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Can't Afford to Save for Retirement? Take These 5 Steps: High Earners, This Includes You

Don't think you can afford to save for retirement because of whatever reason — lifestyle creep, excessive student loans, etc.? Let's tackle that issue...

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This story originally appeared on MarketBeat

It's really easy to pepper your thoughts with detrimental excuses about not saving for retirement. Have you heard yourself say the following — even if you just say them in your head? 

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  • "I don't have time to figure out how to save for retirement." You tell yourself you'll do it later. Then, before you know it, several years have passed in a blur. 
  • "It’s too late for me to invest for retirement." Sound familiar if you're in your 50s or even 60s? It’s never too late to incorporate a retirement savings strategy. 
  • "I don't have enough excess money to save." High earners, you're just as much at risk as everyone else. You might whisk money out of your checking account every week, with none left over to save for your golden years. Nearly 40% of those with annual incomes over $100,000 live paycheck to paycheck.

More than a fifth (22%) of Americans have less than $5,000 saved for retirement. Nearly half of working adults (46%) expect to work past the traditional retirement age of 65, according to a Northwestern Mutual study.

A whopping 77% of Americans fall short of conservative retirement savings targets for their age. This figure occurs even after counting Americans' entire net worth.

So, really, can you afford not to save for retirement? High earners, this goes for you, too. Let's learn how you can flip your thinking.

How to Save for Retirement with No Extra Money

Want that steely-eyed determination to invest that so many others seem to possess? If you have an income and fire up your resolve, you can save. Take a look at the following steps.  

Step 1: Flip your thinking.

What does it mean to flip your thinking? Instead of saying, "I can't afford to save for retirement," say, "I can't afford NOT to."

By and large, it's the truth. 

Retirement experts tick off several "rules of thumb" for how much you need to save for retirement: Save 80% to 90% of your annual pre-retirement income, 12 times your pre-retirement salary… the list goes on. 

Who will save it if you don't? Unless you're set up to receive a big inheritance, it's up to you. You have to protect your own future. The government won't take care of you, and your kids probably won't, either.

Step 2: Determine whether you're living paycheck to paycheck or not.

You might not even realize you live paycheck to paycheck. Or you might have trouble admitting it to yourself. At the risk of sounding trite, the first step to recovery involves admitting you have a problem. 

Do you find yourself scrambling to cover the costs of monthly expenses — mortgage, utilities, soccer club fees — all the expenses of daily life? Do you spend your entire paycheck each month? A few more questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have money in savings?
  • Could you cover your expenses with the money in savings for a month or two if you had to?
  • Is the money you've saved liquid?
  • Would you have to pay a penalty to access your money?

Millennials form the largest group living paycheck to paycheck at 77%. Due to the effects of two recessions and crushing student loan debt (and several other bear markets in between), 33% struggle to pay their bills. 

If you do discover you're living paycheck to paycheck, what can you use as a strategy to quit doing that? Budget? Reduce some expenses? Get a side hustle? Think carefully about ways you can avoid lifestyle creep in the future.

Whatever you can do to break that paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, try to do it so you mentally free up some money (even if it really has no bearing on your actual ability to save for retirement). 

Step 3: Take one small step toward saving for retirement. 

One small step. What's one small step you can take right this second to save for retirement? 

  • Take a quick walk and pick up 401(k) forms at your human resources office.
  • Call your HR department for the number of the advisor that handles your company's 401(k) accounts.
  • Sign up for a robo-advisor like Wealthfront or Betterment. (Each platform is really fun to use.)

What's the smallest, most non-threatening step you can take? It can be super, super simple.

Step 4: Make an appointment.

When you can't get your head wrapped around how you'll manage to pull any additional money out of your account, make an appointment with a fiduciary financial advisor. These professionals hear every situation imaginable. If you have $35,000 of credit card debt, have student loans on top of that and a mortgage payment and a car loan, a financial advisor can help you.

A reputable financial advisor will help you come up with a solid plan to manhandle your debt and save for retirement. You might finally sleep at night. Why not take an amazing chance like that? Shelve your insecurities and do it. Remember, financial advisors hear everything — you aren't the first person to ever say, "Hey, I have a debt problem," or "Uh, I live paycheck to paycheck on a $250,000 salary."

You can do all of your own retirement planning, but sometimes you need objective advice and need to cut out the huge amount of research and large time commitment. If you’re putting off retirement planning because you don’t know how, consider speaking to a professional who knows exactly what to do.

Step 5: Consistently take action on your plan. 

Saving for retirement isn't complicated. It simply takes some willpower on your part and consistency. Consistently invest money every month for retirement, and make your retirement savings automatic. 

If you need to fix a crippling debt situation first, that's fine (and in some situations, highly warranted), but continue with your plan once you get out of debt.

Make a Plan Now

Ready? Yeah, you are! Because, remember, you can't afford not to save for retirement. Think about the smallest action you can take and then take the next step forward, which could include getting someone else (a professional!) on board. Pretty soon, you'll be investing and saving (literally!) in your sleep.