According to a 2020 report from Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, 54% of part-time workers surveyed plan to keep on working into their retirement years. More depressing was that 21% of part-timers surveyed had no plans to retire at all. That compares to only 15% of full-time workers who don’t intend to retire. The message behind those figures is that too many of today’s part-time workers don’t see any realistic path to a work-free retirement for themselves.
People without full-time jobs do face greater challenges with respect to retirement planning. Lower income is only the most obvious one. It can be hard enough even on a full-time salary to find money in your budget to save for the future.
But those workers are probably also missing out on cost-saving benefits like employer-subsidized healthcare or access to a company-sponsored 401(k) — and the matching contributions that frequently go with it.
Those challenges are significant, but not necessarily insurmountable. You do need to get serious about having a retirement plan and following through on it, though — and sooner rather than later. Here are three steps to get you started.
1. Calculate your living expenses, now and later
Knowing what your expenses are compared to your income will let you determine how much you can conceivably manage to save each month. And projecting what your living expenses will be in retirement is the first step in figuring out how much you’ll need to save. The usual advice provided to full-time workers is to contribute between 10% and 15% of your earnings to your retirement investment accounts. That range generally works when two things are true — first, that you have at least 25 more years before you’re going to retire, and second, that your living expenses then will be roughly the same as they are today.
If you have a shorter timeline or expect higher expenses in your senior years, you’ll need to save even more. If that feels unrealistic, try the next best thing: Choose the highest contribution rate you can manage now, and then raise it at every opportunity.
As for how much you’ll need to save in total, many advisors use the 4% rule, which has you aim for a balance equal to 25 times the living expenses not covered by Social Security or other retirement income. According to Fidelity, that usually turns out to be a goal of around eight to 10 times your annual salary by your early to mid-60s.
2. Save and invest
The act of investing for retirement is more difficult when you don’t have a 401(k) that automatically scoops your contribution out of your paycheck before you even see it. The good news is you should still be able to automate your contributions to a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA. Across both types of account, an individual can contribute up to $6,000 a year, or $7,000 if you’re 50 or older.
If you don’t already have an IRA, consider opening one with a brokerage like Fidelity or Schwab that supports fractional-share investing — buying stock in units of less than a share at a time. The big advantage of this is that it offers a simple way for an investor to build a well-diversified portfolio by steadily adding relatively small amounts to it on a regular basis.
Plan on investing your IRA contributions each month and stick with the program for the long haul. And as long as your retirement is more than 10 years away, ignore the ups and downs of your portfolio.
3. Check your Social Security status
Social Security will supplement your investment income in retirement, as long as you’ve qualified for benefits. To qualify, you have to earn 40 or more work credits, which you accrue by earning income from work and paying payroll taxes. You’ll see those listed on your pay stub as FICA or OASDI. In 2021, it only takes $1,470 of income to earn one credit, and you can earn up to four credits per year.
You can check your Social Security status by creating an account at the my Social Security website. Once you log in, you can see how many credits you’ve earned so far and whether you’re already eligible for benefits. It’s also smart to review your earnings record. This is because your benefit will be calculated based on your earnings history. If any years of income are missing or inaccurate, gather supporting documentation to prove it, and contact the agency to have the record corrected.
The website can also show you estimates of what your benefit would be based on different claiming ages. Your monthly benefit will rise substantially if you delay claiming Social Security until you’re 70. That strategy might work for you if you’re already planning to work through your 60s.
Challenging, but not impossible
Part-time workers have to be especially disciplined to secure a comfortable retirement. Your biggest obstacle may be finding the money in your budget to save and invest for your senior years. Just remember that no amount is too small to set aside, especially when you can buy fractional shares of stock. Build a habit of saving with whatever you can afford today, and then increase your contributions at least once annually.
If you postpone taking Social Security as long as possible, when you combine your maximized benefit with the product of a steady investing strategy, you could end up with all the retirement income you need — no paycheck required.