Finding Money for Retirement When Your Paycheck is Small

When money is hard to come by, saving for retirement is usually nonexistent, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Years ago, I lived my life paycheck to paycheck. Nearly every dollar I earned went to paying off my loans, making rent or buying food. Yet despite my tight budget, I found creative ways to save money for retirement.

You may be surprised, but nearly everyone has a little extra money that can be put away for retirement.

Here are some creative sources of money that can be used for retirement savings.

Save the Extra Paycheck

Are you paid weekly or bi-weekly? Then you receive an extra paycheck every now and then. If you want to start a retirement savings account. Commit to saving one of those “extra checks.”

I’ve always budgeted with a plan to receive four pay checks in a month and if bi-weekly, two. Since there are 52 weeks in a year there are 2 to 4 months where you get an extra paycheck. Receiving an extra paycheck gives you the perfect opportunity to save.

Unexpected costs do arise and I know many people use the money to cover the hole these expenses create. Set a goal to save at least one of those checks and you will be on your way to creating a retirement nest egg.

Save Your Tax Return

The average tax refund is nearly $3,000 and over 109.3 million people received a refund last year. Wouldn’t retirement savings be a great place for your refund this year?

Be sure you get every deduction you can when filing your taxes to maximize the amount you will be able to put into your retirement savings. You can get money back if you prove you ride your bicycle to work most days, you can get money back from the clothes you donate to charity. Try TurboTax for free to learn of all the deductions you can claim and save even more money for your retirement by doing your taxes yourself and avoiding the fees of having a tax accountant do your taxes. The extra three or four hundred dollars you save will be worth the effort.

It’s possible to set up your tax withholdings so that you do not receive a refund at the end of the year. However, most people choose to get a refund because it is like a large bonus check at the end of the year. Perhaps, you are waiting on a large check this year to go on the big vacation or buy that new TV. Consider saving your check this year and finally open a retirement account.

Tax Benefits to Subsidize Savings

While the previous ideas discuss ways to find extra money from your own paycheck, there are tax benefits to retirement savings and those benefits can be used to help fund more savings.

There are two main tax benefits available for low-income retirement savers:

The Saver’s Credit
And tax deductible contributions

The Saver’s Credit can reduce your tax bill up to $1,000. For every dollar you save, the credit will give you back $.50 on your taxes. Additionally, any contributions made to a qualifying plan can be made with pre-tax dollars or deducted from your taxable income.

Since retirement savings can lower your tax bill, you may be able to adjust your tax withholding so that there is more money in your paycheck. More money in your paycheck means more money to invest in your retirement account.

Extra Money from Your Employer

Check with your employer, you may have access to benefits that can be used to fund your retirement savings. While some benefits are more common than others, I’m listing three options that were available to me at past jobs.

401k Match

If your company offers a 401k to employees, you should check to see if there is an employer match. This is money that your employer deposits into your 401k for you. The amount of the deposit is based on the percent of your income that you save. Let’s say that you save 3% of your income and your employer matches up to 3%. It means that your employer will deposit, dollar-for-dollar, the same amount you saved for the year.

Bonus Checks

If you get a performance bonus at the end of the year, it is probably extra money. Make an effort to save the bonus each year instead of spending it.

Cash-in Your Vacation Hours

One of my past employers scheduled employees for a 36 hour work week. We were paid hourly and the company wanted to ensure that staff would not receive overtime. It was tough not having overtime or working a full 40 hour week. However, the cushion of 4 hours did allow me to cash in my vacation time when I needed extra money. I’d simply work the standard 36 hour week, put in for 4 hours of vacation and then deposit the extra money into my retirement savings.

I’m not advocating that you slave away, with no vacation time. However, if you have extra vacation time that you won’t use, then perhaps you could save the extra money instead.

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