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A Retirement Plan For Every Decade

How to save and invest in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. 

From the day you start working, you’re working towards the day you stop working. Strange as it sounds, it’s true: the money you earn needs to see you through the years when you’re employed, as well as into old age when you’re no longer able to generate an income. But a retirement plan is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself through your younger years, and you’ll set yourself up for the times when you’re not clocking in at the office.  

20s: Get in early

It’s never too early to start saving and investing towards your retirement. The mathematical magic of compounding interest means that the sooner you start, the better. “People don’t realise the power of compounding – especially over a 50-year period,” says Carrick Group Commercial Director Anthony Palmer. But, given South Africa’s high youth unemployment rates, and the general financial misbehaviour that comes with being young, is that a practical expectation? It should be, says Palmer. “Save early and consistently, even if it’s just a small amount. Get into the habit of saving. There are always ways to cut back on some luxuries that we want, but don’t necessarily need.” 

30s: Catch up

Your 30s are, in many respects, a decade you’ll spend undoing the damage you did in your 20s. In retirement terms, that means using your (hopefully increased) salary to focus on your retirement goals. Speak to a financial advisor if you haven’t already, and work with them to set clear short-, medium- and long-term savings and investment goals. If you’re permanently employed, your employer’s contribution to your retirement fund will not be enough on its own. You will need to chip in some extra money as well, and you may have to adjust your household budget to make room for that. Nobody said adulting was going to be easy. 

40s: Stay the course

Life happens… and as your parents and children (if you have them) age and your career enters its mature phase, the stresses of responsibility will quickly pile up. Whether you’re funding a business venture, paying for unexpected medical expenses, or covering the costs of an elderly parent or varsity-aged child, you may be tempted to prematurely dip into your retirement savings. Don’t. “Besides possible exit penalties, the main downside of early withdrawal is simply not having enough for retirement,” says Palmer. “That is a really scary thought and a very serious cause of anxiety and stress.” 

50s: Adjust your approach

Setting aside the prospect of a second career, you’ll likely be winding down as you move through your 50s. A popular retirement gameplan involves investing aggressively early on, and more conservatively the closer you get to retirement age. Palmer agrees that this is a sound approach, but offers a word of warning. “Generally, the longer your investment time horizon, the more risk you should take,” he says. “People do, however, make a mistake of reducing risk too much when they go into retirement. People are living longer and could easily be in retirement for 25-plus years, so there does need to be a well-considered investment strategy to account for this.” 

60s and beyond: Work the buckets

While South Africa has no mandatory retirement age, if you work in the corporate world you’re likely to collect your gold watch by age 65. To help ensure your money lasts at least as long as you do, Carrick implements an investment bucket approach. “The first “bucket” is low-risk income funds to cover two years’ worth of income needs,” explains Palmer. “Then we have a moderate risk “bucket” with a balanced solution, and a potential third bucket consisting of an equity portfolio of local or international equities.” 

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