Though workplace plans can be imperfect, it’s undeniably easier to save for your golden years when your employer offers a retirement account.
Unfortunately, not all workers have access to a retirement plan at work. According to 2016 research by Pew Charitable Trusts, over one-third of private sector workers (who are not self-employed, farmers, or in the military) do not have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan.
Moreover, an employer match is a huge incentive for workers to save. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2017 Retirement Confidence Study, nearly 3 out of 4 workers who were not saving in their retirement plans would welcome a match. The survey found workers would be somewhat more likely to save if they were offered one.
Incentives can entice us to change our behaviors. But not all employers offer plans, and when they do, they don’t always offer a match or profit-sharing contribution.
Granted, it’s easier to fund your retirement when your employer provides a plan, but if yours doesn’t, all is not lost. You can replicate some of the benefits employers provide to increase your retirement savings and confidence.
Here are 5 ways:
1. Invest money from every paycheck.
One of the greatest benefits of an employer retirement plan is payroll deduction. It’s much easier to have $400 a month taken out of your paycheck before it hits your checking account than it is to write a check once a year for $4,800.
How to DIY: If you can’t do payroll deduction for an investment, do the next best thing. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account into an investment account. Set the withdrawal for a day after your paycheck deposit. Invest in an IRA, a Roth IRA, a mutual fund, or a brokerage account earmarked for your retirement.
When you sign up for an automatic transfer, you are making one decision. When you don’t, you have to decide each month. This means every single month you have to determine how much you’d like to invest and in what fund, which turns one decision into 12 decisions each year.
The likelihood that you’ll stick to the monthly investment is higher when you set it up on autopay than if you do it manually each month.
2. Set reminders.
One reason people with employer plans take better steps toward investing for retirement is that their HR departments and their plan provider likely remind them.
How to DIY: Send yourself reminders by simply putting a task on your calendar — write a note on a future date or set a reminder on your phone.
Set quarterly reminders to review your investment allocation. Follow retirement writers — like me, John Wasik, and Richard Eisenberg with Next Avenue — and subscribe to our updates so you are always learning.
3. Increase your savings percentage at regular intervals.
Many employers have a 401(k) plan benefit called “auto-escalation.” This feature allows employees to increase their retirement plan contribution percentage automatically at regular intervals, such as once a year.
How to DIY: Set a reminder! If you want to increase your savings percentage by 1% at the beginning of each year, simply set up a recurring reminder in your email, your reminders app, or your online calendar.
4. Save on income taxes.
If neither you nor your spouse have a retirement plan at work, contribute to a traditional IRA. You are eligible regardless of your income. You can invest up to $5,500 if you are under age 50, and an additional $1,000 “catch up” contribution if you are age 50 and over.
No one is going to give you a “match,” but the I.R.S. may help, since they do allow a tax benefit. If you invest in the traditional IRA, your contribution may be tax deductible.
For example, if you invest $5,000 in an IRA and your adjusted gross income before the IRA contribution is $50,000, your AGI changes to $45,000 instead. If you are in a 25% federal and 5% state marginal tax brackets, you’d save 30%, in this case $1,500, in taxes on your $5,000 investment.
The funds grow tax deferred until you take them out after age 59½ (or earlier, for some exceptions).
How to DIY: You aren’t replicating a match, but at least you get a little help from our friends at the I.R.S.
Bonus: Get a side gig.
Find ways to supplement your income. It will help you save more today and earn a few dollars for extras in retirement. What do you love to do that you could monetize?
Are you bilingual? Tutor students to become fluent in the written and spoken word. Do you play an instrument? Start a trio on the side to play events and weddings. You may end up getting fed well and paid well. Have an in-demand skill? Teach a class at the local adult learning center. Do what you love and charge for your expertise.
In a card game, you can only play with the hand you’re dealt.
Make the most of what you have. If you don’t have a retirement plan at work, replicate one as best you can and take control of your finances.
This story originally appeared on Nancy’s Forbes.com contributor page as 5 Ways To Make Sure You Retire On Time When You Don’t Have A Plan Through Work.
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