By The Sense

Many of us have responsibilities for both growing children and aging parents. It’s no wonder that the majority of us haven’t saved much for retirement and lack some important financial basics such as an emergency fund or insurance.

It’s tough, but we need to start making our financial lives, and particularly saving for retirement, a priority. Here’s a list of a few priorities. Like all big projects, we recommend breaking this punch list into parts and tackling one every few months or so. While retirement planning is a focus you’ll note that there are a few priorities you must tackle even before planning your retirement, especially if you have a family that depends on you.

1. Create a backup plan for your family

You owe it to your family to make sure that they are properly cared for if something happens to you so it’s time to get life insurance and an estate plan. You’ll never forgive yourself for not having enough insurance if the worst happens and you didn’t have insurance, particularly since term insurance is relatively inexpensive. If you don’t have enough insurance to replace your income during your working years in which you are responsible for loved ones, it should be your number one priority before even saving for retirement.

An estate plan is the other vital piece of your family backup plan as it sets out the instructions as to your wishes of how funds should be used to provide for your family and nominates guardians to care for them. While the plan is likely to cost a few thousand dollars, allocating resources to put this plan in place should, like insurance, come before saving for retirement or even thinking about something lower on your priority list like a vacation.

2. Create an emergency fund

Unexpected emergencies arise and you want to cover them without going into credit card debt or relying on family. If you think your home equity line of credit is your emergency fund, think again as many lenders froze lines during the recession given dropping home values. You will want to set aside 20% of your after-tax income until you have built up enough cash reserves to cover three to six months of expenses.

It’s only after you have built up your emergency fund that you should reallocate savings towards retirement. If you don’t think it’s possible to save 20% of your take home pay for financial priorities such as creating your emergency fund, you need to take a closer look at how you prioritize where you spend your money.

3. Keep bad debt in check

While saving for retirement is vital, paying off credit card debt makes more financial sense and can even save you money by improving your credit. Twenty percent of your take home pay should be allocated towards financial priorities such as saving and paying down debt but if you have credit card debt the entire 20% should be used to pay down your highest interest rate card first then pay off cards charging lower interest rates. Once your cards are paid off, only charge what you are able to afford to pay off each month which shouldn’t be a problem as long as you stick to your budget.

4. Saving for your retirement must come before wants

It’s tempting to want to buy a bigger home, especially as your salary increases but the more you ramp up your lifestyle without ramping up your savings, the less likely you are to be able to maintain the lifestyle to which you became accustomed.

It’s also tempting to put your children’s wants before your needs and use your savings or neglect saving in order to put your children through college, but remember they can get loans or a part-time job but you can’t get a loan to pay your expenses in retirement.

You have to automate savings and think of it as a non-negotiable future bill. If you crunch the numbers and determine your retirement savings are on track go ahead and explore other goals such as helping your children pay for college or upgrading your home.

5. Understand what it takes to retire

Now is the time to estimate whether your savings plan will produce a large enough nest egg to combine with Social Security to cover your living expenses in retirement. If you do as most people do and wait until you are near retirement to crunch some numbers your only choice might be to learn to live a less expensive lifestyle in retirement.

You may be on track to living comfortably in retirement if you have consistently saved 10-15% of your paycheck over the years. You can roughly estimate if you are on track to be able to maintain your current lifestyle by looking at how much you have already saved for retirement. By age 40, to live a lifestyle similar to what your after-tax salary affords you, you should have roughly saved two times your current after-tax income towards retirement and three times your current after-tax income by age 45.

The Great Recession has made retirement saving difficult but it’s not too late to get on track. Your first step is to crunch some numbers. This will let you know whether you need to make some choices to create more savings to get you on track but generally, you should find a way to save 15% – 20% of your paycheck towards retirement. If you don’t think it’s possible to save this amount of your take-home pay for retirement, you need to take a closer look at how you prioritize where you spend your money.

6. Aligning your resources to your priorities

To align your resources to your goals (saving for retirement, saving for college, saving for a second home, etc.), you need to know where your money goes each month. You might be surprised how much you’re spending on items that really don’t mean much to you and how with some small changes you can align your spending to your goals.

To get started, begin tracking your expenses over time. is a popular budgeting website that categorizes your spending on credit cards or you can track as you spend by noting daily spending on the notes function of your smartphone or consider a popular app such as Ace Budget to track and categorize expenses.

Once you know where your money goes, you should make sure that 20% of your after tax income is allocated towards meeting your financial priorities. We recommend breaking up your income into three categories with 50% allocated to needs (housing, transportation, food), 30% allocated to wants (cable, vacations and dinners out) and 20% allocated to meeting your financial priorities (saving for retirement, paying down debt, creating an emergency fund). You choose what you spend within each bucket but the key is to spend only what you have allocated to each bucket.

7. Know how and where to invest your retirement funds

Many of us treat our retirement savings like a Crockpot meal – set it and forget it – but you can’t just set and forget your retirement plan and expect to get a great result. You might have many options as to where to save your funds for retirement (401k, IRA, small business plan, etc.). You should also know how to evaluate your investment performance and determine whether your asset allocation fits your risk tolerance.

Consider putting some of these important financial planning tips into practice soon!


About LRPC’s Monday Morning Minute

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC (LRPC) Monday Morning Minute is crafted to provide decision-makers with important information about the economy, investments and corporate retirement plans in a format that allows a reader to consume the information in less than 60 seconds. As an independent, objective investment adviser, LRPC has access to many sources of research and shares the best and most relevant information with its readers each week.

About Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based independent, objective Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) providing investment advisory, fiduciary compliance, employee education, provider management and plan design services to retirement plan sponsors. The firm currently has contracts in place to provide consulting services on more than $400 million in plan assets. For more information, please contact Robert C. Lawton at (414) 828-4015 or or visit the firm’s website at Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser.

Important Disclosures

This information was developed as a general guide to educate plan sponsors and is not intended as authoritative guidance, tax, legal or investment advice. Each plan has unique requirements and you should consult your attorney or tax adviser for guidance on your specific situation. In no way does Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC assure that, by using the information provided, plan sponsor will be in compliance with ERISA regulations. Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. The statements in this publication are the opinions and beliefs of the commentator expressed when the commentary was made and are not intended to represent that person’s opinions and beliefs at any other time. The commentary does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC and should not be construed as recommendations or investment advice. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC offers no tax, legal or accounting advice and any advice contained herein is not specific to any individual, entity or retirement plan, but rather general in nature and, therefore, should not be relied upon for specific investment situations. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser and accepts clients outside of Wisconsin based upon applicable state registration regulations and the “de minimus” exception.