How to Start Investing and Saving for Retirement (2022)

We all know we should invest and save for our future, but many of us don’t know how to start. Fortunately, getting started can be easier than you think.

Clark Howard’s Investment Guide for Beginners

Money expert Clark Howard has long championed the idea of making it easy to learn how to invest and save for retirement.

How to Start Investing and Saving for Retirement (1)“Investing can seem so complicated that you might shut down and do nothing about it — or feel you need to hire someone to guide you,” Clark says. “However, it doesn’t need to be complex. You probably already have the opportunity to get started right where you work.”

In this article, we’ll take a look at the most common ways people start investing and building their nest eggs. We’ll guide you through the process of setting up your retirement plan, selecting your investments, making regular contributions and more.

Table of Contents

  1. Enroll With Your Employer’s Retirement Plan
  2. Select Your Investments
  3. Set Your Contribution Level
  4. Figure Out What to Do With Extra Money

1. Enroll With Your Employer’s Retirement Plan

How to Start Investing and Saving for Retirement (2)

For most people, learning how to start investing begins with signing up for your company’s 401(k) plan. This is the single easiest point of entry for most workers.

But don’t worry if you’re self-employed or don’t have a retirement plan at work. We’ll have specific guidance for you later in this article.

For everyone else, the process of signing up for your employer’s retirement plan is very simple, though it varies by workplace.

It starts with a conversation with someone in your human resources department to get instructions on how to enroll. Your Human Resource representative should be able to answer any questions you have as you go through the process.

Once you’re signed up, you can arrange to make automatic contributions to the retirement plan each pay period. These contributions will come directly out of your paycheck before you ever see the money.

By automating this process, you make it “out of sight, out of mind.” The net result over time is that you start building up a retirement nest egg without having to think too much about it.

(Video) How to Start Investing and Saving for Retirement

2. Select Your Investments

Now it’s time to select your investments. This part might seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be!

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Traditional 401(k) vs. Roth 401(k)

How to Start Investing and Saving for Retirement (3)

A lot of people now have the option of opening a Roth 401(k) at work alongside the traditional option of a regular 401(k). But there’s one big reason why Clark likes Roth 401(k)s more than traditional ones.

How to Start Investing and Saving for Retirement (4)“Doing a Roth 401(k) is vastly superior to doing a traditional 401(k). With a Roth 401(k), you put in money that’s already been taxed into your 401(k) and it’s never taxed again,” Clark says. “If you don’t do a Roth 401(k) [and instead do a traditional 401(k)], then you’re just putting in pre-tax dollars. Everything your plan builds to over the years is all subject to tax down the road.”

That’s why Clark prefers the Roth 401(k). If not, a traditional 401(k) is still good, too.

We’ve got a complete explanation of the similarities and differences between a Roth 401(k) and traditional 401(k) — as well as an answer to the question of if you should do a Roth 401(k) — right here.

No matter whether you select a traditional 401(k) or its Roth counterpart, consider them like a house or a shell for your money. You’ve got to put some furniture in the house, right? That’s where the next part comes in.

Target-Date Funds

How to Start Investing and Saving for Retirement (5)

Selecting the “furniture” you put in the house is perhaps the easiest choice of all. Clark is a big fan of target-date retirement funds, which he says are the “the best and easiest investment choice” for most people.

(Video) How To Invest For Retirement?

A target-date retirement fund is a simple investment portfolio. Typically, it’s made up of stocks and bonds in a specific ratio that changes as you age.

“All you have to do is pick the target-date fund closest to the year you expect to retire — say, 2045 or 2055 — and then contribute to that fund. That’s it!” Clark says.

The mix of stocks and bonds housed in the fund you select automatically adjust as you get closer to retirement. Basically, selecting a target-date fund lets you take a “set it and forget it” approach to investing.

For more about the mechanics of how target-date funds work, see our article here.

3. Set Your Contribution Level

How to Start Investing and Saving for Retirement (6)

Clark has one ironclad rule when it comes to setting your contribution level in your employer’s retirement plan: Always contribute at least the minimum necessary to pick up the full company match.

