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Combatting the Retirement Crisis: When Should I Start Saving?

My best friend Bonnie called me today; "Brie, we're going on an adventure! Scratch Mexico, let's go to California instead."

Over the next several months, I am planning to purchase a car as well as pay for tuition, student fees, and rent. After I add in a trip to California, there will hardly be anything left for long-term savings.

When should I start saving for retirement?

At my current rate of saving, I am a contributing factor to what media is calling "the retirement crisis" (Anne Tergesen, The Wall Street Journal).

According to Andrew Briggs in an email debate guided by Tergesen, "A ‘retirement crisis' is when inadequate savings cause large numbers of households to face a substantial drop in their standard of living in retirement."

While the temptation may be to delay saving until it is more "comfortable" to do so, experts agree that starting to invest in 401(k) options earlier will provide exponentially better results. In fact, according to a NerdWallet survey cited by CNBC, a 25-year-old could retire as a millionaire at age 67 by investing $438 monthly with a 6% annual return.

In a similar exercise, Dave Ramsey estimated; "In order to retire with $1 million in 25 years, a 40-year-old just getting started would need to invest $800 a month—a little less than 20% of the average $50,000 income."

This advice contrasts with the standard "I'll do it later" line of thinking.

How often have we allowed "pressing" consumption needs in the present to restrict the amount that we invest in the future?

In the 1960's, Stanford Professor Walter Mischel performed the "Marshmallow Test". At the beginning of the test, children were given a treat and told that they could have more if they waited, according to The Atlantic journalist Jacoba Urist.

Urist wrote; "…studies showed that a child's ability to delay eating the first treat predicted higher SAT scores and a lower body mass index (BMI) 30 years after their initial Marshmallow Test."

Mischel's test has clear parallels to individual 401(k) savings plans. Individuals who are able to structure their finances to enable regular investments will be more successful later in life and able to buy a lot of marshmallows at retirement.

Jokes aside, delaying gratification can have significant benefits. Dave Ramsey said it best; "If you live like no one else, later you can live like no one else."

You can test this out for yourself!

If you are like me and are having trouble visualizing the impact that your contributions can have, ABG Mobile (the ABGRM mobile app for iOS & Android) offers a free tool called the 401(k) Calculator which allows employees to input their information and their employer's matching information to predict their 401(k) balance upon retirement.

For example, If I were to start right now with a 7% annual rate of return and contribute 10% of an annual salary of just $20,000, I could have $717,880 by the age of 65.

Now suppose I waited a decade to contribute the same 10% contribution from my hypothetical $20,000 annual salary. There is a $371,897 difference in my plan total by the time I retire.

The 401(k) Calculator can be found by downloading the app, selecting the "Tools" tab, and then "Calculators".

Play around with it! The 401(k) Calculator is just one of several super cool tools offered by Alliance Benefit Group Rocky Mountain.

Regardless of your stage of life, saving for retirement should be a top priority.

Returning to my financial situation, I realized that if I continue to prioritize these other financial goals first, I will never save for retirement.

I called my friend Bonnie back, and decided that I would not be going on this trip with her (or any others) until I have met some of my personal financial goals. For now, we'll just have to keep our adventures local.

Leverage the benefit of time to increase your retirement savings and quality of life.