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Retirees: What we should’ve done differently before retirement

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Mike Timmermann, Clark.com

If you or someone you love is just starting out in the workplace, retirement is probably the last thing that comes to mind. But as money expert Clark Howard says all the time, it’s important to save early and often.

Read more: Clark’s investment guide

Retirees: We have regrets

In a recent survey of retired adults who don’t have a pension, seniors opened up about their financial regrets. They provided information that you’ll want to share with the millennials in your life.

Fill in the blank

The retired workers who took part in the poll were asked to complete the following sentence:

When I look back on what I might have done differently with my retirement savings, I should have…

And these were the top three answers:

  • 39% of the retirees said they should have started saving earlier in their working life
  • 35% said they should have saved more
  • 29% said they should have paid more attention to preparing for retirement when they were younger

Data provided by Pentegra Retirement Services

Words of wisdom

In addition to opening up about their regrets, 94% of the seniors wanted to pass on advice to those younger than them. Here are the lessons they shared:

1. Start saving early in your career

Among the retirees surveyed, 63% recommended that younger people save earlier in their career.

In a recent story, we showed you how a 25-year-old with $10,000 could invest just over $300 a month and retire a millionaire at age 65, yet someone who doesn’t start until age 35 would have to save $775 a month.

Those numbers might not look right at first, but they’ll make sense once you learn the power of compound interest.

2. Save more throughout your career

In addition to saving earlier, 57% of the retirees surveyed said millennials should save more throughout their career.

According to Credit.com, 37% of Americans don’t have enough savings to pay for an unexpected expense — like a car repair or doctor visit.

Get on track by setting an emergency fund goal using a budgeting app like Mint.

3. Find small ways to save

Nearly half of the retirees (45%) want younger workers to know that small savings really can add up.

“Save at least $5 a week,” one retiree recommended. Another senior admitted that cost of living increases made saving difficult, but “a little something is better than nothing.”

To get started, Clark suggests saving just one penny (1%) of every dollar you make and go from there.

4. Maximize workplace retirement programs

The people who participated in this survey didn’t have pensions, but 51% advised others to take advantage of workplace retirement programs.

Now, 401(k) plans are becoming a primary source of retirement income, not pensions.

And if your employer offers any type of match on your 401(k), Clark says you should take advantage of it. Otherwise, you’re leaving “free money” on the table.

After contributing up to the match, you may want to consider other investment options.

5. Delay Social Security if you can

A final piece of advice from 26% of the seniors who participated in the survey is to delay Social Security.

“We actually believed we could live on our Social Security. I found out fairly early that you really need to start saving everything you can because you can’t live on Social Security,” said one retiree.

Waiting a few years to collect your benefits can make quite a difference.

While you can begin receiving benefits at age 62, you’ll receive the maximum benefit if you wait until you’re 70. Plug in your numbers to this online calculator to see the difference.

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