15 Habits of People Successfully Saving for Retirement

Transform your future with the proven habits of successful retirement savers.

Updated June 6, 2024
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Saving for retirement sounds like a daunting task. Fidelity Investments recently recommended that folks save 10 times their current salary for retirement by the age of 67.

Although such a big goal might appear overwhelming, every penny you put away helps. Practicing these 15 habits that successful retirement savers share can help you build wealth and meet your future financial goals.

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They spend less than they earn

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It’s essential to get into the habit of living within your means long before you even start planning for retirement.

After all, if you’re spending more than you earn, you won’t have anything left to save — and you’ll be taking on debt that you’ll eventually have to pay off (with interest), further hampering your ability to save.

Developing discipline around spending today is the first step toward becoming a happy, financially secure retiree.

They're comfortable with delayed gratification

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The impulse to have everything you want right now can make getting what you need down the line — such as a prosperous retirement — next to impossible.

Those who are great at saving for retirement are experts in the art of looking forward. They aim for big future rewards instead of settling for smaller, temporary pleasures today.

They have a positive outlook on the future

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It’s hard to save for a future you don’t believe in. Those who successfully save for retirement do so in spite of fears about climate change, economic turmoil, future pandemics, and the general state of the world.

In truth, the world has always been full of problems and probably always will be. Focusing on the positive and envisioning future celebrations — from golden birthdays to retirement vacations — can motivate you to save for a brighter tomorrow.

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They have given themselves a solid financial education

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According to a National Endowment for Financial Education survey, 80% of American adults said they wish they had been required to take a personal finance course in high school.

Fortunately, many good books and personal finance websites can help you to take the reins and educate yourself.

They set smart savings goals

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Saving without a concrete goal isn't a great way to build savings. Instead, people who save for retirement usually have a number in mind that they're working toward.

Having such a goal can help keep you motivated over the long haul, especially during tough times.

They know how to automate their savings

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Successful savers use technology to their advantage and automate their savings so they don’t forget to save weekly and monthly.

Many banks now offer features such as payday savings transfers that make saving money easier than ever.

They don’t incur early withdrawal or other 401(k) fees

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Tough times and other circumstances may make it necessary for you to withdraw funds early from a 401(k) account. But if possible, it’s usually best to avoid doing so.

Early withdrawals from such retirement accounts usually incur taxes and penalties that can put some serious cracks in your nest egg.

If you can afford to do so, build an emergency fund of cash savings so you won’t have to raid retirement accounts when times get rough.

They start saving early

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The younger you are when you start saving money, the more time your money will have to compound.

It is best to start as young as possible. But no matter how old you are, saving now will likely leave you richer than waiting until later.

They're happy owning modest homes

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Buying a home with a high mortgage payment that stretches your budget to the breaking point means you'll have less money each month to put toward savings.

Choosing a smaller home that allows you to live within your means can bolster your ability to save.

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They don’t own the newest car model

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New cars can be fun and flashy, but their value depreciates quickly. Successful retirement savers avoid throwing money away on such bad investments that lose value quickly.

Instead, they stick to buying modestly priced cars that are dependable, even if they aren’t the newest or showiest cars in the lot.

They stay the course when markets are volatile

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It's easy to panic when markets experience great volatility, as they did at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But savvy savers don't lose their cool in such situations.

History has shown that volatile markets tend to stabilize over time. That's no guarantee of what they will do in the future. But panicking is rarely a good idea.

They don’t cash out their 401(k)s when they change jobs

piter2121/Adobe 401k Plan with calculator pen and glasses

Rather than cashing out a 401(k) when they leave a job, successful retirement savers roll the cash directly into their new company’s retirement plan or an IRA.

The process usually is not nearly as complicated as some people fear. If you have concerns, talk to a human resources employee at your new job or contact a firm that offers financial products and services, such as Vanguard or Fidelity.

They contribute enough to their (401)k to earn their employee match

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Successful retirement savers take advantage of their company's 401(k) match. That means contributing at least as much as is necessary to qualify for the match.

Failing to take advantage of this match essentially means turning your back on free money. Wise savers almost never do that.

They don’t gamble with their savings

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You might be tempted to go all in on the latest investment craze. However, seasoned savers stay away from flash-in-the-pan, big-risk investments.

Instead, they invest sensibly and stay the course, knowing that getting rich slowly is more likely to be successful than engaging in get-rich-quick schemes.

They avoid unnecessary debt — or they pay it off quickly

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Some debt — such as mortgage or student loans — might be necessary to secure a solid financial future.

However, most other forms of debt — especially high-interest credit card debt and other expensive forms of borrowing — can devastate your ability to save.

The best savers stay away from risky or expensive debt so they can save more now. Try to get out of debt as quickly as you reasonably can so you can begin saving.

Bottom line

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Saving enough money for retirement is a decades-long process. While it might seem like an uphill battle at first, the more you practice these habits, the more saving for retirement will become automatic.

So, if you want to get ahead financially, try incorporating one or two of these steps into your savings strategy today. Then, add more over time.

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Author Details

Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.