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Resolution 1: Save more money
How to maximize the benefit of your 401(k); quick savings tips; 8 moves in all.
December 13, 2005: 11:32 AM EST
By Janet Paskin, MONEY Magazine
Do it now: 10 resolutions

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - Trying to save by cutting discretionary expenses -- daily lattes, for example, or meals out -- requires the kind of joyless discipline that few of us can sustain long enough to make a difference.

The real trick to saving more is to take your will power (or lack thereof ) out of the equation: Automate the process.

1. Max out your 401(k)

More than half of all eligible employees aren't taking full advantage of their company's 401(k) match. And a third haven't even signed up.

Keep it simple Don't let anxiety about choosing from the sometimes intimidating number of investment options keep you from signing up. Check out Resolution No. 2 for simple ways to put together the right mix of investments. You can always change your selections later.

Get all of the match Elect initially to contribute at least as much as your company requires to get the full employer match, which is usually between 3% and 6% of your salary.

Create your own plan If you don't have access to an employer-sponsored plan, create your own facsimile: Open a conventional IRA, Roth IRA or SEP-IRA and have your bank transfer a set amount into it every month from your checking account.

2. Ratchet up your savings

Try these painless ways to accelerate your savings.

Save half your raise Increase your contributions by half the amount of any salary bump you get (or, better yet, all of it). You'll increase your level of savings without cramping your lifestyle.

Sign up for auto-escalation This feature is becoming more common in 401(k)s: You sign up once, instructing your plan provider to automatically increase your savings rate by an amount you choose (usually between 1% and 3%) on the same day every year. No fuss, no bother.

Take baby steps Or bump up contributions yourself, starting with a percentage point or two. If you make $80,000, an extra 2% will add $1,600 in pretax dollars to your account by 2007, but you'll lose less than $25 from your weekly paycheck.

3. Look beyond retirement

You can apply the same principles of automated savings to other goals, such as building an emergency fund or saving up for your kids' tuition.

Automate everything Most major banks, brokerages and fund companies will allow you to set up automatic monthly cash transfers into a designated savings or investment account.

Match the vehicle to the goal For your emergency fund, use a safe, liquid vehicle like an online bank or a money-market fund. For mediumterm goals, look at short-term bond funds. To see how long it will take for your collective savings to hit seven figures, check out the Millionaire calculator.  Top of page

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