Many companies will match the money you put in at either at 50% or 100%, up to a certain contribution level. Check with your HR department for the specifics of your plan.

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Let’s say, for example, you contribute 6% of your pay and there’s a 100% match up to 3% from your employer. That means your effective rate of contribution is 9%. You’re doing 6% and your employer is kicking in 3% for the full match.

(Video) How to invest for retirement in your 40's.

“No matter how little or how much your company offers a match on, you’ve got to find a way to get it done,” Clark says. “Otherwise you’re leaving free money on the table.”

Once you’re picking up that full match, Clark recommends that you raise your contribution rate by 1% every six months. Do this until you hit the ceiling of what you’re allowed to contribute by law to a 401(k) or Roth 401(k).

(Editor’s note: In 2021, the max you can contribute to either plan is $19,500 per year or $26,000 if you’re over 50.)

4. Figure Out What to Do With Extra Money

How to Start Investing and Saving for Retirement (7)

Once you’ve started saving in your employer’s retirement plan, you need to find other places for additional contributions to go.

For most people, opening a Roth IRA makes the most sense. A Roth IRA is a tax-free account that lets you contribute up to $6,000 a year ($7,000 if you’re 50 or over).

But there are income limitations to qualify. You’re allowed to contribute the full amount to a Roth IRA only if your income is less than $125,000 as a single person or $198,000 as a couple. Beyond that, you may still be able to contribute but at a reduced amount.

We’ve got a full explanation of how to open a Roth IRA, along with the eligibility guidelines and complete income limitations, here.

Special Advice for the Self-Employed

A Roth IRA is also a good starting point if you don’t have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Twoother good options for the self-employed and entrepreneurs include:

  • SEP (simplified employee pension) IRA
  • Solo 401(k)

Many big retirement plan providers like Vanguard and Fidelity offer those plans.

Final Thought

Learning how to start investing doesn’t have to be complicated. It all begins with aiming to start saving enough to pick up your company’s full 401(k) match if one is available. From there, bump up your savings rate slowly over time.

(Video) Best retirement plan for a late start to retirement investing.

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Most employers want to make saving for retirement easy for you since so few of them offer pensions these days.

Be sure you take advantage of this low-hanging fruit in your life. If you don’t, you may have to work longer than you want to.

“When you get right down to it, you are the only one who can provide for your retirement — particularly if you’re under 40,” Clark says. “So, you can either start saving money now or face the fact that you may not get to retire.”

If you don’t have access to a retirement plan at work, make sure you do the research on opening a Roth IRA, SEP IRA or solo 401(k) at a place like Vanguard or Fidelity.

To get started, you’ll want to read our Charles Schwab, Vanguard and Fidelity articles!

Finally, if you have additional investing questions, consider calling our Consumer Action Center.

More Investing and Retirement Stories on Clark.com:

  • How to Open a Roth IRA
  • 401(k) Guide: What Is a 401(k) Plan and How Does It Work?
  • When Is the Best Time to Take Social Security?

FAQs

What is the best way to start saving for retirement? ›

10 tips to help you boost your retirement savings — whatever your age
  1. Focus on starting today. ...
  2. Contribute to your 401(k) account. ...
  3. Meet your employer's match. ...
  4. Open an IRA. ...
  5. Take advantage of catch-up contributions if you're age 50 or older. ...
  6. Automate your savings. ...
  7. Rein in spending. ...
  8. Set a goal.

What three things must you do to successfully invest for retirement? ›

  1. Understand Your Retirement Account Options. You can save for retirement in various tax-advantaged and taxable accounts. ...
  2. Start Saving and Investing Early. ...
  3. Calculate Your Net Worth. ...
  4. Keep Your Emotions in Check. ...
  5. Pay Attention to Investment Fees. ...
  6. Get Help When You Need It.

How do I prepare to invest in retirement? ›

7 steps to prepare for your upcoming retirement
  1. Make sure you're diversified and investing for growth. ...
  2. Take full advantage of retirement accounts, especially catch-up contributions. ...
  3. Downsize your debt. ...
  4. Calculate your likely retirement income. ...
  5. Estimate your retirement expenses. ...
  6. Consider future medical costs.

