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How to Kick-Start Your Retirement Savings in 2018

US News & World Report -  Money logo US News & World Report - Money 12/22/2017 Maryalene LaPonsie

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It doesn't matter whether you're 20 or 60. You need to be saving for retirement. If that's something that's been on the back burner, make 2018 the year you focus on preparing for your future.

"Don't feel bad about being behind," says Andrea Coombes, investing and retirement specialist for personal financial site NerdWallet. Her message for late savers is: "It's great that you're starting."

However, better late than never doesn't always work so well when it comes to retirement savings. If you're getting a late start, you need to figure out how to boost your account balance as quickly as possible.

"Everyone wants one thing that's going to solve all their problems," says John Gajkowski, a certified financial planner with Money Managers Financial Group in Oak Brook, Illinois. "But there isn't one thing."

Instead, here are 12 things to help you kick-start your retirement savings in 2018.

[See: How to Max Out Your 401(k) in 2018.]

Set goals to find motivation.

A woman working on a budget. © Image Source/Getty Images A woman working on a budget.

You have to start with what Gajkowski calls the "non-sexy stuff." That is, people need to figure out why and when they want to retire and how much money it will take to pay for it.

"I like them to really define what their goals are," says David McKelvey, tax and business consulting partner with accounting firm Friedman in New York City. He asks his clients to think in terms of one year, three years, five years and retirement goals. Those goals can be motivation to stay on track with savings.

Get an accountability partner.

Germany, Bavaria, Munich, Young friends argueing in cafe © Brand X/Getty Images Germany, Bavaria, Munich, Young friends argueing in cafe

Setting goals can get you motivated to save, but having an accountability partner is how you stick with the plan when your enthusiasm starts to wear off. "It's easier to be successful with goals if you have a partner," says Justin Richter, senior wealth advisor with Mariner Wealth Advisors in Leawood, Kansas. That partner can be a spouse, financial advisor or life coach.

Know how much to save each month.

Calendar Pages © Sunstock/Getty Images Calendar Pages

Many people save for retirement by simply saving whatever they can. Neil Krishnaswamy, a certified financial planner with Exencial Wealth Advisors in Frisco, Texas, advocates for taking a more precise approach. "Have you calculated the savings rate you need to reach your goal?" Krishnaswamy asks. Knowing how much you need to put away each month gives workers an actionable goal that can make them more likely to stay on track.

Create a budget.

Personal budget © Thinkstock/Getty Images Personal budget

Once you know how much you should be saving, you need to determine if and how to afford that amount. That means drawing up a budget and figuring out how retirement savings fit into the big picture.

Sometimes budgets look good on paper, but don't work in real life. "[It's] not only doing a budget, but using some sort of software to track spending," Richter says. Then, people can see where they are overspending and make changes as needed.

Find strategies to stick to your budget.

Woman typing on laptop computer © Apeloga/Getty Images Woman typing on laptop computer

Tracking software can identify leaks in a budget, but it's up to you to figure out how to plug them. McKelvey suggests people consider lowering the limits on their credit cards if they are prone to overspending there. Another strategy may be to keep extra cash or savings in accounts that can't be conveniently accessed. "You don't want to have an account where you can easily move things back and forth," he says.

Take advantage of matching money.

Businesswoman putting money into 401K jar at desk © Jamie Grill/Getty Images Businesswoman putting money into 401K jar at desk

When it comes time to actually put money in a retirement account, start by depositing money where it will grow the fastest. For instance, many employers will match 401(k) contributions up to a certain amount or percentage.

Some firms will also match money deposited in a health savings account. While an HSA is intended to pay health care expenses during a person's working years, money can be withdrawn penalty-free for any reason after age 65.

Redirect bonuses, raises and tax refunds to savings.

Row of piggy banks, large and small. © Tom Nulens/Getty Images Row of piggy banks, large and small.

A simple way to kick-start retirement savings is to send money from a bonus, raise or tax refund to a 401(k) or IRA. That money isn't part of the budget, so it shouldn't be missed. "Any time you get extra money, save at least a little of it," Coombes says. "Save more than you spend."

Saving a raise or bonus may not sound fun, but Krishnaswamy doesn't think people should feel deprived. "Sometimes it's better to take a philosophy of paying yourself first," he says.

[See: 10 Tax Breaks for People Over 50.]

Shop around to reduce rates.

Credit cards and bank statements. © Chemistry/Getty Images Credit cards and bank statements.

A tight budget can mean little money for retirement savings. Workers can create some breathing room in their financial situation by shopping for lower rates on services and products. Those who haven't shopped for new insurance, mortgage or credit card rates recently might be able to significantly lower their expenses.

Trim spending to save more.

Man sitting on floor in living room and calculating bills © Tetra Images/Getty Images Man sitting on floor in living room and calculating bills

Cutting expenses is the next way to find money to kick-start retirement savings in 2018. "Look at all the silly stuff you do," Gajkowski says. People may pay for Netflix and never watch it or buy coffee at a shop when it could be just as easily brewed at home. "What can be cut back that isn't going to affect your lifestyle?" Gajkowski asks.

Say no to the kids.

Mother and daughter baking in kitchen © Hero Images/Getty Images Mother and daughter baking in kitchen

Adult children burdened by student loan debt may come looking for help from mom and dad. "Many times, those who are planning for retirement over-prioritize helping children or grandchildren," Richter says. It's natural to want to help children who are facing a difficult financial situation, but that assistance shouldn't come at the expense of retirement savings.

Bring in extra money.

Female hands with US dollar currency cash money, woman counting savings, managing home budget concept: One important way to boost your savings is to cut spending on nonessential items and services. © (Getty Images) One important way to boost your savings is to cut spending on nonessential items and services.

You may find there is simply no amount of cutting that can be done to free up money in the budget for retirement savings. "Don't be afraid to take a second job," McKelvey says. It doesn't have to be a permanent situation. A temporary part-time job or side gig may be just enough to get your budget – and retirement savings – on track.

[See: 9 Ways to Avoid 401(k) Fees and Penalties.]

Start today. 

Calendar with days crossed off and one circled. © Nigel Carse/Getty Images Calendar with days crossed off and one circled.

There are two ways to make money when investing, according to Gajkowski. "A little money and a lot of time makes a lot of money," he says, citing the power of compounding gains. "Or a lot of money and a little time makes a lot of money."

Unless you're wealthy, the first option is probably preferable. You'll never have more time to start saving for retirement than you have right now. So don't wait another minute. Shift your retirement savings into high gear today.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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