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“Ask Brianna” is a Q&A column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college.
A: You’ll see me write about retirement over and over in this column — it comes with the territory as a personal finance writer. Talking retirement gets my planning, strategizing, and, yes, lecturing engines going, because Americans need encouragement. Almost half of families had no retirement account savings in 2013, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis of Federal Reserve data.
You’ll need to start saving now if you want your post-work years to be filled with excitement and possibility, not anxiety over how to pay your bills. But while you save, you can also live a varied, satisfying life in your 20s and 30s. Decide on your priorities, make a plan, and be savvy about where you put your money. Smart money management now means more fun stories to tell your grandkids when you’re happily retired later on.
As a 20- or 30-something, you have one big advantage over older folks when saving for retirement: time. The money you earn on your investments has decades to grow, so you can save a little every month without drastically cutting back on other expenses. If you wait to save, you might have to make some tough sacrifices to catch up in your 40s and 50s.
Contribute to a 401(k) if you have one at work, and add enough to match your company’s contributions if they’re offered. Open an individual retirement account if you don’t have a 401(k). Aim to save 10 percent of your gross income for retirement, which can include an employer match.
Pick your top nonretirement goals, decide when you want to achieve them, then create a savings plan. You can set up direct deposit at work so part of your paycheck goes straight into your savings account, says Damian Dunn, a financial planner and president of NextGen Financial Life Planning LLC in Auburn, Indiana. You’ll be less likely to spend your money if it’s not easily accessible, he says; federal law limits withdrawals from savings accounts to six per month.
Here’s how to save for the three common goals you mentioned in your question:
The best place to save depends on how soon you think you’ll buy. An online savings account is the most flexible, but a certificate of deposit, also known as a CD, will offer a higher interest rate if you can wait for four or five years. CDs require you to keep your money locked away at a bank or credit union for a certain amount of time, which will keep you from dipping into your account in the interim.
A full life is more than just planning for the future, and your postgrad job lets you afford the trips or leather jackets you could only covet when you were in college. You should enjoy those things in the decades before you retire. All you have to do is plan for them.
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This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @briannamcscribe.