What are 4 things about investing for retirement? ›

You have access to a tax-deferred retirement account that will reduce the taxes you pay.
...
If you can afford the immediate impact on take-home pay, the Roth IRA can be an even better retirement savings option.
  • Relying on Social Security. ...
  • Living With Your Children. ...
  • Saving in a Tax-Deferred Retirement Account.

What are 5 ways of investing for retirement? ›

  • Invest for Retirement in Tax-Advantaged Accounts. ...
  • Understand Asset Allocation to Invest for Retirement. ...
  • Try Robo-Advisors or Target Date Funds for Easy Management. ...
  • Invest for Retirement in Dividend-Paying Stocks. ...
  • Buy Rental Property to Invest for Retirement. ...
  • Invest for Retirement in Annuities.
8 Jul 2022

How do I know if I'm saving enough for retirement? ›

Multiply your estimated annual living expenses by 25.

This formula should result in a lower number than the previous calculation based on income. If you have paid off your mortgage and other debts and think you can get by on $30,000 per year in retirement, this produces a savings target of $750,000.

What is the best way to invest money? ›

12 best investments right now
  1. High-yield savings accounts.
  2. Certificates of deposit (CDs)
  3. Money market funds.
  4. Government bonds.
  5. Corporate bonds.
  6. Mutual funds.
  7. Index funds.
  8. Exchange-traded funds (ETFs)
6 days ago

When should you start investing for retirement? ›

The answer is simple: as soon as you can. Ideally, you'd start saving in your 20s, when you first leave school and begin earning paychecks. That's because the sooner you begin saving, the more time your money has to grow.

What is a good monthly retirement income? ›

A good retirement income is about 80% of your pre-retirement income before leaving the workforce. For example, if your pre-retirement income is $5,000 you should aim to have a $4,000 retirement income.

What is the safest retirement investment? ›

The safest place to put your retirement funds is in low-risk investments and savings options with guaranteed growth. Low-risk investments and savings options include fixed annuities, savings accounts, CDs, treasury securities, and money market accounts. Of these, fixed annuities usually provide the best interest rates.

What is a good retirement income? ›

What Is a Good Retirement Income? According to AARP, a good retirement income is about 80 percent of your pre-tax income prior to leaving the workforce. This is because when you're no longer working, you won't be paying income tax or other job-related expenses.

What is a retirement strategy? ›

Retirement planning refers to financial strategies of saving, investments, and ultimately distributing money meant to sustain oneself during retirement. Many popular investment vehicles, such as individual retirement accounts and 401(k)s, allow retirement savers to grow their money with certain tax advantages.

What are the most important sources of retirement income? ›

Social Security benefits are the primary source of lifetime income for many of today's retirees. Although you can start receiving Social Security benefits as early as age 62, or defer your benefits until age 70, the monthly payment amount you receive varies based on your retirement age.

Why is planning for retirement important? ›

Retirement planning is important because it can help you avoid running out of money in retirement. Your plan can help you calculate the rate of return you need on your investments, how much risk you should take, and how much income you can safely withdraw from your portfolio.

What are the 3 types of retirement? ›

Three types of retirement and how to plan for each
  • Traditional Retirement. Traditional retirement is just that. ...
  • Semi-Retirement. ...
  • Temporary Retirement. ...
  • Other Considerations.
18 May 2020

What are two ways to save for retirement? ›

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)

If you don't have access to a retirement account at work or are looking to save for retirement outside of it, you have two main choices: traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. To contribute to either, you must have a taxable income for the year.

What should I do 1 year before retirement? ›

Finally, to prepare emotionally, figure out what you plan to do with your time in retirement.
  1. Create or Update Your Retirement Budget.
  2. Adjust Your Portfolio for Income.
  3. Learn How Medicare Works.
  4. Refinance Your Mortgage (Maybe)
  5. Decide When to Claim Social Security Benefits.
  6. Determine How You'll Spend Your Time.

