When it comes to your money, you may have trouble finding any reason to be merry.
With the stock market down sharply and many a bond fund hit by the credit crisis, too, 401(k)s and other savings have been brutalized by one of the worst financial disasters ever. Retirement might be looking like an unattainable dream.
But there are things you can control. Consider the following:
If you have a job, you can save more.
Let's say you are 45, make $50,000 a year and have been saving 6 percent of your pay, but the stock market has battered your 401(k). And let's say you can count on your employer to match the first 3 percent of pay you put into retirement savings.
In that case, you will have roughly $727,700 at retirement if you average a 5 percent return on your money annually until retirement in 20 years. But if you decide to dig a little deeper into each paycheck and save 8 percent of your pay instead of 6 percent, you can end up with about $768,000.
If you haven't been taking advantage of the free money your employer gives you, use your 401(k) to receive every penny.
It comes in the form of matching money in 401(k) plans. Let's say you have 30 years until retirement, you make $50,000, and you have been saving 2 percent of your pay. Perhaps you have accumulated $20,000 over your working years, but you've been leaving money on the table because your employer is willing to match everything up to 3 percent of your pay.
Try to increase your savings just a little and start saving the full 3 percent. By the time you retire, you will have about $352,200 if you earn 5 percent a year on your money. But if you had not done what you needed to do to get all the matching money, you would have ended up with about $264,600.
If you want to experiment with your own savings to see what a larger contribution will do, try this online calculator from Fidelity:
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If you planned to retire at 62, try to work awhile longer.
Each year you wait will add about 7 percent to your annual Social Security benefit. So if you were to make roughly $18,000 a year at 62 in Social Security benefits, you could almost double your benefit if you worked to 70. (Examine your benefit at
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You could prop up your savings even more if each year you put $6,000 into a Roth individual retirement account. By the time you retire, that Roth could contain about $89,500, and every penny will be yours. Uncle Sam will tax the money you remove from the 401(k).
If you are wasting money on investments, you can stop it.
You cannot control the stock market, but if you have a Roth IRA or some other savings outside your 401(k), you can control what you spend.
You pay a fee to invest in mutual funds. It's called an "expense ratio," and finding a fund that charges you about a third of a percent tends to be a better deal than the average fund that charges 1.4 percent.
If you put $10,000 into the average fund charging 1.4 percent of the assets and are lucky enough to earn 10 percent on your investments over 20 years, you'll end up with about $51,000. If you chose the fund charging 0.31 percent, you'd end up with roughly $63,000.
If you are more than 10 years from retirement, you have a good chance to earn back what you lost, and then some.
Typically, investors make back what they have lost in the stock market within 21/2 years from the worst point in a bear market. But, unfortunately, there are no guarantees: After the severe bear market of 1973-74, the Standard & Poor's 500 recouped what was lost in about seven years. During the Great Depression, it took 13 years.