Ben Stein has an good read on Yahoo Finance about what he terms the Six Key Principles of Saving for Retirement. Although I agree with all six main ideas, I question some of the specific numbers. Here are some excerpts and my comments:
1. How much you save.
Simply put, if you’re a typical American (who happens to save close to zero right now), you have to save more. When you’re young, 10 percent of your income will get you there. If you don’t start saving until middle age, aim closer to 15 or 20 percent. If you don’t start until later than middle age, save every penny you can.
Interesting. Is 10% really enough? If so, maybe I really am saving too much for retirement. To what degree of certainty is that true?
2. How long you give your savings to compound.
A thousand dollars socked away when you’re 20 and growing at 10 percent per year will be almost $73,000 when you’re 65. The same sum saved when you’re 50 will grow to $4,200 at age 65. That’s a stunning truth that should compel any young person to start saving early — and the rest of us to start right now.
As for timing your retirement, Ray advises that if you can push it back by even five years you’ll allow your money to grow and have fewer years to need it.
Compound interest is truly powerful. A dollar saved now is worth more than a dollar saved later.
Although it hasn’t been helping me control my spending as much as I’d like either, I did make the horribly unpopular true cost of frivolous shopping calculator. 😉
3. How you allocate your assets.
Typically, for those who start early, stocks are the answer. Over long periods, a diversified basket of common stocks wildly outperforms bonds, cash, and real estate. The differences are breathtaking.
But, as we’ve seen lately, there’s also a lot of volatility in stocks. As you age, you’ll want more of your money in bonds and money market accounts. These have lower returns than stocks, but they also have far lower volatility.
Phil DeMuth recommends that, as a basic portfolio, you have half of your savings in the broadest possible common stock index such as the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSMX) and half in the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index (VBMFX)… To me, that’s a bit conservative if you’re young. I would have more in stocks and also a good chunk in international markets.
Here is a compilation of various model asset allocations from other respected sources. Pretty pie charts included!
4. How much your investment returns annually.
Now, this is largely unknown from year to year. But over long periods, stocks return close to 6.5 percent after inflation, and about 10 percent before inflation.
Can we expect 6.5% real returns in the future? Lots of conflicting opinions out there on this, but I really want to look into this more.
5. How low you keep your fees and costs.
This principle is largely about using index funds and no-load mutual funds, which makes perfect sense.
Costs matter, whether you go actively or passively managed. I’ve seen some really expensive index funds. Always look up the expense ratios and any commissions you have to pay either when you buy or when you sell for all the investments you own.
6. How closely you keep an eye on taxes.
Finally, Ray advises maxing out your tax-protected accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s; keeping high-dividend stocks in accounts that are tax-deferred; and, when retiring, carefully considering what bracket you’ll be in and drawing out your funds to remain in the lowest possible one.
Ah, taxes. Here is a discussion on where you should place investments for maximum tax-efficiency.
J.D. of Get Rich Slowly also shared his thoughts on these six points, and believes the most important factor in retirement savings is psychological.