Saving 15% for Retirement Feel Out of Reach? 3 Easy Steps to Get There

5 Minute Read

You knocked your $1,000 baby emergency fund out of the way three years ago and said so long to debt last year. Today, you’re sitting pretty with a fully stocked emergency fund and want to start saving for retirement. But you don’t have 15% to invest like Dave recommends. So you put your retirement dreams on the shelf, waiting for the day you can give it your all.

Or maybe you’ve been building your nest egg for years but can’t seem to work your way up to 15%. You watch your big plans for retirement get a little smaller every year you stay stuck at 5%.

Sound familiar? If so, it’s time to shake the Charlie Brown attitude and start thinking like Dave Ramsey! So you don’t have 15% to contribute—that’s okay! Investing in your future isn’t an all-or-nothing venture, and you don’t have to stay stuck in one place forever.

With a little patience and these simple steps, you’ll get to 15% in lickety-split time.

Step 1: Eliminate Unnecessary Expenses

Let’s come right out of the gate with the most painful step of the bunch—trimming the fat from your budget.


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Maybe it looks like a $250-a-month cable package that magically transports you to the 50-yard line of the Super Bowl. Or the weekly mani-pedi you get at Salon FrouFrou. Whatever your luxury of choice, if it cuts into your ability to save for the future, it’s time to say, “Buh-bye!”

Keith C. from Suwanee, GA, took a hard look at expenses after pausing retirement contributions for a year while he started a new business. After reviewing his household bills, he shopped around for cheaper insurance rates and made tough choices, like nixing cable TV.

“Cutting the nonessential services and lowering our insurance expenses freed up a little bit of money that we were able to use to restart our retirement contributions,” Keith says.

Alicia J. from Nevada, IA, agrees that forcing yourself to live with less is the key to saving more, but it doesn’t mean you can’t get creative in the process.

“I encourage friends to come to the house for dinner, rather than eating out. Do fun things like cocktail parties—dress up and have friends bring a unique dish,” Alicia suggests. “You can still have fun without breaking the bank. It's the company that matters!” 

So why not search every nook and cranny of your monthly budget to see if you can eke out an extra $150? If you invest it in good, growth stock mutual funds, that $150 a month could look more like $325,000–$486,000 after 30 years. That’s not a shabby place to start!

Step 2: Break It Down Into Baby Steps

As a Dave fan, you know the value of breaking financial goals into bite-sized chunks. Why not apply the same logic to your retirement?

For Monica W., a teacher from Springfield, IL, her family’s biggest obstacle has been the daycare bill. At $1,500 a month during the school year, it’s larger than their mortgage. Rather than look at it as a lost cause, she and her husband have set small goals to work up to 15%.

“We’re currently at 10% of take-home pay and will be able to increase to 10% of gross this fall. As our kids age out of daycare and we get raises, we’ll be able to increase our retirement contributions to the full 15%,” Monica says.

Remember Keith C., the guy who survived cutting off his cable? He also takes a stepped approach to investing. “Contributing a little is always better than contributing nothing,” he says. “As my business and income grow, I’ll continue to increase our retirement contributions.”

Will these incremental efforts really pay off in retirement? You bet they will! Consider this example.

Let’s say you make $40,000 a year and contribute $150 a month. That’s 4.5%. Next year, your boss gives you a 3% raise, so you apply the extra $100 a month to your nest egg. That gets you to 7.3%. If your income increases by 3% every year and you faithfully roll your raise into your retirement fund, you’ll be at 15% in just five years!

Step 3: Create a Reward System

Having trouble keeping your hands off your retirement savings? Add oomph to your goals by throwing a few carrots into the mix!

That’s what David J. from Bentonville, AR, did to get out of debt. Now, this strategy helps him avoid temptation so he doesn’t use his nest egg to pay cash for shiny, new purchases.

“At each benchmark, we have a planned reward to go with the achievement,” David says. “Once we achieve a benchmark, we set the next one and its reward.”

Maybe your reward is a nice steak dinner or a day at the spa with every bump up in percentage—whatever fuels your financial fire! Put it down on paper and post it somewhere prominent as a constant reminder of your goals.

Start Here

Remember, building wealth is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t lose out on a bright tomorrow because you can’t put 15% toward your nest egg today. If you want to cross the finish line, you’ve got to step out of the starting gate!

Give it all you’ve got right now—even if it’s just 3%—and work with a financial advisor to outline a plan for working your way up to 15%. A true pro will look at where you are today and guide you toward a future you can feel good about.

Need help getting started? We can recommend a financial advisor who’s earned Dave’s seal of trust in your area.

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