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Predicting the future—something many people try and do from your average person, stock market gurus, and all the way up to Presidents and country leaders. Predicting the future generally rides on educated guesses.
But did you know your finances can help you predict the future?
A lot of complaints I hear about saving for retirement (including from myself) surround the uncertainty of the future. I hear things like “you aren’t guaranteed tomorrow” or “there might be another stock market crash.”
While these complaints are completely understandable, they really shouldn’t be anything to worry about.
The Key to the Future
Planning for retirement is a decent amount of work, but it is actually quite simple to do. The uncertainty and nervousness come in because we don’t know what’s going to happen 20 or 30 years from now, let alone tomorrow. So what’s the key?
The key to predicting the future with your finances is to manage them well today.
If you’re managing your money well today, you’ll be setting yourself up for success tomorrow and beyond. You have to be saving money in the right areas, but you also have to be spending money in the right areas as well. Manage your money well enough, and you may even get to choose when you want to retire instead of being dictated by the usual age of 65.
There are two main steps to consider when predicting your future. You should start now and then keep growing.
The first step is to start now. Compound interest waits for no one yet it’s always ready to start when you are. What I mean by that is you can take immediate advantage of compound interest as soon as you start saving, but at the same time, not starting now guarantees that you miss on on potentially thousands of dollars later on in life (if not more!).
For example, let’s assume you want to retire early at the age of 60. If you start at the age of 30 setting aside $400 dollars a month and we assume a modest 5% interest rate, at age 60 you will have $334,690.55. Not exactly a ton of money. That’s the equivalent of making $50,000 a year for a little over six and a half years.
Now, what happens if you start at age 20 with a plan to retire at 60? Assuming the same $400 per month contribution and 5% interest rate, at age 60 you will have $613,351.43. That’s almost doubling your money by starting a mere 10 years earlier.
Compound interest simply means that you are earning interest on the original deposit as well as any interest that you accumulate. Earning interest on your interest is at the heart of the power of compound interest. Time is the key to unlocking it. Start now.
But how? Let’s get into some things that you can do to start now.
Start a 401k or Roth IRA (or both!)
401k investing accounts are one of the staples of retirement. Many employers offer the opportunity to invest in a 401k through pre-tax deductions on your paycheck. This has the advantage of lowering your tax burden now. Simply put, if you’re investing in a 401k you won’t owe the government as much money every year.
401k contributions are not taxed in the present due to them being pre-tax deductions on your paycheck. This is both an advantage and disadvantage. They will be taxed when you start withdrawing money. While lowering your tax burden now, the withdrawal income is added to any income you may have in retirement such as social security and taxed accordingly.
Note: You have to wait until your 59 1/2 old in order to withdrawal from your 401k without an additional tax penalty of 10%.
You also have to consider what tax rates may be in the future. In the U.S., we are currently holding over $20 trillion in national debt. That means our government owes a ton of money to our foreign friends. There is a strong likelihood that we may be paying more taxes in the future out of necessity rather than any type of political agenda.
This brings us to a second option for retirement—the Roth IRA.
IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account. The Roth version of the IRA is funded by depositing money that you’ve already paid taxes on. Since you’ve already paid taxes on your money, you can take money out of it tax-free.
Again, there is a 10% early withdrawal penalty when you take money out before 59 1/2 years. However, this only applies to any earnings you’ve made on your principal. You can withdrawal the exact amount you’ve put in minus earnings before you’re 59 1/2 with no penalty.
Contribution limits are mandated by the federal government. For 2017, the individual contribution limit for 401k’s and Roth IRA’s is $18,000 and $5,500, respectively.
Starting both of these can give you a tax advantage both now and later on in life. The most important part is to start now.
Take Advantage of a Company Match
If you open up a 401k with your employer, they may offer a contribution match. Many employers do.
Typically, a company will match up to a certain contribution percentage limit. Some companies offer a dollar-for-dollar match up to 4% or 5%. Other companies may match half of your contributions up to 6%. It can vary widely. My company offers a one to one match up to 3% and then an additional half percentage up to 5% of what I contribute. This means if I contribute 5% of my gross income per paycheck, they will contribute an additional 4%.
That means from the moment I have deposited money into my 401k, I’ve already earned 80% on my earnings.
Take advantage of a company match. 80% earnings is a HUGE amount of money. Let’s calculate.
If your income is $50,000 a year, and you get paid twice a month, that brings your gross income per paycheck to about $2,083. Deferring 5% of that into your 401k means you are investing $104.15 per check. Not a bad start!
Now let’s add the match of 4%. This means that your company is giving you an additional $83.32 per paycheck.
So on your own, you are saving $208.30 for retirement per month. However, by taking advantage of a company match similar to mine, you would actually be saving $374.94 per month! That’s a lot more money!
Find out now if your employer offers a 401k match. I would also recommend speaking with your Human Resources department if they don’t. If they hear from enough people, they may be able to set it up as a benefit in the near future.
Pay Down Your Debt
Start retirement accounts and taking advantage of a company match are a couple of ways to predict your future by starting now. Another key way is to pay down your debt.
When you’re in retirement, at any age, not owing money to other people can greatly reduce your monthly expenses. In fact, the less debt you have, the earlier you may be able to retire.
