10 Simple Ways to Save for Retirement if You Don't Have a Traditional Career

If you don’t feel like standard retirement advice applies to you, these tips might help.
Last updated April 10, 2023 | By Taylor Milam-Samuel Edited By Michael Kurko
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Most retirement advice has the same unspoken assumption: Everyone has a traditional career with access to a 401(k) account.

But the truth is that many people don’t have jobs that offer employer-sponsored retirement accounts. If that’s you, it doesn’t mean you can’t save for retirement, but it does mean the process may look a bit different.

Here are some things to consider as you plan for retirement without a traditional career.

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Traditional IRAs

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Even though the name implies otherwise, a traditional IRA might be a solid option even if you don’t have a traditional career.

This tax-advantaged retirement account is not employer-specific, so you can open one on your own. Contributions are usually taxed when you withdraw from the account.

You can contribute up to $6,500 yearly or $7,500 if you’re 50 or older and an account is available to all adults.

Roth IRAs

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A Roth IRA is another tax-advantaged retirement account not tied to employment.

The main difference with this account is that contributions are taxed, but there are no taxes on eligible withdrawals. Like a traditional IRA, you can contribute up to $6,500 yearly or $7,500 if you’re over 50.

There are also some exceptions and a few eligible expenses. However, you’ll usually incur taxes and fees if you withdraw from the account before you’re 59 1/2 years old.

Spousal IRAs

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Even if you don’t earn any taxable income throughout the year, you might still be able to contribute to a spousal IRA.

The primary difference between this IRA and other options is that you don’t have to earn money through employment to contribute.

So if you’re a stay-at-home parent, caregiver, in-between jobs or not working for any reason, you can still contribute. To be eligible, you must file a joint return with your spouse, and your spouse must earn taxable income that year.


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Any business can establish a SEP-IRA, including self-employed workers. According to the IRS, this account has fewer fees than a 401(k).

SEP-IRAs allow employers to contribute up to 25% of an employee’s salary. If you’re self-employed, this could be a helpful way to save for retirement.

Health Saving Accounts (HSAs)

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In addition to other retirement account types, you could also look into a Health Savings Account (HSA).

With this account, you can set aside money on a pre-tax basis to pay for qualified medical expenses.

While an HSA isn’t technically a retirement account, you can roll over the money each year. If you have money left over, you may be able to use it for qualified medical expenses in retirement.

Brokerage accounts

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If you’re looking for additional investing options, you might want to consider a brokerage account — taxable investment accounts that let you invest your money in different funds.

Depending on your needs, you can use one of the best robo-advisors, real-life advisors, or yourself to manage the account.

Of course, investment returns are never guaranteed, but a brokerage account could be part of your retirement planning.

Retirement accounts from past employers

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Even if you don’t think you have employer-sponsored retirement accounts, it might still be a good idea to double-check.

This is especially true if you’ve changed jobs throughout your career or have had different employers.

You might not remember whether or not your employer from twenty years ago offered retirement accounts, so it’s worth checking and rolling over any retirement funds you might have.

Check with your employer

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If you don’t have a traditional career, you might assume your employer doesn’t offer retirement accounts. But that might not be the case.

It’s always worth reading your onboarding documents, checking in with human resources, and asking questions. You might be surprised by what you find.

Build an emergency fund

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An emergency fund is for unexpected expenses; if you don’t have one, you might find yourself pulling money from your retirement accounts.

If you don’t have a traditional career, you’ve probably had to be very intentional about your retirement savings. So preserve your hard work and avoid withdrawing from the accounts.

Look at the big picture

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Saving for retirement is a long-term goal, and it’s okay if it takes time to achieve it. Regardless of your career type or trajectory, it’s possible to plan for retirement successfully.

Review your finances, make a plan, and stick to it.

Bottom line

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Even if it feels like standard retirement advice doesn’t apply to you, that doesn’t mean you can’t plan for the retirement of your dreams.

You might have to be strategic and think outside the box, but creating a solid plan that works for your current and future self is possible.

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