Retirement Planning Tips for the Self-Employed
For the self-employed, retirement planning can be a bit more complicated than for the rest of the population. They don’t have the benefit of an employer-sponsored plan and an HR department where they’ll find counseling and advice on planning for their retirement years. However, that doesn’t mean the self-employed can’t have a comfortable retirement or that they should work until they drop. With a little bit of planning and creativity, self-employed individuals can save enough for a laid-back retirement full of fun, travel, and well-earned rest. Here are eleven tips to get you started.
Tip #1: Start saving for retirement as much and as early as possible
When we’re young, it’s hard to focus on long-term goals like retirement, and we tend to focus much more on our immediate needs. This includes things like buying a house or a car, taking care of student debt, paying monthly bills, and more. If you’re a passionate entrepreneur running your own business, even things like housing and a car may come second in terms of priorities; you usually focus all of your time and energy on business management and growth, so retirement planning falls way behind.
However, if you want a comfortable retirement, the best time to start saving was yesterday; the next best time is today. At this point, what matters is not how much you save for retirement every month or year (we’ll cover that in a moment). What really matters is to get started.
However, if you want to retire comfortably, you must start saving as much as possible as early as possible. The sooner you start contributing to a retirement account, the more time your money has to grow through compound interest.
Why does this matter?
Most people don’t grasp just how much of an impact starting to save one, two, or three years earlier can have on the size of your nest egg by the time you retire.
Let’s run some simple numbers. Suppose you put $10,000 in a 401(k)when you’re 35. It will grow at a 5-8% interest rate. Taking the lower 5% as interest rate, by the time you reach retirement age, those $10,000 will have grown to $43,219. If you wait one year and deposit the money when you’re 36, after 29 years, your balance will be $41,161 instead. That’s $2,058 less you’ll have at your disposal for waiting just one year. Start saving when you turn 40, and you’ll end up with $33,864. That’s over $9,000 less, even though it’s the same $10,000 you started with.
Now imagine you don’t just save $10,000 in total, but save roughly that amount every year, which is what most people saving for retirement do. If you run the numbers, the difference can be tens of thousands of dollars for waiting a couple of years instead of starting to save right away.
Tip #2: Even if you’re your own boss, pay yourself a salary
Just because you don’t have an employer doesn’t mean you can’t pay yourself a salary. This is especially important if your business is doing well and you’re reinvesting most of the profits back into the company and forget to take some of them out as income. When it comes to retirement planning, you need to know how much you’re making every month so you can budget accordingly and set enough money aside for the future. The best way to ensure this is to pay yourself a salary.
How much should you pay yourself?
The answer to this question depends on several factors. The most important ones are:
- Your current expenses
- How well your business is doing
- The long-term financial goals for your business
- How much money you’ll need to live comfortably once you retire (more on this later).
Tip#3: Choose the right retirement account
When you’re employed by someone else, there’s a good chance your employer will offer you access to a 401(k) retirement account. If they don’t, other options are still available, like an IRA. For the self-employed, the options are a bit more limited, but there are still several retirement accounts you can choose from. The most common four are:
- One-participant 401(k): This is also known as a Solo 401(k), and it’s perfect for self-employed individuals or business owners with no employees. The contribution limit for 2022 is $20,500, but if you’re over 50, you can contribute an additional $6,500 as a catch-up contribution.
- Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account, or SEP-IRA: This account is another tax-deferred retirement account available to small business owners and the self-employed. The contribution limit in 2022 is the lesser of 25% of your net earnings from self-employment or $61,000.
- Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees Individual Retirement Account, or SIMPLE IRA: This retirement account is available to small business owners with 100 or fewer employees. The contribution limit in 2022 is $14,000, but if you’re over 50, you can also contribute an additional $3,000 as a catch-up contribution to reach $17,000.
- Keogh plan: This account is also known as a qualified retirement plan, and it’s available to self-employed individuals or unincorporated businesses.
Each of these retirement accounts comes with its pros and cons, so you must do your research to find the best one for your specific situation. They all share one trait: they’re funded with pre-tax dollars, meaning you’ll be able to defer paying taxes on them until you retire.
