Financial planner Jonathan Knapp says it’s not uncommon for recent empty nesters to realize they’re not on track for a secure retirement after years of funding the lifestyles of their departed kids.
Bolstering a bare or depleted nest egg tops Knapp’s list of things to do for parents once all their children have moved out and can support themselves.
“If your retirement savings are not on track, this is the time to turbocharge your 401(k),” says Knapp, director of financial planning at Creative Planning in Kansas City, Kansas.
He adds: “The majority of families have not put away enough. People tend to under save when the kids are at home. Now’s the time to play catch-up.”
No doubt, kids are expensive: clothes, competitive club sports, car insurance, college. It adds up.
Each child reduces the household wealth of Americans between the ages of 30 and 59 by about 3 or 4 percent, according to data from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
More retirement: Empty nester? Here’s what to do to get your finances back on track
But there’s time for empty nesters to get their retirement savings back on track. The math is pretty basic: Divert into your retirement savings a large portion of the extra cash freed up now that your kids are off your payroll.
Here’s a game plan to play catch-up:
1. Bump up your savings
If your 401(k) balance is skimpier than it should be at your age, now’s the time to “bump up” the percentage of your pay that is invested in your retirement savings account, says Mark Lamkin, CEO and chief market strategist at Lamkin Wealth Management in Louisville, Kentucky. The maximum amount you can set aside in your 401(k) in 2019 under IRS rules is $19,000 and workers 50 and older can save $6,000 more in so-called catch-up contributions. The limit on annual IRA contributions is $6,000, with allowable catch-up contributions of $1,000 if you are 50 or older. To work toward maxing out, Lamkin advises people to gradually increase your paycheck deductions, if possible, to the percentage that boosts your annual savings to the IRS limit.
2. Make sure you get ‘match’
Don’t pass up free money from your employer, advises Tony Ogorek, founder and CEO of Ogorek Wealth Management in Buffalo, New York. That means at least saving enough on your own in your 401(k) to take advantage of your employer’s full matching contribution. The most common company match, and offered by 70 percent of 401(k) plans in 2017, according to Vanguard Group, is 50 cents per dollar on 6 percent of pay. That means someone earning an annual salary of $75,000 who saves 6 percent of his or her pay would receive a match of $2,250, bringing total savings $6,750. “You must at least fund up to that (matching) level,” says Ogorek. “If your employer is matching 50 cents on the dollar you are making a risk-free, 50-percent return on your money.”
3. If possible, ‘max’ out
The more you save, the quicker you can replenish and rebuild your nest egg, says Diahann Lassus, president of Lassus Wherley, a wealth management firm with offices in New Providence, New Jersey, and Bonita Springs, Florida. A married couple over age 50, for example, can sock away $50,000 in pretax dollars in their 401(k)s. And that sum doesn’t include matching dollars from their employers. That same couple can boost their combined account balance by a quarter of a million dollars in five years by simply maxing out, before company matches or any appreciation on the investments.
4. Play catch-up
If you’re over 50, the IRS lets you save an additional $6,000 in your 401(k) with before-tax dollars in what is dubbed “catch-up” contributions. And saving more will help you reach your goal of having enough cash to retire. “This is another opportunity to redirect freed up cash toward yourself rather than your kids,” says Ogorek.
5. Keep spending in check
Sure, you’ll likely have more money leftover at the end of the month now that you’re no longer supporting kids. But if you blow all the cash on vacations or the new convertible you’ve been dreaming of or lavish dinners, you’re just going to dig yourself into a deeper financial hole, according to researchers at the Center for Retirement Research.
“Much of the debate on whether or not we face a retirement crisis comes down to what parents do when the kids leave,” a CCR research report concluded. If parents spend the extra money instead of saving it, they will get to retirement with less money and a higher standard of living to maintain.
Unfortunately, many people “take advantage of the fact that kids are not there to live it up a bit,” says Geoffrey Sanzenbacher, associate research director at the Center for Retirement Research. “Instead of going out for pizza, they go out for steak.”
Sanzenbacher says the center’s research shows that families do increase their retirement savings after the kids are gone, but only by a small amount. In theory, a household of two adults and two kids making $100,000 and contributing 6 percent to their 401(k) should be able to increase their savings rate from 6 percent to 18 percent of earnings – or a 12 percentage point bump in savings. Yet the reality is that families only increased their savings by 0.7 percent.
“That sets them up for disappointment in retirement,” says Sanzenbacher.
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