What do you do if you have no retirement savings? ›

How To Retire With No Savings
  1. Make Every Dollar Count — and Count Every Dollar. ...
  2. Downsize Your House — and Your Life. ...
  3. Pick Your Next Location With Savings in Mind. ...
  4. Or, Stay Where You Are and Trade Your Equity for Income. ...
  5. Get the Most out of Healthcare Savings Programs. ...
  6. Delay Retirement — and Social Security.
25 Sept 2022

What are the first steps of retirement planning? ›

The 5 steps of retirement planning
  • Step 1: Know when to start retirement planning.
  • Step 2: Figure out how much money you need to retire.
  • Step 3: Prioritize your financial goals.
  • Step 4: Choose the best retirement plan for you.
  • Step 5: Select your retirement investments.
1 Sept 2022

How do you invest in income and growth? ›

Seven ways to invest for income:
  1. Bonds.
  2. Dividend stocks.
  3. Preferred stock.
  4. Real estate.
  5. Asset allocation funds.
  6. Annuities.
  7. Interest-bearing savings accounts.

How much should you have saved for retirement by age? ›

Savings by age 30: the equivalent of your annual salary saved; if you earn $55,000 per year, by your 30th birthday you should have $55,000 saved. Savings by age 40: three times your income. Savings by age 50: six times your income. Savings by age 60: eight times your income.

What is the average retirement savings by age? ›

Retirement savings account balances, by age
AgeMedianAverage
35–44$36.1K $36.1K$97K $97K
45–54$61.5K $61.5K$179.2K $179.2K
55–64$89.7K $89.7K$256.2K $256.2K
65+$87.7K $87.7K$280K $280K
2 more rows
30 Jul 2022

Where should a beginner invest? ›

The best investments for beginners
  1. 401(k) or employer retirement plan.
  2. A robo-advisor.
  3. Target-date mutual fund.
  4. Index funds.
  5. Exchange-traded funds (ETFs)
  6. Investment apps.

How much should I be investing a month? ›

Many sources recommend saving 20% of your after-tax income every month. According to the popular 50/30/20 rule, you should reserve 50% of your budget for essentials like rent and food, 30% for discretionary spending, and at least 20% for savings.

Why you should start investing? ›

Investing Makes Your Money Work for You

Instead of keeping it in a bank account offering minimal interest rates, you could watch it grow by investing wisely. Investing doesn't typically bring large returns overnight, but if you are prepared to play the long game, there are rewards in store.

How much money do I need to start investing? ›

"If you're a typical working person or a beginning investor, you should know that it doesn't take a lot of money to start," IBD founder William O'Neil wrote in "How to Make Money in Stocks." "You can begin with as little as $500 to $1,000 and add to it as you earn and save more money," he wrote.

Why is investing early important? ›

An investment's value can rise and fall over time — and it's possible to lose some or all of the money invested. But investors who hold on to an investment for the long term tend to come out ahead. Investing early can be a helpful strategy young people can use to meet their financial goals.

Can I get Social Security if I never worked? ›

The only people who can legally collect benefits without paying into Social Security are family members of workers who have done so. Nonworking spouses, ex-spouses, offspring or parents may be eligible for spousal, survivor or children's benefits based on the qualifying worker's earnings record.

At what age do most people retire? ›

Key Takeaways. Rules surrounding Social Security benefits established age 65 as a common retirement age. Men retire at an average age of 64.6 years, while women remain at work until age 62.3.

What is the average Social Security check? ›

California. In America's most populous state, some 4.3 million retirees who collect Social Security can expect to receive an average $1,496.13 per month from the program in 2020, or $17,953.56 over the course of the year. California is another state where benefits are below average for the U.S.

What are the 6 Sources of retirement income? ›

Six Main Sources of Retirement Income
  • Social Security. Social Security is the government-administered retirement income program. ...
  • Personal Savings and Investments. ...
  • Individual Retirement Accounts. ...
  • Defined Contribution Plans. ...
  • Defined Benefit Plans. ...
  • Continued Employment.

