Is it biblical to save and invest money for retirement? What about those Bible passages that seem to teach against saving and storing up for an earthly life? Well, here’s the bottom line: We can be savers and investors only if we are also givers.
By acquiring the discipline to save for the future, we are making an effort to ensure that our money is available to provide for the needs of our family and the needs of others, thereby honoring God in the way we handle money. At the same time, whatever we save should always be freely available to the call of God, open to be cheerfully put to work in the present if such circumstances arise. On the other hand, when we store up money for ourselves, but do not make a habit of giving and don’t stand ready to divert our stash to the needs of others, then all that we are really doing is hoarding.
When we save and invest, we must do so without that money becoming what we treasure most in our hearts. We have to guard against putting our trust in the false security of a storehouse of earthly treasure instead of the true security of God’s provision. All the material things we obtain are provided to us by God, but they are still just temporary, and it’s foolish to stock up on earthly treasure for ourselves while at the same time neglecting the eternal treasure that comes from generosity.
Lots of people put off planning
I remember once when I was at one of my kids’ sports practices, waiting for practice to end and sitting in front of a couple of guys who were doing the same. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting on aluminum bleachers in the blazing sun, you know it’s hard to be comfortable, and it’s just about impossible to not overhear what the people behind you are saying.
Anyway, these two guys were carrying on a conversation about their kids, their jobs and other things, when one comment really caught my attention. One of the guys joked that now that he and his wife were in their thirties, it was probably time to act like an adult and start planning for retirement. “Well, better late than never!” the other one joked back. I thought that was interesting to hear because here was this thirty-something guy talking about getting a late start in his retirement planning while I knew that statistics show that the majority of Americans don’t start thinking seriously about planning for retirement until they are in their forties.
Day-to-day life is very busy; you’ve got lives to live – your work life, your social life and your family life. You’ve got expenses to keep up with – student loans, mortgage or rent payment, a car payment, maybe some credit card debt, plus all the other day-to-day costs of “just living.” Yeah, your plate is full and you’ve got a lot of things on your mind!
Even so, it’s prudent and part of being a good steward to give serious thought to the role money will play later on in your life. Instead of exhausting your resources in the course of your daily living with no preparation for the future, doesn’t it seem wiser to plan for a contented retirement consisting of a nice mixture of leisure and meaningful activity that furthers God’s kingdom? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to take advantage of some of the opportunities that may present themselves once you can’t or don’t have to work as much as you once did?
You don’t need to know exactly what you’re going to do in the future or where you’re going to do it, but if you plan on living to a point where you no longer have to go to work, then you’re going to need a source of money once you give up that regular paycheck. (In today’s environment the concept of retirement is probably overrated, and depending on your age and circumstances, the best strategy may be to create a job for yourself that you can retire into. If you enjoy what you’re currently doing, it may be possible to accomplish this by finding a way to scale back while maximizing your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses.)
The essence of this though, is that it doesn’t matter whether you see yourself lounging seaside on an island beach or doing mission work in the Third World – it all begins with a plan. And the earlier you start planning for this retirement income, the better off you’ll be. Keep in mind that all of us are constantly making a tradeoff in life – an exchange of time for money. Unfortunately, we eventually reach an age where both money and time start to slip away at an accelerating pace, and at this point it may be too difficult to gather up any more wealth and it may be too late to try and pursue a “calling.”
When is the best time to start?
So, let’s assume you’re 20- to 50-something and like many of your peers you haven’t done as much as you should have with regard to planning and saving for retirement. Don’t panic; time is still on your side! But you really should start now, because it’s not going to get any easier down the road, and you’ll be miles ahead of where you’d be if you waited until your next decade of life.
The best time to start planning for your future is the present, and a good way to start a plan is to contemplate your current lifestyle. How do you feel it compares to the lifestyle you think you would be content with after your working years are over? You may find that your current comfort level falls short of what you envision, or you may feel that you could easily live on smaller scale than you currently do. Yes, I know things change, priorities change and people change; but you’ve got to get a baseline from somewhere and this is a pretty good way to do it. Plus, it involves a little dose of soul-searching, which is always a good exercise in and of itself.
The second thing to do is to be totally honest and figure out exactly how much debt you currently have. If you are a serious “ower,” the single greatest thing you can do now to beef up the quality of your life in the future is to get rid of all that debt, especially your credit card debt. An effective overall strategy is to attack your debt in this order: credit cards first, student loans second, home equity loans third, and mortgage last. Come up with some kind of a plan to attack your debt. Remember, “borrowers are servants to lenders” (Proverbs 22:7).
The third thing you need to do is to create an emergency fund. The exact amount of this fund is something you have to kind of guess at, but somewhere around $1,000 is a really good place to begin. I know many people rationalize their way out of maintaining an emergency fund by thinking the money that would go into the fund would be better used by paying down debt, and if an emergency occurs, they would just put the expense onto a credit card and pay that off later. Bad thinking! If you put it on a credit card, you still have to eventually find the money to pay the card off, plus you’ll be paying interest on top of the borrowed money. And what if another emergency pops up before the first one is paid for? Not good! It’s going to happen; it’s almost a guarantee that emergencies will come into your life. But believe me, it is a really great feeling knowing that you already have that money there when some costly crises arises.
Automate what you can
Okay, once you’ve come up with a plan to address the prior three things, you are now ready to set up some kind of automatic savings system. Since you are just starting and you still have a fair to good chunk of time before you’ll need to access your retirement funds, you probably want to keep things simple. So the best way to look at it is that you basically have two options:
- An employer-sponsored retirement plan (401(k), 403(b) and 457 plans)
- An individual retirement account (IRA and Roth IRA).
In either case, a really good (albeit aggressive) goal would be to divert 10 percent of your yearly income into whichever retirement account is correct for you. Of course any amount is good since you are starting from scratch, and getting into the discipline of regular contributions is the single most important component here. But something to keep in mind when you are trying to decide on how much you should put in on a yearly basis is this: most financial planning models reveal that the average person will need to save around 10 percent of their income throughout all of their working years to have enough money to cover their needs when they retire. While this figure is arguable, the obvious takeaway is not: The later someone starts contributing, the more they’re going to have to sock away per year.
One last thing – In my opinion you should carefully weigh the pros and cons of waiting until you are debt free to start saving for retirement, because if you wait, you may never get started at all. This is especially important if your employer matches your contributions to a retirement plan. You can start by saving as little as 1 percent per month and then gradually increase that amount as more money becomes available to you from debt reduction, bonuses, pay raises and the like. So think about that.
To sum up, I’ll just paraphrase an old cliché: “Why put off until tomorrow what you could be doing today?”
Saving For Retirement Summary Tips
- Do a little soul-searching. Try to envision your retirement lifestyle scenario. Don’t worry; if that vision changes over time, you can adjust things accordingly.
- Know what you owe. Control your expenses and make a plan to pay off your debts, starting today with those pesky credit cards.
- Build up an emergency fund. Remember, emergencies will come up, and it’s better to earn a little interest on this money now than to pay a lot of interest on it later.
- Divert a percentage of your income into some kind of automatic savings plan, either an employer-sponsored plan or an individual retirement plan.
- Even if you are in debt, you should still open a retirement account and start saving. You can begin by saving as little as 1 percent and increase that percentage as your debt decreases.
- Feel good about yourself! You’ve decided to get a handle on how to save for retirement! You’re ahead of the curve!
Those who wait for perfect weather will never plant seeds; those who look at every cloud will never harvest crops. -Ecclesiastes 11:4
What’s your take? Is retirement planning an important part of your life? Why or why not? Do you think the financial community places too much emphasis on saving for retirement? Not enough?