Doc's note: Today, we're ending our series on the best ways to start your 2020 healthier and wealthier with the No. 1 thing you can start doing today to be wealthy...
If you don't do this, you will likely never, ever be wealthy.
You will work until your health collapses, and you'll be dependent on the whims of Washington bureaucrats. Quite possibly, you'll die broke.
It's a disturbing fate... But many Americans will experience it firsthand.
When people think about growing their wealth, they often go straight to valuing stocks, picking the fund with the lowest fees, or finding the ideal asset allocation.
All those are important. But your retirement... and wealth that you accumulate across your lifetime... depends almost entirely on just one factor: Your savings rate.
It's that simple...
It doesn't matter whether you make $30,000 per year or $300,000. It's all about the percentage that you can save...
For example, if you save 10% and spend 90%, it's going to take a long time to become wealthy. But – and this is outrageous – you would actually be saving at double the 5% rate of the average American.
A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that 48% of Americans aged 55 and over have no retirement savings.
Now, you may be one of these folks or you may not... Either way, I want to make sure you're aware of your own situation. The U.S. "nanny state" won't be there to protect you. And if you're wealthy, the U.S. government is going to try and take your money away from you.
Most Americans say they'll depend on the government to provide for them in their old age... Of course, here's what the Social Security Administration had to say in a recent Annual Report:
Neither Medicare nor Social Security can sustain projected long-run program costs in full under currently scheduled financing, and legislative changes are necessary to avoid disruptive consequences for beneficiaries and taxpayers.
That means the government's promises will not stay around forever. And that means...
The only person left to take care of you is you.
You must take personal control of your wealth... and you can start today.
Remember, saving is just spending a little less than you take in. Start small at first... But if you can save a higher-than-average amount... say, 20%, 30%, even 50%... I guarantee you will be wealthy in a modest number of years.
Let me repeat this... I guarantee it.
The best part is that it doesn't really matter how much you make. It only matters how much you save. That's the part most people don't appreciate.
Assuming modest after-inflation investment returns of 5%... The average American has to work for more than 65 years with a 5% savings rate before accumulating enough wealth to replace their income without touching the principal. And in our baseline scenario – saving 10% of your income – you should expect to work for more than 50 years before accumulating enough wealth to never have to work again.
But if you can bump that savings rate up...
Take a look at the table below:
Years to Retirement
If you can save 20%, you will be wealthy enough to retire after less than 40 years of work. If you save 30%, you can retire in less than 30 years. And at 50%, you can stop in less than 20 years.
The numbers are shocking, but clear.
No matter how skilled you are as an investor, upping your savings rate is more powerful to your wealth than either increasing your income or increasing your investment returns. That's because it's a one-two punch... you increase what you have to invest, while decreasing what you spend. You also learn how to live longer on less money.
Think of savings as a gift from your present self to your future self. Think of savings as "paying in once, getting paid out forever."
Here are a few simple tricks to get you started saving more...
1. Set up direct deposit for your paychecks. A recent study shows that those who have a portion of their earnings directly deposited into a savings account automatically save about $450 a month, much more than the average. Try it. Start with $50, then go to $75 in a couple of months, then to $100, and so on.
2. Boost your 401(k) contribution. Often, your employer may match contributions that you make to your 401(k) up to a certain level. If there's one financial decision that absolutely every single person needs to make, it's this... Always contribute to your 401(k) to earn the maximum employer contribution. Skipping out on that free money is the most senseless mistake in personal finance. And if you ever receive a raise, put the extra money into your 401(k) up to the maximum amount ($19,500 in 2020). At my company, I make an instant 50% on the first 6% I save because the company matches it. It's the best investment I make every year.
3. Open an IRA. It's just as easy as opening any other brokerage account. When registering, you simply select IRA as the account type. When you file your taxes at the end of the year, the forms include a line to enter any IRA contributions. It's as simple as that. And it will save you tens of thousands of dollars over just a decade or two of retirement savings.
There's also another type of IRA called a "Roth IRA." This account lets you make after-tax contributions. Then when you withdraw the income in retirement, you don't pay any taxes on it. This account makes sense for people who believe that their tax rate is lower now than it will be when they retire. I recommend that you split the difference and put half into your Roth and half into a deductible so-called "Traditional IRA."
Remember that ultimately, how much you save will be the difference between a lifetime of poverty... or one of wealth.
With two 401(k)s and two IRAs, a married couple interested in saving aggressively can save $51,000 a year without paying income taxes... That increases to $66,000 if they're over 50. That's a savings of tens of thousands of dollars that you earned and you get to keep, and that you can spend later in life on whatever you'd like. And by investing that money, you can compound your earnings quickly. Before you know it, you'll have wealth and riches to enjoy in your retirement days.
If you have someone that you care about, please forward this letter to them immediately. Encourage them to start saving today. The math is undeniable.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
January 3, 2020