What is considered a good nest egg for retirement? ›

Saving for Retirement

The Fidelity savings guidelines say a 40-year old should have a nest egg twice her annual income; by age 50, the egg should be four times income and at age 60, retirement savings should be six times current income.

What is the average retirement income in 2022? ›

Average Household Retirement Income 2022:

Median Income – $46,360 (down from $56,632 in 2019) Mean Income – $71,446 (down from $84,153 in 2019)

Is it better to take Social Security at 62 or 67? ›

Key takeaways. If you claim Social Security at age 62, rather than wait until your full retirement age (FRA), you can expect a 30% reduction in monthly benefits. For every year you delay claiming Social Security past your FRA up to age 70, you get an 8% increase in your benefit.

How should I invest based on age? ›

The common rule of asset allocation by age is that you should hold a percentage of stocks that is equal to 100 minus your age. So if you're 40, you should hold 60% of your portfolio in stocks. Since life expectancy is growing, changing that rule to 110 minus your age or 120 minus your age may be more appropriate.

What is a good retirement financial goal? ›

Since higher earners will get a smaller portion of their income in retirement from Social Security, they generally need more assets in relation to their income. We estimated that most people looking to retire around age 65 should aim for assets totaling between seven and 13½ times their preretirement gross income.

What should they do about saving and investing? ›

  • Pay yourself first. Save part of your monthly income as soon as you get it, rather setting aside whatever's left over. ...
  • Save for emergencies. ...
  • Create a spending plan. ...
  • Spend less, save more. ...
  • Get creative about making more money. ...
  • Take baby steps toward saving. ...
  • Allocate your investment assets. ...
  • Understand investment costs.
26 May 2022

What is better than a 401k? ›

Some alternatives for retirement savers include IRAs and qualified investment accounts. IRAs, like 401(k)s, offer tax advantages for retirement savers. If you qualify for the Roth option, consider your current and future tax situation to decide between a traditional IRA and a Roth.

How much should I save and invest? ›

It's our simple guideline for saving and spending: Aim to allocate no more than 50% of take-home pay to essential expenses, save 15% of pretax income for retirement savings, and keep 5% of take-home pay for short-term savings.

Which is the most effective solution when planning for retirement? ›

Which is the most effective solution when planning for retirement? Start as soon as possible to maximize savings.

How can I invest in retirement early? ›

7 Best Places to Save Your Money for Early Retirement
  1. Roth IRA. ...
  2. Taxable Brokerage Account. ...
  3. Health Savings Account (HSA) ...
  4. Traditional IRA or 401(k) ...
  5. Real Estate. ...
  6. Municipal or U.S. Treasury Bonds. ...
  7. CDs and High-Yield Savings Accounts.
30 Aug 2022

Why is saving for retirement important? ›

It reduces the amount of taxes you owe on the income for each year you invest in it. It allows you to defer or even avoid the taxes you owe on the earnings that accrue on your investments. It produces earnings on earnings, creating a compounding effect not available in a regular savings account.

What are the five stages of retirement? ›

The journey through the 5 stages of retirement
  • Stage 1: Pre-retirement. Pre-retirement is the stage before you retire, this usually is around 5 to 10 years before you retire. ...
  • Stage 2: The honeymoon phase. ...
  • Stage 3: Disenchantment. ...
  • Stage 4: Re-orientation and finding yourself. ...
  • Stage 5: Stability.

What retirees do all day? ›

The study showed that those in retirement spent less time on things like working, educational activities, and caring for others like their children. They spent more time on things like personal care, eating, household activities, shopping, leisure, civic activities and talking on the phone.

What are the signs you need to retire? ›

Still, sometimes retirement is the better option, especially if any of these signs ring true.
  • You're disinterested in the job. ...
  • Your health is suffering. ...
  • You're burned out. ...
  • Technology is causing you stress. ...
  • You have no debt. ...
  • You want to pursue a second act.
29 Jul 2022

Is a Roth IRA or 401k better? ›

The Bottom Line. In many cases, a Roth IRA can be a better choice than a 401(k) retirement plan, as it offers more investment options and greater tax benefits. It may be especially useful if you think you'll be in a higher tax bracket later on.

