Our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy have changed.

By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

Retirement checklist: What to do from 35 to 55+

chart_retirement_savings.top.gif By Walter Updegrave, senior editor

(MONEY Magazine) -- The road to retirement is littered with distractions. In the hurly-burly of life, so many things compete for your attention that you can lose sight of what really matters most.

That's where MONEY's checklist comes in. We've created to-do lists for each of the main stages of retirement planning. Think of them as basic reminders you can set aside and refer to on occasion -- say, every year or so -- to make sure you're on the right track.

It needn't be a complicated list. Says Charles Farrell, a financial adviser and author of Your Money Ratios: "Simpler is better. Focus on a few key goals and you won't miss the forest for the trees."

TO DO: Mid-30s to early 40s

Goal: Develop the habit of saving.
Savings: 1.5 times your annual salary by age 35.

  • Take full advantage of my 401(k) match. Your employer-sponsored retirement plan is the easiest way to put your savings on autopilot. And if you take full advantage of your company match, you could earn 50% to 100% on your money before taking on any market risk.
  • Boost my 401(k) contribution. As your paycheck grows, your savings rate should too. Sign up for "auto escalation" to boost your contributions by a percentage point or so a year. If your 401(k) doesn't offer this feature, sock away half or more of each raise.
  • Find other tax-advantaged ways to save. Already maxing out on your 401(k)? If you make less than $120,000 -- or $177,000 for married couples filing jointly -- check out a Roth IRA. Already hitting the $5,000 annual IRA limit? Move on to investment options such as index funds that don't expose you to stiff tax bills.
  • Cover six months of expenses. Make sure you've got an emergency stash, so if you get laid off you won't be forced to dip into your 401(k) and IRAs. Put this money in a safe place like an FDIC-insured bank account or CD, or a high-quality money-market fund.
  • Invest for growth. You may feel skittish about stocks, given the recent market turmoil. But with retirement still two to three decades away, your best shot at building an adequate portfolio is to put most of your retirement savings -- 80% or so in your thirties -- in stocks and ride out turbulence along the way.

Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed3.49%3.47%
15 yr fixed2.69%2.70%
5/1 ARM2.99%2.99%
30 yr refi3.49%3.49%
15 yr refi2.72%2.72%
Rate data provided
by Bankrate.com
View rates in your area
Find personalized rates:
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 18,145.71 -16.64 -0.09%
Nasdaq 5,257.40 15.57 0.30%
S&P 500 2,141.16 -0.18 -0.01%
Treasuries 1.74 -0.01 -0.40%
Data as of 11:24pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
Reynolds American In... 53.78 6.61 14.01%
Chesapeake Energy Co... 6.68 -0.23 -3.33%
AT&T Inc 37.49 -1.16 -3.00%
Microsoft Corp 59.66 2.41 4.21%
Bank of America Corp... 16.67 0.11 0.66%
Data as of Oct 21


The combo brings together AT&T's wireless and Internet business and DirecTV with Time Warner programming, including CNN, HBO and Warner Bros. More

Passes for the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington D.C. are 'sold out' through March 2017. More

An American vigilante hacker -- who calls himself "The Jester" -- has hacked the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in retaliation for attacks on American targets. More

The University of Illinois partnered with Coursera to launch one of the most affordable online MBA programs yet. More