How to Maximize Your Retirement Savings with Quicken
MIN READ 10
Whether retirement still feels like a long way off or right around the corner (or even if you’re already there), there are things you can be doing today to make your retirement more financially secure.
What to do while you’re saving for retirement
1. Focus on your net worth
Early on in life, people tend to focus on cash management and making sure they have enough money to cover their bills. That's an important first step in financial management, but living month-to-month only gets you so far.
Planning for retirement is about growing your assets until you have enough saved up to live on for the rest of your life. It means paying down your debts as aggressively as you can and saving up for the future.
That’s why your net worth is so important. Net worth is the value of all your assets (cash, investments, and the stuff you own) minus your liabilities (loans and other debts—what you owe). The higher your net worth, the more resources you have to draw on when the time comes.
When you’re first starting out, that number is usually negative, and that’s okay. By focusing on it throughout your financial journey, you can grow your net worth into a comfortable, secure retirement—and maybe even retire early.
Quicken displays your net worth at the bottom of your account list, making that calculation for you. The software tracks it automatically, with reports to show you how it’s changing over time.
2. Little things add up
If your retirement is still a long way off, it’s easy to feel like saving a few extra dollars here or there won’t make that much of a difference. But that’s just not true. In fact, saving a small amount can make a huge difference, especially if you start young.
Depending on the market rate of return, putting just $100 toward your retirement each month starting at the age of 25 could give you over $239,000 by the time you retire. So it’s never too early to start, and it’s always worth contributing something.
Another option is to use that money to pay down a high-interest credit card balance or car loan. Quicken includes “What If” loan calculators that can show you just how much those extra payments can save you in interest. The results can be eye-opening.
3. Make budgeting a habit
Most people think of budgeting as a painful, penny-pinching exercise, but a good budget doesn’t have to be like that at all.
Quicken can create a budget for you automatically, based on your actual income and spending, helping you find easy places to save. And you can customize that budget however you want to, tracking everything or just a few things, according to your own budgeting style—because the best budget for you is the one you’ll actually use.
Just going through this process and taking a close look at your monthly inflows (your net salary or other income) compared to your outflows (non-discretionary expenses like bills and discretionary expenses like food and shopping) is a valuable exercise in itself.
Even if you don’t want to track all your spending every month, just dedicating one afternoon to this budgeting exercise could change the way you think about your spending habits.
When you can see how your budget is helping you save more toward your retirement, and you can see your net worth growing over time, there’s even more incentive to stick with it.
4. Set up savings goals—and an emergency fund
Believe it or not, one of the biggest ways you can impact your long-term retirement savings is by saving up for short-term, planned expenses and building up a buffer for emergencies instead of paying for those things on credit.
Credit cards have notoriously high interest rates. When you keep a balance on a credit card, the interest charges can really rack up. Any time you plan ahead, saving up to pay off those large purchases immediately, like vacations or holiday shopping, you’re going a long way toward building your net worth.
Quicken lets you set up as many savings goals as you need and even include them in your budget. Set up one for that vacation and another for a rainy-day fund so you have some cash for emergencies. With savings goals, you can plan for your short-term goals as well as your long-term needs.
You can also add your savings account to Quicken. The software will download your current balance and transactions automatically, just like it does for any other account, so you can see your contributions and track your progress.
5. Take advantage of employer contributions
If you’re fortunate enough to have employment benefits that include a 401(k) retirement plan, there’s a good chance your employer has a contribution matching plan in place. For every contribution you make toward your retirement, your employer will match some percentage of that amount up to a certain cap, essentially paying you more for doing the same job you’re already doing.
Talk to your employer’s HR department to make sure you're contributing enough to get 100% of your employee match. Most young professionals have a hard time contributing enough to their retirement to meet their employer’s cap, but try to hit that cap as soon as you can.
If you’re using Quicken, you can track those contributions to make sure you’re taking maximum advantage of your employer’s plan. And remember that your 401(k) is still a brokerage account. Like any other investment account, you’ll want to make sure it’s invested in a diversified portfolio. Quicken lets you connect your investment accounts along with all your other financial accounts, so you can see your complete portfolio.
6. Don’t borrow from your retirement
A big part of planning for your retirement is understanding how all the pieces of your plan fit together. If you don’t have a plan in place, it can be tempting to skip a month or two of your retirement contributions to do something like take a vacation. But that’s just borrowing from your retirement to do something today.
