7 Simple Ways to Start Planning for Retirement While You're Still Young ...

Retiring might seem a far way off when you’re in your 20s and 30s, but by focusing on a few key ways to start planning for retirement while you’re still young, you can help ensure you’ll be in a more financially secure position when the time comes. Plus, with safeguards like company pensions and social security payouts shrinking while life expectancies and costs of living simultaneously increase, it’s more important than ever to become financially aware and take control of your own future. While the following basic suggestions are in no way one-size-fits-all or meant to replace the advice of a professional financial advisor, these seven simple ways to start planning for retirement have helped get me on track, and just might leave you feeling better prepared as well.

1. Consider the Big Picture

First in the lineup of simple ways to start planning for retirement is to brainstorm your initial vision and goals, even if at first it seems like it’s mostly just wishful thinking. These objectives will of course continue to change and evolve over time depending upon your individual circumstances. When you picture yourself as retired, what images come to mind? Do you see yourself perhaps settling down back in your childhood hometown or living a more luxurious life in a big city, or even another country? Do you imagine working until you reach a standard retirement age, or do you hope to retire early and pursue other passions? Do you want to travel extensively or live in a certain type of home? All of these factors and more can affect how much money you’ll need to save for retirement and how you should best take steps toward reaching your goals.

2. Seek Advice

Along with brainstorming some initial rough ideas, another smart thing you can do is set up a meeting with a skilled financial advisor who can help assess any preliminary goals and give you suggestions that are specific to your own unique situation. People you know who are planning to retire in the near future, including parents, other relatives and colleagues, can also share a wealth of information about what they’ve done to save, and which of these options might work for you, even in today’s ever-evolving economic environment.

3. Start Saving

Of course, all the helpful advice in the world won’t do you much good if you don’t ideally start saving at least 10-15 percent of your income, which can be adjusted over time depending upon your personal circumstances. Save too little, and you won’t be setting yourself up for a secure future, but save too much, and you could find yourself lacking the cash savings you need now or down the road for things like buying a home and dealing with unexpected emergencies. And start early, preferably as soon as you start working, as you’ll be surprised at how quickly the money can add up.

4. Maximize Company Matching

If your company offers a retirement plan matching program, meaning that they will match up to a certain percentage of the money you invest, be sure to take advantage of it right from the start. This is essentially “free” money going into your retirement account, and you should invest as much as you can up to or beyond the match limit in order to maximize your savings. My husband’s company, for example, will contribute an extra 4 percent when he invests 8 percent of his own earnings, for a total investment level of 12 percent. If he only invested 6 percent of his earnings, he would receive just a 3 percent match. If he invested more than 8 percent of his earnings, he would still receive a maximum 4 percent match while increasing his overall investment level.

5. Establish Healthy Habits

Yet another great way you can start preparing for an enjoyable retirement is to establish healthy habits concerning things like diet, exercise and preventative care. Even though it is obviously impossible to predict the future, living a healthy, well-balanced life increases the likelihood of your being in a better position to travel and pursue your interests during retirement. Prioritizing your health and well-being may also ultimately help keep your healthcare costs down in the long-run, even as you live a longer life, since serious medical conditions could potentially end up draining your savings more quickly than expected.

6. Track Your Progress

Once you’ve started saving for retirement, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of tracking your progress early on so that doing so becomes second nature over time. Free online tools offered by sites like Mint.com can provide a good overview of such things as your investments, cash and total assets, as can software programs like Quicken. Depending upon how your savings grow and evolve, you may find that you need to make periodic adjustments concerning the types of accounts you have, where your money is being invested and how much risk you’re taking on.

7. Prioritize Both Investments and Cash Savings

As briefly touched upon previously, it’s also incredibly important to make sure you are contributing to both your retirement and cash savings accounts. If you have to pull money from a retirement account before you actually retire, you’ll not only no longer have that money available when you need it later on, but could also face penalties depending upon the situation and type of account. By maintaining a balanced approach over time, you’ll likely be in a much better position to meet the challenges life throws your way both now and in the future.

What other effective ways to start planning for retirement would you recommend? If you’ve already tried some of the suggestions discussed here, what’s your experience been like?