It’s important to have a Plan B and to prepare yourself for a host of unexpected challenges. For example, what would you do if you got laid off from a job — well before you were ready to retire? Likewise, how would you handle it if you had to become a caretaker, perhaps to an aging parent, and that took you out of the workforce prematurely? Also, what about your investments? Could you tolerate a major drop in the stock market? If not, perhaps you should have a more modest investment portfolio and not one that’s overly aggressive or with too much exposure to stocks. Overall, don’t just think everything will go 100% smoothly and according to plan.
Are you itching to retire early? It could happen. Here are nine secrets to an early retirement.
1. Move to a low-cost city
It will be harder to save for an early retirement if you live in a city where the cost of living is high. And once you do finally retire, you’ll likely blow through your money in no time and have to return to work. When daily living costs are through the roof it can quickly eat up your money.
One of the best things you can do for your nest egg is move to a city where you can enjoy a low cost of living, advises John Barnes, certified financial planner and founder of Annuity Assistant. This way, your hard-earned cash will go a lot further, and you’ll be able to build your retirement fund with less financial strain.
“That move can have a major, positive impact to your ability to retire early. Of course, you will want to make sure there are adequate health care facilities and other resources in your new area,” Barnes told The Cheat Sheet.
Next: How waiting five years could cost you $56,066
2. Start early
Start saving as soon as you start working. Each year you wait to start socking away cash is a lost opportunity. Don’t put off retirement savings until you get around to it or until you’re making more money. The time to start thinking about your future is now. Due to the power of compounding interest (this is when your earnings earn more earnings), saving earlier is more beneficial. Consider this example from American Funds:
You earn $30,000 a year, receive 4% annual raises, and plan to retire in 30 years. You save 4% of your salary a year and earn an 8% annual return. If you start investing today, you could have more than $220,000 by the time you retire. If you wait five years before starting, you’d have $164,878 (assuming the same retirement date, salary, raises, savings rate and return). Waiting five years could cost you $56,066.
Next: How much the government allows you to save in retirement accounts
3. Max out retirement contributions
Are you contributing the max to all your retirement accounts? If you want to exit the workforce early, you’ll want to do your best to max out retirement contributions. For 2017, you’re allowed to contribute a maximum of $18,000 to a 401(k). If you’re age 50 or older you can make an additional catch-up contribution of $6,000.
If you don’t have access to an employer-sponsored plan, Barnes recommends setting up an IRA. You can contribute a max of $5,500 for 2017 across all IRA accounts and a max of $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older.
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4. Cut back on extras
It’s a simple, yet powerful, way to make sure you reach your early retirement goals. It’s often the smaller changes, not necessarily the big ones, that can help whip your finances into shape. Track spending for at least 30 days, so you can see where you should start trimming the fat. You might find that your lunchtime snack — and not your coffee habit — is what’s really holding you back from financial freedom.
Carve out some time to evaluate your spending. Remember, the key is to cut back, not completely cut out everything that makes you happy. That would just be a miserable existence. Denying yourself will eventually make you rebel and spend even more. Do everything in moderation.
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5. Mind the company you keep
Just as certain habits can wreck your finances, so can certain people. If you’re not prudent with your financial choices when it comes to the company you keep, your retirement plans could go awry. Setting boundaries, being realistic about your money situation, or cutting off certain people altogether could mean the difference between retiring early or not retiring at all. Neighbors and friends, boomerang kids, and greedy employers, for example, could sidetrack your retirement if you’re not careful with your cash.
Next: You don’t have to do it alone
6. Get a good financial team
The company you keep when it comes to financial professionals is also key to your financial success. Hire a certified financial planner to help you devise a financial plan and motivate you to stay on track. Also, seek the assistance of a certified credit counselor if you start to experience difficulty with credit and debt management. Solid financial advice will help you catch financial mistakes early and correct them before they become a bigger problem.
Next: It always helps to have more than just one stream of income.
7. Get multiple streams of income
A major element that must be part of your retirement back-up plan is having multiple income streams. This way, if your main source of employment goes down the tubes, you’ll have another stream of money coming in. Don’t become overly dependent on your primary employer. You could get laid off or fired at a moment’s notice. However, when you have another source of money, such as real estate or a part-time job, you won’t be in such a cash crunch.
Next: Check in with your money
8. Check on your progress
Don’t put retirement savings on automatic pilot. Check on how your retirement accounts are performing, so you can gauge whether it’s time to rebalance your portfolio.
“The goal of rebalancing is to keep your overall portfolio in line with your risk tolerance and investment objectives. Your portfolio could become unbalanced if one or more of your investments does particularly well (or falls in value),” said Rich Rausser, senior vice president of Pentegra Retirement Services.
Next: Stick with it
9. Stay the course
At some point, you might get discouraged. It’s important to keep cheering yourself on as you make the journey toward retirement. When rough financial times strike, you might be tempted to raid your retirement account. Don’t.
Stay the course, and continue to motivate yourself. Continue to save even when things get a little tight. One tool that can help you stay focused is creating a vision board. Post pictures of your financial goals on the board, and look at it every night.