decidedly middle class and above: “I can’t spare one dollar, Howard. Really, there’s no fat in my budget.”

Then they take a sip of their $6 gourmet coffee.

So here is how to save for retirement starting today — 10 ways your daughter (and everyone else) can save $10 a week. If she (and they) take that $40 a month and invest it in any retirement account, they’ll have a good head start on their golden years…

1. Drive less

Grab a friendly co-worker and share a ride to work. Or better yet, walk, bike, or take public transportation. If you’re running errands, go with a friend, or sit down and plan out exactly what you need and where to get it so you don’t make tons of pointless trips, which wastes gas and time.

2. Skip eating out

Skipping lunch just once a week will save you at least $10 in most parts of the country. Pack your lunch every day and save even more.

3. When you do eat out, order water

Appetizers, desserts, alcohol, and soda are all promoted by restaurants and servers to get customers to pay more on their overall bill.

4. Make your own cleaning products

Using household items that you find in your pantry to clean can save your wallet and the environment. White vinegar cleans most surfaces, and baking powder can be used to scour stains away.

5. Cut your utilities bill

Turn your heat down in the winter and wear layers instead. Open your windows in the summer to catch the breeze. Get a low-flow shower head so you use less water. Turn off your TV and lights when you aren’t home. Let your laundry air dry or use an outdoor clothesline instead of an electric dryer.

6. Reuse and recycle

Cloth napkins, cloth shopping bags, washcloths — you only have to buy these once, and you can reuse them instead of throwing them away as you would with plastic ware. Recycle your aluminium cans and plastic bottles, then turn them in at recycling centers, which pay you by weight.

7. Find creative ways to heat your home in the winter

If you bake something in the oven, open the oven door afterward to let the heat out into your home. Open the shades to let sunlight in. Close the doors of each room so the heat doesn’t escape. Bundle up under blankets and sweaters at night.

8. Cut down on your grocery bill

Don’t stop eating — that’s not healthy — but there are so many ways you can save at the grocery store. Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry (you’ll buy more) and buy generic brands where you can. Scan an online search engine like Coupons.com before you go. Buy in bulk from places like Costco and Sam’s Club, and shop at your local farmers market for fresh food.

9. Don’t buy what you can do yourself

This applies to everything from home repairs to makeup. You can get a French manicure, wax your eyebrows, and color your hair yourself (or with some help from a friend.) Fix your own leaks and do your own paint jobs around the house, with a little help from some online tutorials if you need it.

10. Change your spending philosophy

You know why credit cards work so well for the companies who issue them? Because people use them for impulse shopping and don’t stop to think about what they’re buying. Before making a purchase, stop and think about it for a few minutes. Do you really need this? How long will this last you? Can you survive without it for a while?

So let’s say you utilize one or all of these options. What should you do with all these savings?

You should start with opening a Roth IRA account. It’s easy, cheap, and you can open one online. The most crucial part of opening an IRA account is starting as early as possible, because compound interest will make your savings grow exponentially over the years. Compare these numbers…

A 25-year-old invests 10 percent of her $50,000 salary each year, and retires with almost exactly a million dollars at age 65. By contrast, a 35-year old making the same contribution but starting ten years later will retire with only half a million.

Hope that helps sway your daughter, Audra. Tell me what she says.

Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

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