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How To Start A Retirement Fund From Nothing

I am 43 years old and I have exactly $0.00 in savings. 

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Need help saving for retirement? Well, here it is — from AARP. Invest in your financial independence at

I am 43 years old and I have exactly $0.00 in savings. No retirement. No money set aside for emergencies — not even a credit card to swipe when all else fails. Just me and my not-so-glamorous paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle. Being a single mom with three kids is financially tough; living paycheck to paycheck is often a stressful, daily struggle.    

Add midlife thoughts of retirement to the mix and the anxiety kicks into high gear. I always imagined husband number 2 would come along with a hefty retirement fund and share the wealth. That hasn’t happened (yet), and so it’s time for me to face the music and make a plan. But where to start? Is it even possible for someone in my position — without two dimes to rub together — to somehow prepare for (read: start saving for) retirement?   

Overwhelmed by the mere thought of it all, I reached out to two experts in hopes they could break it all down for me into tiny, manageable and realistic steps. Here is what they had to say.  

Don’t panic

Panic is just about all I have done when it comes to retirement, so this piece of advice truly hits home. Is it easy to execute? Nope, not at all. But Carey’s words sure do help and I just may have to read them over and over and over again. Carey is financial analyst Doug Carey, owner and founder of WealthTrace, a financial and retirement-planning software company, and he assured me that he has “helped many people that have found themselves in this situation.” The first thing he tells them is, “Don’t panic. You still have time to save money and prepare for retirement.” OK, Doug, I will take your word for it. There is still time. Now … take deep breaths in and out, relax and move on to the next step.   

Track your spending 

I’ve tended to follow the philosophy of ignorance is bliss when it comes to my spending habits, but as it turns out I need to take a close, hard look at my spending. Andrea Woroch, money-saving expert and author, says, “Before you can even make a plan to saving toward retirement and try to catch up, you have to figure out where you stand financially and where your money is going.” If this task alone feels daunting, you can enlist the help of an app or software, such as Mint, which “links all your financial accounts in one place so you can get a snapshot of your spending and saving habits,” says Woroch. Other apps to track spending include Checkbook and Spending Tracker.

The other option is to simply record all of your spending in a journal for a few weeks. Don’t underestimate the importance of this step. “You can’t change what you can’t see, so this is a very important first step to identifying the problem that is keeping you from saving, and [then] changing it,” says Woroch.

Reduce living expenses

Now that you know exactly where your money is going, it’s time to determine if there are any areas of spending that can be reduced. Note to self: This is a good time to be brutally honest — Do I really need that $3.65 coffee every day? The ultimate goal is to find money (even just a few dollars here and there) to put toward retirement. Woroch assures me that this can be done “without sacrificing your lifestyle.” Where to start? Check your memberships like Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, etc. These are costs that add up easily, and chances are you have some that can be cut out altogether. Woroch suggests “comparing rates with competitors to help save on essentials, and shopping around for Wi-Fi and cell phone plans, too.” If all else fails, make your coffee at home and skip the morning drive-through. Even just a few dollars a day adds up!  

Increase income 

There has never been a better time to pursue a side hustle! “There’s only so much you can do to trim your budget before you bottom out, so think about what you can do to make more money,” Woroch says. If you can incorporate your passions and interests into a side gig, it may feel more like a hobby than a second job! She suggests virtual tutoring or pet-sitting; if you are the creative type, you can open an Etsy shop. You can even freelance your professional skills via platforms such as Fiverr or Toptal

“There are so many options to boost your budget and give you wiggle room to start saving toward retirement,” Woroch says. Make a plan and have fun with it!   

Save, save, save 

Whether you reduce living expenses or increase income, once you have created a pathway to set aside some money, it is important to simply put it away — “out of sight, out of mind” is the way to do it, says Woroch. There are lots of options for how and where to put your money, like “a Roth IRA in which you can make additional after-tax contributions (but these won’t be taxed when you take them out and there are no penalties for early withdrawal in the event you need some cash for an emergency, so there’s less risk with this option). Or, sign up for your employer-sponsored 401k plan ASAP and contribute at least up to the amount of any company match offered, since that’s free money.” If you aren’t sure which method of saving is the best for your needs, consult a professional financial adviser or budgeting expert.

One final piece of advice from Woroch is to “prioritize retirement over college savings. Even though is seems selfish, it’s actually the opposite! Your kids can take a loan out for school, but you can’t for retirement. And, your kids will appreciate that they won’t have to care for you financially later in life. So prioritize retirement savings over college savings!”

The important thing for this overwhelmed paycheck-to-paycheck mom to remember is that baby steps are still steps. They produce forward motion, and I must start taking them — even though the road looks long and treacherous. Tomorrow, I shall start my day with Folgers and watch $0.00 become $3.65!