Secret #2: Try to beat the other guy

By Penelope Wang, senior writer


Thanks to your normal natural competitiveness, comparing yourself to others can speed you to your goals -- just look at TV's The Biggest Loser.

This strategy has definite potential in retirement planning. Preliminary research suggests that people who see data showing how their peers are saving are more likely to participate in their company retirement plans and to put more money in.

Thanks in part to these findings, financial services company ING recently set up a website that allows people eligible for some 401(k) plans it administers to compare their progress against that of their colleagues.

So far more than 20% of people who have spent time with the tool have made a positive change, such as joining the plan or upping the percentage of salary they contribute, says Ashley Agard, head of retirement research at the company.

Your peers can be powerful in another way too: They can put pressure on you to meet your goals. So-called commitment strategies, in which people publicly proclaim their intention of hitting a target, are often effective for those seeking to lose weight or stop smoking.

Now researchers are looking at how well they work to help increase saving. In 2008 Yale professors Ian Ayres and Dean Karlan launched StickK.com, a free website that lets users make a public or private commitment for just about any kind of goal.

To up the pressure still more, users can bet money on the outcome. The researchers need more data to show how well the approach works for retirement-related commitments, but early results are encouraging.

Put these findings into action:

Benchmark yourself. You can start at INGcompareme.com, a public website run by ING. There you compare your financial status -- free and anonymously -- with those of nearly 140,000 other users who have similar ages, incomes, and other details.

Does your savings level fall short? Get moving! Are you way ahead? Great, but just because you're beating your peers doesn't necessarily mean you'll meet your goals, warns Jack VanDerhei, research director at the Employee Benefits Research Institute.

To see if you've succeeded in hitting recommended savings benchmarks, check out our retirement checklist.

Make a commitment contract. You could do anything from telling a few friends about your savings goal and asking for their support -- perhaps meeting once a month -- to placing a bet in public that you'll succeed in reaching a certain saving level by a certain time. You can broadcast your pledge via social media such as Facebook or Twitter. Or use StickK.com.

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