Tortoises Win the Retirement Race

Long-term planning pays off in retirement

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Get on with the job. I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the time to start planning for retirement is today. Younger boomers have to run a different race than I did, but they still need to start, regardless of other drains on their resources.

Reprioritize wealth accumulation. It’s easy to give yourself a nice reward every time you get a raise, but it’s much tougher to save a portion of that raise or use it to pay off debt. For me, that meant acknowledging that I had survived before I got a raise, so I didn’t really need the extra money. I don’t recommend being a scrooge; go ahead and reward yourself with a small portion of any raise, but you know where the rest goes: your 401(k), IRA, or other retirement savings account. If you’re not contributing the maximum amount to tax-deferred retirement accounts, start now.

Dont buy the biggest house on the block. I have noticed that younger boomers are becoming more attuned to needs versus wants. Up until 2008, folks were buying the biggest house they could afford because real estate was an “investment.” Houses weren’t just homes, they were moneymakers—or so we thought. If you’ve opened a newspaper in the last five years, you know that’s no longer true.

My son and his wife just bought a new house—a nice home that meets their needs well. They really liked another model that cost $25,000 more because it had one more bedroom. A spare bedroom would have been convenient when grandparents visited, but then again the house would have been too big in ten years or so.

They made the right decision. They saved the $25,000 as well as the interest on a higher mortgage, as they had already made the maximum down payment they could afford. They’ll be just fine without the spare bedroom; that’s what air mattresses and hotels are for.

Use some common sense. I’ve made this same mistake more than once: I’d decide to get serious about diet and exercise and go way overboard. On day one, I’d exercise to the point of exhaustion and cut my caloric intake in half. By the second day, I could hardly move, and I was starving to death (at least it felt that way). By the third day, my commitment would vanish. Had I paced myself, I would have been a lot more successful.

The same principle holds true for paying off debt and saving. For most folks, the best way to start is by withholding incremental amounts from their paychecks. Many employers will do this automatically and put the money in your 401(k) or IRA. Tackle debt the same way: cut up your credit cards and start paying a little extra on your regular payments. It is amazing how quickly you can make progress.

Become an educated investor now. It is easy to think, “Why do I need to learn about investing when I don’t have any money to invest?” There are two responses to that question. First, you don’t want to wait, because from day one you want to take what little capital you can start with and invest it wisely. And second, I found that the more I read about investing, the more motivated I became to have money to invest. The thought of my money working for me instead of the other way around sounded quite appealing. After all, isn’t the goal to accumulate enough money and invest it wisely so we don’t need to work at all?

One of the fun parts about being a grandparent is reading bedtime stories to the little ones. It is wonderful one-on-one time, and the little guy always gets to pick the book from the stack. Darned if one of my grandkids didn’t pick The Tortoise and the Hare for me to read during a recent visit. As I read him the book, I realized how much the fable applies to us. Both the Tortoise and Hare want to get to their goal, but their approaches are quite different. It looks like a lot of baby boomers who became parents later in life will have to start slowly and steadily plod along. We all know who wins the race in the end.

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Article printed from InvestorPlace Media, http://investorplace.com/2013/09/tortoises-win-the-retirement-race/.

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