Why Americans are saving less for retirement, and how you can buck the trend

Time to save for retirement

"Save for retirement" is one of those commandments that's easier said than done. And these days, it's not being done nearly enough.

According to a recent GoBankingRates survey, over 40 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved and are therefore expected to "go broke" in retirement. And because out-of-pocket health care costs in retirement currently total around $275,000, even those who have managed to hold onto $10,000 still likely have quite a long way to go.

Why Americans aren't saving enough for retirement

There are many factors contributing to what is shaping up to be a major retirement crisis in the United States.

One of the main reasons Americans are saving less is that they're being given less to save. Despite rising inflation and stock market gains, wages in the U.S. have been stagnant for nearly two decades. Since 1999, median incomes have dropped nationwide, and in some states have decreased by as much as 9 percent.

The disappearance of pensions and unions, combined with the skyrocketing costs of tuition and housing, have all made it more difficult for middle-class families to make ends meet, let alone invest some income into a retirement account.

Then there are those who could afford to start stockpiling for the future, but neglect to do so because they're more concerned with the present.

Of course, the older you are, the more urgent the need to save, but it's also never too early to start building a nest egg. Unfortunately, many young adults fail to understand that until it is too late. CNBC recently reported on a national study of 3,000 adults, aged 22 to 35, which found that only 31 percent of them were saving for retirement, while a whopping 38 percent said they believed that "saving could wait," as they prioritized short-term goals like homeownership and paying down debt.

Tips for saving now to avoid paying later

Despite what four in ten young adults may think, saving is not something that workers can afford to procrastinate on. At least, that's the advice they'll be given by financial experts, as well as many older Americans who wish they'd saved more when they were younger.

A recent survey of 1,000 401(k) participants found that even among those who are paying into a retirement plan, 40 percent still feel that saving for retirement is their biggest financial stress, and many wish they'd changed their spending habits years ago.

A full 34 percent of respondents listed an unwillingness to sacrifice the things that improve their quality of life as a primary reason for not saving more, which was more than the amount who cited credit card debt (31 percent) or monthly bills (28 percent) as their biggest impediment. Among the list of indulgences that respondents now regret splurging on, "meals out" was a clear number one, with 55 percent of those polled ruing the amount of money they'd spent at restaurants. Other purchases viewed negatively with the benefit of hindsight included "expensive clothes" at 31 percent, "newest tech gadgets" at 26 percent and "new cars" and "vacations," tied at 28 percent each.

A retired couple relaxing on the beach after saving well throughout their livesKeep your eyes on the prize when it comes to saving for your golden years

Of course, it's hard to deny yourself things you crave when you're in the moment. That's why USA Today contributor Richard Powell recommends using a technique that behavioral scientists call "prospective hindsight."

Essentially, instead of looking at potential purchases from a contemporary viewpoint, prospective hindsight encourages you to shift your perspective so that you imagine yourself looking back on something from a future vantage point. So instead of thinking about how annoying it is today to deny yourself a morning Starbucks stop or an expensive evening out on the town, picture how gratified you'll feel in retirement knowing that you can live comfortably because you exercised restraint way back when.

Another way to encourage yourself to save is by setting a budget and sticking to it. There are a lot of modern tools that will help you do just that, including free apps like Mint, which creates an easily accessible display of all your spending, and PocketGuard, which tells you how much money is "left in your pocket" after accounting for bills, purchases and savings goals.

The easiest formula for saving involves taking will power out of the equation, which is why you should always enroll in your company's retirement plan, automatically deduct money from your paycheck. Try to have your contributions auto-escalated, as well, so that your investments increase alongside your age and salary.

It's also a great idea to open an individual retirement account at your bank. IRAs are essential if your employer doesn't offer a retirement plan, and a great supplementary investment even if you are maxing out your 401(k).

You can never save too much for retirement, but you can very easily save too little. To open an account today, contact Landmark Bank. 

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