Where is the safest place to put your retirement money? ›

The safest place to put your retirement funds is in low-risk investments and savings options with guaranteed growth. Low-risk investments and savings options include fixed annuities, savings accounts, CDs, treasury securities, and money market accounts. Of these, fixed annuities usually provide the best interest rates.

What is a good monthly retirement income? ›

A good retirement income is about 80% of your pre-retirement income before leaving the workforce. For example, if your pre-retirement income is $5,000 you should aim to have a $4,000 retirement income.

How much should you have saved for retirement by age? ›

Savings by age 40: three times your income. Savings by age 50: six times your income. Savings by age 60: eight times your income. Savings by age 67: ten times your income.

What is the downside of a Roth IRA? ›

One key disadvantage: Roth IRA contributions are made with after-tax money, meaning that there's no tax deduction in the year of the contribution. Another drawback is that withdrawals of account earnings must not be made until at least five years have passed since the first contribution.

What happens to 401k when you quit? ›

Key Takeaways. If you change companies, you can roll over your 401(k) into your new employer's plan, if the new company has one. Another option is to roll over your 401(k) into an individual retirement account (IRA). You can also leave your 401(k) with your former employer if your account balance isn't too small.

How much does a Roth IRA earn annually? ›

Roth IRAs are a popular retirement account choice for a reason. It's because they're easy to open with an online broker and historically deliver between 7% and 10% in average annual returns. Roth IRAs harness the advantages of compounding, which means even small contributions can grow significantly over time.

Is it better to keep money in the bank or at home? ›

Keeping money in the bank is a much better option than keeping your money at home. Between the ability to earn interest, the protection of insurance, ease of access, reducing your temptation to spend it, and automating your savings, there are quite a few benefits with which your sock drawer just can't compete.

Where should a 60 year old invest? ›

The following seven investments can help retirees earn a decent return without taking on too much risk in the current environment:
  • Bond ladders.
  • Municipal bonds.
  • Real estate investment trusts.
  • Dividend-paying stocks.
  • Covered calls.
  • Preferred stock.
  • Annuities.

Where do the rich keep their money? ›

Examples of cash equivalents are money market mutual funds, certificates of deposit, commercial paper and Treasury bills. Some millionaires keep their cash in Treasury bills that they keep rolling over and reinvesting. They liquidate them when they need the cash.

Can I get Social Security if I never worked? ›

The only people who can legally collect benefits without paying into Social Security are family members of workers who have done so. Nonworking spouses, ex-spouses, offspring or parents may be eligible for spousal, survivor or children's benefits based on the qualifying worker's earnings record.

At what age do most people retire? ›

Key Takeaways. Rules surrounding Social Security benefits established age 65 as a common retirement age. Men retire at an average age of 64.6 years, while women remain at work until age 62.3.

What is the average Social Security check? ›

California. In America's most populous state, some 4.3 million retirees who collect Social Security can expect to receive an average $1,496.13 per month from the program in 2020, or $17,953.56 over the course of the year. California is another state where benefits are below average for the U.S.

What is the average retirement income in 2022? ›

Average Household Retirement Income 2022:

Median Income – $46,360 (down from $56,632 in 2019) Mean Income – $71,446 (down from $84,153 in 2019)

How much money does the average person retire with? ›

What Is The Average Retirement Income In 2021. The U.S. Census Bureau data shows that the median retirement income for retirees 65 and older is $46,360 in 2020. The poverty rate for people aged 65 and older remained at 9.0 percent in 2020 (compared to 2019).

What do you do if you have no retirement savings? ›

How To Retire With No Savings
  1. Make Every Dollar Count — and Count Every Dollar. ...
  2. Downsize Your House — and Your Life. ...
  3. Pick Your Next Location With Savings in Mind. ...
  4. Or, Stay Where You Are and Trade Your Equity for Income. ...
  5. Get the Most out of Healthcare Savings Programs. ...
  6. Delay Retirement — and Social Security.
25 Sept 2022

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