There are a bunch of methods that you can use to pay down your debt. Here are 17 ways you can do that. My advice isn’t to use all of them all at once but to see which ones work best for you.
I also recommend you set a goal that is realistic with your debt and don’t beat yourself up if you can only make a little progress up front. Start small and work your way up.
Again (recurring theme here), the important thing is to start now so you don’t have any debt when you choose to retire.
I mentioned before that you have to save money in the right areas but also spend in the right areas as well. One of the biggest areas to spend a little more money on is your health. My best friend has told me before that you can’t put a price on health. I agree!
The downside of groceries in our society is that the healthy food tends to be more expensive than the cheap crap that isn’t healthy. Spending even just a little more money on food that will be good for you can go a long way. Try staying away from processed foods, eating more greens, and limiting your sugar and processed carb intake. This alone will help you to feel great.
Regular exercise can also help you to stay healthy. There are both free options and paid options. If you are someone who can self-motivate enough, you can easily do body weight exercises at home using sites such as Darebee. If you need some motivation or need some help getting started, a paid gym membership may be the best way to go so you can have someone watching you and helping to keep you going.
You can also get yearly wellness checkups from your doctor to help you get healthy. These should be free on most insurances, which is great! Using your doctor to help you get ahead of things like high cholesterol or high blood pressure can you help you make adjustments now instead of waiting until your body is breaking down later.
Keeping yourself healthy now will help you guarantee lower healthcare costs in the future when you retire. And while you aren’t guaranteed to be living tomorrow, keeping yourself healthy will give yourself the best chance.
The next step in ensuring your future is to keep growing with your finances. This includes educating yourself, staying away from debt, and growing your money. Here are some things you can do.
Grow Your Money
As you continue to get older, the goal is to grow the amount you are saving. I recommend using a portion of each raise you get to set aside for investing and growing your money. For example, if you were originally electing to have 5% of your income deposited into a retirement account and then get a 4% raise, try raising that 5% to 6%.
This doesn’t just have to be when you get raises either. Evaluate how much you’re putting aside when you get a new job as well. Some new jobs give a person a $10,000 raise compared to what you were making at an old job. Use a portion of that strictly for investing.
You can even set up investment accounts outside of work if you’re looking for more control over your money. Just remember to always invest in your 401k up to the company match if you have one. Otherwise, you’re leaving free money on the table.
Continue to grow your money quickly by increasing the amount you’re investing often, and you’ll be set for life!
Don’t Take On New Debt
After going through all of the work to get rid of your debt, the last thing you’ll want to do is take on more. There may be necessary debt, but for most people, there is no such thing as good debt. Remember, the less debt you have, the lower your monthly expenses. And the lower your monthly expenses, the less you’ll need—and the more comfortable you’ll be—in retirement.
It’s kind of ironic that the more debt you have, the more you need. If you don’t have much debt, your monthly payments are lower, which frees up money to fund big purchases. Instead of using debt to pay for big ticket items, budget for them. Set aside some money every month for home repair, car repairs, or vacations. That way you have the money before these purchases are made.
Preventing additional debt will also help you have more money to set aside for retirement. I once took on an additional $839.00 per month in additional monthly payments because of new debt. That was 5 years ago. If I would have been investing that money, I would have had over $50,000 (facepalm).
I say this from experience. You don’t want to do what I did.
Managing your money isn’t only about numbers, just like a diet isn’t all about calories. You have to stay motivated.
One of the biggest things you can do to keep yourself motivated and in the right frame of mind is get enough sleep.
No, seriously. Sleep is a huge asset in staying motivated. If you don’t get enough sleep, your mind starts to get into a negative funk that is hard to get out of. It’s very hard to stay motivated if you are always thinking negatively.
Eating healthy is another thing that will help you to stay motivated. Limit the number of carbs and sugar you intake so you’re not weighed down.
Another trick I’ve learned is to read or watch some motivational content. There are two podcasts from the Fizzle Team that I listen to often to stay motivated in business. Reading something from Tony Robbins is almost always inspiring. There are movies and documentaries on Netflix that can inspire you as well.
Lastly, you can also try getting out of your area by going on a vacation or to a conference. This gets you out of your immediate environment to give you a new perspective and find motivation. Believe me, looking at the mountains in Colorado is very inspiring!
The key is to find what works best for you. Exercise and enough sleep may work for everyone, but motivational content will be different for everyone. Staying motivated will help you to stay the course. Staying the course and continuing to grow your money means that your future is set, and predictably so!
The last step to growth is to make sure that you are always growing. If you are constantly learning about personal finance, you’ll be set in your future. The more you know the more you grow!
Learning also comes in the form of reading and watching. Unfortunately, in schools these days, not much is taught in the way of personal finance. If you want to really go in depth you can take college courses or online courses.
To get started though, reading personal finance blogs like this one is a great way to learn. There are a ton of great personal finance books you can read to go more in depth on subjects as well. One I would recommend is Broke Millennial by Erin Lowry from BrokeMillennial.com. You can also watch YouTube videos if you need some quick tutorials.
Soak up personal finance knowledge like a sponge to see coming trends and future-proof your finances.
To be fair, there will always be situations in life—including in your finances—that you won’t see coming. But that’s what an emergency fund is for.
Combining the above tips with an emergency fund will give you your best chance of a set future and retirement that you control.
What are you doing right now to predict your future?