- If he could tell his 35-year-old self anything about retirement, it would be to max out your retirement accounts, live a simple life, start talking to your partner about money.
- These three pieces of advice would have grown his retirement savings, helped him spend less, and have a more open dialogue with his wife about finances.
- Business Insider is looking for retirement stories to feature in our Real Retirement series. If you're in or nearing retirement and want to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Though he's not fully retired, James R., who asked not to use his last name to protect his privacy, has enough retirement experience to know what worked for him and what he wishes he could do differently.
He's been retired for five years, and now teaches online part-time for a university after retiring from a career as a professor at universities across the Midwest and Texas. He and his wife currently live together in Minnesota.
If he could turn back time, he says he'd have three pieces of advice for his younger self: Max out your retirement accounts , live a simple life, and make talking to your partner about money a priority.
1. Start saving early, and start saving more
By the time James retired, he'd been saving for a while. He had enough saved that he felt he could live comfortably even without working his part-time teaching gig, but, he says there could always have been room to improve.
"The No. 1 thing I'd tell myself would be to put money in early, and don't go with the minimum," James says.
To max out an IRA in 2019, you'd have to contribute $6,000 during the year ($7,000 if you're 50 or older). To max out a 401(k), you'd have to contribute $19,000 ($25,000 if you're 50 or older). Note that if you do have an employer-sponsored 401(k) with a company "match" in which the employer matches your contribution up to a set percentage of your salary or dollar amount experts recommend contributing at least enough to take advantage. Because retirement accounts are invested, money saved earlier in life has more time to grow.
Retiree David Fisher previously told Business Insider for the Real Retirement series that he wishes he'd put more money away. After contributing to his retirement account and not paying much attention to it until 20 years before he retired , he says he wished he could tell himself to "invest as early as you can, and put away whatever you can afford."
2. Start living simply
James has never been one to spend or have more than he needs. "American culture is frenetic, and it's consumer-oriented. Think twice about whether or not you really want to be that person. If you can deviate from it, it makes life in retirement a whole lot easier," he says. In his own retirement experience, he's found that buying less and living within his means has helped him to live on just his part-time income.
Living above your means can be hard and carrying a credit card balance is often a sign that's happening. The next generation approaching retirement, Gen X, is starting to feel just how much credit card debt could impact their retirement as Business Insider's Hillary Hoffower reports, about 54% of Gen Xers have credit card debt, and 64% are stressed about it.
James' advice is to "be frugal, don't buy much on impulse, and don't fill your house with junk," he says. To him, the best way to stay out of debt is to start living with less.
3. Start talking about money with your partner
James says that he and his wife should have started having money conversations sooner. In retirement, it's critical to be on the same page about money in your relationship.
"I'd tell my 35-year-old self to not neglect that discussion about money," he says. " Make sure that both people are being reasonable and compromising. No two people are exactly alike on how much each month to spend and how much debt they're comfortable with," he says. "I can't have it all in my way, and the partner can't have it all their way."
It's something that still comes up in his relationship today. While James retired five years ago, his wife is still working and bringing home paychecks, while he's live off of savings and his part-time income. He finds that talking about money can help them both compromise and be comfortable with their spending. In his experience, however, it's something that never goes away.
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