However, if you expect to reach a higher income bracket as time passes, choosing a Roth IRA or a Roth 401(k) may be wiser. These accounts are funded with after-tax dollars, meaning you won’t get the tax break now but will when you retire and start withdrawing from the account.
After making your decision, though, the most important thing is to start contributing to one of these accounts as soon as possible.
Tip #4: Estimate how much you need to save for a comfortable lifestyle during retirement
When you start saving for retirement, what matters most is that you start early and save as much as possible without disrupting your short-term plans and lifestyle. But, eventually, you’ll want to begin crafting a real retirement plan. That means:
- Setting clear and ambitious yet achievable long-term goals and breaking them into smaller, more manageable ones.
- Drafting a clear strategy that’ll serve as a roadmap to achieve those goals
- Acting on that strategy and sticking to it as closely as possible
- Performing annual controls to see how far you have come, what you’ve accomplished, where you fell short, and what needs to change in the following year to get back on track or reach an even more ambitious goal.
When it comes to setting goals, these need to be specific and measurable. Therefore, you’ll have to define what you expect your retirement to be like so you can estimate how much income you’ll need to pay for that lifestyle without outliving your savings.
This estimate doesn’t have to be perfectly accurate, but rather an assessment that will help you see a ball-park figure of how much you should be saving every month from your income to enjoy the retirement you want.
Tip #5: Invest in a diversified mix of assets
When most people think about retirement, they picture themselves sitting on a beach sipping cocktails or playing golf. But to make that dream a reality, you need to have enough money to cover your living expenses for 20, 30, or even 40 years.
The previous tip was about determining how much your living expenses add up to. However, once you run the numbers, you’ll likely find that your current income isn’t enough to save the amount you need every month. If that’s the case, don’t despair. You can dramatically lower the money you’ll need to set aside every month if you manage to increase the return on your savings, even if only by a little.
This means investing your savings, not just leaving them to grow in a savings account. Regarding investing, stocks and bonds are the two most common asset classes. But there are also other options like real estate, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and even NFTs and crypto trading. The key is to invest in a diversified mix of assets to minimize the risk of losing money while still giving yourself the chance to earn a higher return.
For example, let’s suppose you invest the same $10,000 as before when you’re 35, and you manage to get an average of 6% growth instead of 5%. In that case, instead of $43,219, you’ll have $57,435 when you retire. That’s a difference of over $14,000 for that extra 1% return, without saving a cent more than what you were saving in the first place!
Tip #6: Secure a minimum level of income
No matter how much money you have saved for retirement, it’s crucial to have a plan in place to ensure you’ll have a minimum income level every month. There are several ways to do this, but the most common is to purchase an annuity.
An annuity is a contract between you and an insurance company. In exchange for a lump-sum payment, the insurance company agrees to make regular payments to you for a set period of time or the rest of your life. There are different types of annuities, and you can customize contracts to your heart’s content by adding contract riders.
Annuities are a way to protect your nest egg and to make sure you have a minimum level of income every month, but they’re not without their drawbacks. For one, annuities are complex financial products, and it can be challenging to understand all the different features and benefits. Additionally, annuities come with fees and commissions that can eat into your investment returns, which is something you need to watch out for.
In any case, what matters most is that you set up a safety net you can fall back on in retirement, so you don’t have to worry about running out of money or outliving your savings.
Tip #7: Live a healthy lifestyle
No list of tips about preparing for old age would be complete without this important piece of advice. One of the best ways to reduce your medical expenses in retirement is to live a healthy lifestyle when you’re young. This means eating healthy food, exercising regularly, and getting regular check-ups. Of course, this isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it in the long run.
A healthy lifestyle will help you avoid costly medical bills down the road and help you feel better and enjoy your retirement more. After all, what’s the point of saving for retirement if you can’t enjoy it?
So make sure to take care of yourself now, and you’ll be thankful later.
The bottom line
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer regarding retirement planning, especially if you’re self-employed. However, following these tips should give you a good start. Remember to invest in a mix of assets, secure a minimum income level, and live a healthy lifestyle. And most importantly, don’t wait until the last minute to start planning and saving for your golden years!