10 First Steps to Saving $1 Million for Your Retirement

© EpicStockMedia / Shutterstock 10 Steps to Saving $1 Million for Your Retirement

By Esther Trattner, MoneyWise

Wouldn't it be nice to reach retirement with $1 million in your savings? More Americans are achieving that big, round goal -- and you could be among them.

Nearly 12 million U.S. households have net worth of at least $1 million, according to Spectrem Group, and another 31.2 million are knocking on the door, with wealth in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The good news is that retiring as a millionaire is an achievable goal. But it takes hard work and smart financial moves.

No matter where you are in your saving and investing journey, these 10 steps will up your millionaire potential.

1. Invest early and often

© Provided by Cheapism FS11 / Shutterstock Start investing as soon as possible

Investing is key to reaching your million-dollar savings goal — and the sooner you start, the better.

"On average, millionaires invest 20% of their household income each year," writes personal finance adviser Ramit Sethi in his book, I Will Teach You to Be Rich. If you can’t invest that much, then start smaller.

Choose a percentage of your income and invest it regularly — every month or every paycheck — using automatic withdrawals from your bank account. Consider investing through an automated investing service, which will do the heavy work for you.

Auto-investing puts your money into a diversified portfolio with just the right amount of risk, and uses computer algorithms to protect you from market hiccups. You just sit back and watch your savings grow.

2. Open a 401(k) and get your employer match

© Provided by Cheapism pathdoc / Shutterstock Open a 401(k) and get your employer match

An employer-sponsored 401(k) retirement savings plan is a great way to grow your savings.

You choose a percentage of pretax income to be deducted from your paychecks and transferred to your 401(k). There, the money is put into mutual funds and other investments.

Ideally, your employer will match a portion of what you invest, essentially doubling some of your savings.

Ask human resources about the retirement plan where you work, and start building your fortune.

3. Be wise with debt

© Provided by Cheapism ShutterOK / Shutterstock Be wise with debt

Debt is a part of life — but some debt is better than other debt.

"Good debt" will ultimately benefit you financially; examples include student loans and mortgages. Good debt often comes with lower interest rates, so you can pay off what you owe without incurring costs.

You take on "bad debt" for things that won't increase your wealth and have no lasting value. Credit cards can be a form of bad debt, which tends to come with higher interest rates and can mess with your credit score.

Avoid bad debt: Use credit and short-term loans sparingly, and pay off those bills as quickly as you can.

4. Pay attention to your credit score

© Provided by Cheapism REDPIXEL.PL / Shutterstock Pay attention to your credit score

Your credit score is the most important piece of financial information available about you. This three-digit number signals to potential lenders whether you are likely to repay loans on time, make late payments or default.

The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to be approved for lower interest rates, which can save you loads of money in the long run.

You have several ways of obtaning a free credit score, including from most credit card issuers.

Generally, a score of 700 or above is good, and a score of 800 or better is excellent — so aim high! Boost your score by keeping credit balances low and paying your bills on time.

5. Ask for a raise

© Provided by Cheapism fizkes / Shutterstock Ask for a raise

Raises aren’t always automatic — and there’s no way to save $1 million without ever earning more money.

Check the websites Glassdoor and PayScale to find the average salary for workers in your field. Compare it to your salary and work experience. Are you being paid what you’re worth?

If not, then it’s time for action. Compile a list of reasons why you deserve a raise, and present it to your boss.

If the boss says no, then it might be time to take your skills and talent elsewhere. Research from Forbesfound that employees who stick with the same company for more than two years get paid at least 50% less over the course of their careers.

6. Snag a side gig

© Provided by Cheapism Africa Studio / Shutterstock Snag a side gig

Even after you finally land that well-deserved raise, look for other sources of income. The more you have to invest, the faster you’ll reach $1 million.

Seek out opportunities to make extra cash, whether it means working freelance in your field or picking up a side gig in a different industry altogether. Many people use a second job as a creative outlet.

If you’re crafty, you can open an Etsy store and sell your work. Or, you could make money driving people on your own schedule with Uber.

If you like animals, you can sign up with and moonlight as a dog walker or pet sitter. In the gig economy, the options are almost endless.

7. Say no to fees

© Provided by Cheapism Mikael Damkier / Shutterstock You can easily pay hundreds of dollars a year in banking fees.

Fees are like flesh-eating bacteria to your savings. The banking app Chime found the average U.S. household pays $329 per year in bank fees, and the public policy group Demos says investment fees eat up as much as one-third of retirement returns.

Fortunately, you can inoculate yourself against fee outbreaks.

Look for banks offering free checking and other accounts without monthly or other fees. Low-cost online banks and some traditional banks advertise no hidden fees and even no overdraft fees.

Retirement savers and other investors who shop around will find online brokers and automated investing services with lower fees than traditional brokerage firms.

8. Live below your means

© Provided by Cheapism Halfpoint / Shutterstock Spend only on things you truly need

Interviews with millionaires show that frugality is one of the most common traits shared by people who stay wealthy for life.

On their way to the top, millionaires are often likely to drive second-hand cars, buy small houses and purchase only as much clothing and other goods as they need.

As they begin to earn more, they don’t spend more — instead, they invest more in stocks, businesses or themselves (maybe by taking classes). They live below their means, and you should, too.

To grow your money like a millionaire, review your spending habits and decide what you truly need and what you can do without. As you cut costs, put more money into investments or a high-interest savings account.

9. Invest in real estate

© Provided by Cheapism Jet Shopping Media / Shutterstock Invest in real estate

Investments in commercial real estate have tended to perform at least slightly better than stocks (as measured by the S&P 500) over the last 15 to 20 years.

To get into that game, you don't need to take out a second mortgage to buy commercial space — and then find a business that will rent it. Instead, you might invest in real estate through a crowdfunding arrangement.

To reduce risk, choose a reputable crowdfunding investment firm to ensure you put your money into legitimate projects that will actually get built.

Companies such as RealtyMogul and Fundrise carefully vet both commercial and residential properties and allow investors with as little as $1,000 to invest in developments and earn a passive income.

10. Fight the urge to buy stuff

© Provided by Cheapism PR Image Factory / Shutterstock

Saving $1 million doesn’t mean living like a hermit and not spending beyond the bare essentials. The trick is to carefully consider how to spend your money to get the most reward.

In a famous study that spanned 20 years, Cornell University psychology professor Thomas Gilovich found that spending on experiences tends to bring more happiness than buying more things.

When you buy stuff, you eventually get bored with it and want to buy new stuff, Gilovich found. But experiences become a lasting part of your identity.

Desperate to have the latest gadget? You'll want to replace it before long, but a vacation with your favorite people or your significant other will create life-long memories. Maybe you'd better start saving for that dream trip today.

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Finance Magazine: 10 First Steps to Saving $1 Million for Your Retirement
10 First Steps to Saving $1 Million for Your Retirement
America has nearly 12 million millionaires. Here's how to start becoming one of them.
Finance Magazine
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