Instead, create a vacation savings goal and work toward it instead of skipping your contributions or taking on credit card debt. When you understand your savings, credit, and contribution decisions as all part of your retirement goals, it’s easier to stay on track.
It’s also important not to withdraw money early from your 401(k) or IRA. If you do, you’ll usually incur a huge penalty. That’s another reason to create those savings goals—for short-term goals like vacations and holidays as well as long-term goals like paying for your kids’ college. Plan ahead as much as you can so you won’t find yourself tempted to withdraw money from your retirement savings.
7. Adjust your budget as you grow
As you progress in your career and make more money, having a plan in place can help you make informed decisions about how to spend that extra income. That’s another reason it’s so important for your budget to be easily adjustable.
By playing with different options, you can see how each decision changes the whole picture. If you spend more on a higher car payment, that’s money you can’t put toward your holiday savings—or toward your retirement contributions. Remember, those choices add up over time. Saving now means you’re building your net worth for the future.
What to do when you’re nearing retirement
1. Focus on a positive net worth
As you move forward in your plan for retirement, your assets should start being worth more than your debt. And the closer you get to retirement, the more important it is to have a higher net worth. That means either decreasing your spending or increasing your income—or both.
Quicken’s Lifetime Planner* uses all the data you have in Quicken to look forward instead of back. Add your details to personalize it to your own situation—your age, your spouse’s age, your expected retirement ages, your tax bracket, your kids and their ages, the timing and cost of their college educations, financial information about your home, and so on.
Quicken walks you through these factors step-by-step and then uses that information to project your financial picture through the full length of your retirement. Change any factor to see how the picture changes, so you can make smart decisions, understanding how they’ll affect your financial future.
2. Pay off debt
One way to change that future for the better is to pay down your debt more aggressively whenever you have some extra cash after making your maximum retirement contributions.
To see where those extra loan payments will have the most impact, run Quicken’s What If calculator on each of your loans. Just enter the amount of the extra payment, and Quicken will show you how much that payment will save you in interest over time.
This is especially important for high-interest debt like credit cards. Increasing your payments by even a small amount can dramatically reduce the amount of interest you’ll pay and the amount of time you’ll carry the debt.
You can also use the What If calculator to see how a small increase in your regular mortgage payment can impact your long-term savings. Or use it to tell Quicken when you want to have that mortgage paid off, and Quicken will tell you what payments you need to make to get there.
3. Maximize your investment contributions
Once you’re maximizing your employer contributions to your 401(k), consider starting your own IRA or Roth IRA. The government limits your contributions here too, so make sure you’re taking full advantage. If you’re over 50, you can make additional catch-up contributions to help you reach your goals a little faster.
4. Start taking less risk
You can also invest in the stock market with your own brokerage account, but as you near retirement, most financial planners recommend taking less risk in your investments. Quicken lets you see what you’re holding in your mutual funds and set target allocations across your entire portfolio, helping you make informed decisions.**
What to do while you’re living in retirement
1. Revisit your budget
It’s also a good idea to take another look at your budget. Make sure the spending you’ve allotted to your categories still makes sense for your new lifestyle and that your overall spending is within your fixed income. Quicken makes it easy to adjust your budget as often as you need to as your needs change and as you find new ways to save.
2. Look for ways to save
Remember that there are lots of discounts out there for retirees. Take advantage of them wherever you can. Use your Quicken budget or Quicken’s spending reports to target your non-essential spending so you can find places to save, but don’t assume you’ll have to give up the things you love.
3. Do more of what you love
One of the best things about using a personal finance management tool like Quicken is being able to see exactly where your money is going. If you love golfing, for example, create a “golf trips” tag in Quicken and tag all your spending while you’re on your next golfing vacation so you can track it across multiple categories: dining, rental car, and so on.
Sometimes what you love isn’t as expensive as you think. By finding a great local sandwich shop instead of eating at that expensive hotel restaurant every night, you might save enough to take those trips more often. Saving money doesn’t have to be about giving things up. Sometimes it’s about figuring out how to do more of what you love.
*Lifetime Planner is only available in Quicken Deluxe, Premier, and Home & Business for Windows.
**Morningstar X-ray and Asset Allocation tools are only available on Quicken Premier and Quicken Home & Business for Windows.