Taking charge of your financial future is a smart move that will never go out of style. Retirement Director Taylor Pluss discusses the challenges investors – particularly women – may face as they pursue their goals and outlines the basics of how to start saving for retirement.

According to Urban dictionary, the term cheugy describes aesthetics, people or experiences that are basic. Pronounced “chew-gee,” with a hard “g,” it is further defined as “The opposite of trendy … stylish in middle school and high school but no longer in style.”

As an elder millennial, pretty much everything I do can be described as “cheugy” – wearing skinny jeans, shopping at Target, watching The Office, even baking lasagna (what?!?). And I’m fine with that (especially the lasagna part).

Trends and trendy words aside, one thing no generation alive today – Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z or baby boomers – should see as cheugy is saving for retirement. This is especially true because today’s retirement – and the path that most people follow to get there – is a lot different than it was a few decades ago.

Gone are the days of getting a job right out of college, staying in said job for 40 years and retiring with a nice pension. For most of today’s millennials, the responsibility of saving for retirement is in our own hands. And many of us have a long way to go on that front. Fidelity reports that, as of the fourth quarter of 2020, people between ages 20 and 29 had an average of $15,000 saved in their 401(k), while those aged 30 to 39 had about $50,800.1 (The current millennial age range is generally considered to be 25 to 40, so those figures include some generational overlap.)

Furthermore, when it comes to women in this general age group, there appears to be a lack of motivation or ownership when it comes to planning for the future. According to UBS, 59% of women aged 20 to 34 defer long-term financial decisions to their spouses.2

As head of the Women and Wealth initiative here at Janus Henderson, I find that concerning. So I would personally like to help buck this trend by offering some guidance around the basics of how to start saving for retirement:

IRAs

An individual retirement account, or IRA, is one potential option to start saving for retirement. If you or your spouse has earned income, you can contribute to an IRA. These accounts can be set up as either a traditional or Roth IRA – the type will dictate whether contributions to the account are made before they are taxed or after (more on this later). In 2021, you can contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA.

401(k)s

401(k)s are the most popular type of employer-sponsored retirement plans and many (but not all) people have access to a 401(k) plan through their employer. Although many employers these days automatically enroll employees into their 401(k), it is important to make sure you are in fact enrolled in your company’s plan. But don’t stop there: stay engaged. First, decide how much of your paycheck you want to put into to your retirement account – this is called the deferral percentage.

Freelancer standing at her desk, using calculater, taking notes

There is no hard and fast rule on how much to defer, but if your company offers a match, it’s generally best to defer enough to get that match. For example, your company may offer a 100% match on all of your contributions each year, up to a maximum of 5% of your annual income. So if you earn $50,000, your employer would contribute up to $2,500 each year – provided you also contribute $2,500. This is FREE money, so make sure you understand how this works and take full advantage if your company does offer a match. In 2021, you can defer up to $19,500 of your own dollars into a 401(k).

It’s worth noting that millennial women are contributing to their 401(k)s at a lower rate (5%) than millennial men (8%). As a result, their 401(k) balances are lagging behind. Part of this is due to the fact that millennial women make less money than their male counterparts but have similar levels of debt.3 The bottom line is, women in my age group face a unique challenge when it comes to saving for the future – all the more reason to take charge of those financial conversations and decisions rather than leaving it up to our significant others.

Roth Options

While some restrictions to apply, in many cases you may be eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA and/or a Roth 401(k). So what does “Roth” mean? It essentially denotes a type of savings account in which you pay taxes now on the money you invest. This is the opposite of a traditional IRA or 401(k), where you pay taxes when you take the money out. Which is best? It really comes down to your personal situation, but it helps to ask yourself whether you think you will be in a lower tax bracket when you take the money out than you are in currently. And generally speaking, a Roth does provide the potential for tax diversification in many instances.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

You are probably familiar with Flex Spending Accounts, or FSAs, which are often offered with traditional health care plans. If you participate in a high-deductible health care plan, you should have access to an HSA. With FSAs, if you don’t use the money you put in the account that year, you lose it. But with HSAs, the money stays in your account even if you don’t use it.

In fact, once you surpass a certain amount of savings in an HSA – generally a couple thousand dollars, which is intended to pay for any qualifying medical expenses that may come up – you can actually start investing anything above and beyond that amount just like you would in an IRA or a 401(k), which enables you to potentially grow that money. The idea is that you can build another bucket of retirement savings with an HSA. Of course, if you need to use the money for a health care expense, that is what it is there for, and it is triple tax advantaged – the money is put in tax deferred, it grows tax free and, if taken out for qualified expenses, there is no tax liability.

Of course, those are just the basics. Getting familiar with these different options is a great place to start, but I would encourage you to continue exploring and learning about all the ways you can maximize your retirement savings.

You may decide that you would benefit from having some guidance. If so, you might want to consider finding an experienced financial professional who can assist with the more sophisticated aspects of saving, investing and tax planning and help you stay on track to your goals.

Budgeting and saving apps are another excellent tool that many of our (theoretically) tech-savvy generation have embraced to manage their financial goals. Consider checking them out for added motivation.

For the women out there, I encourage you to stay engaged with the discussions and decisions that will ultimately impact your financial future. If you do have a significant other, I would encourage you to have open and honest conversations about finances and your financial futures. In fact, studies show that when couples make financial decisions together, they are more confident.

And lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to explore Janus Henderson’s own dedicated retirement planning resources for millennials.

Stay cheugy, millennials!

 

1“Here’s how much Americans have saved in their 401(k)s at every age,” CNBC, February 2021.
2“Women put financial security at risk by deferring long-term financial decisions to spouses, UBS research reveals,” UBS, March 2019.
3“Helping Millennial Women Close the Retirement Savings Gap,” T. Rowe Price, June 2019.