5 Best Ways to Save for Retirement in Your 40s

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Mid-life couple sitting down and planning retirement
Image Credit: Dreamstime

Wondering about the best way to save for retirement in your 40s? Mid-life is a crucial point in any saver’s timeline. While you don’t necessarily have time on your side like you did in your 20s, you still have enough time to put together a plan to retire comfortably.

How to Save for Retirement in Your 40s

We all know we should save throughout our working lifetimes. But many of us just don’t get around to it.

“It can be easy to build some level of comfort and security into later life if you’ll just start saving early,” money expert Clark Howard says. “But most people don’t start thinking about saving until they hit 40. If that’s you, it’s never too late to start saving.”

With a little planning, you still have time to squirrel away a sizeable nest egg — and we’re going to show you how!

Table of Contents

  1. Start With a Budget
  2. Pick Up the Full Retirement Match at Work
  3. Build a Rainy Day Account
  4. Focus on Paying Down Your Debt
  5. Consider a 15-Year Mortgage

1. Start With a Budget

For most people, you can’t even begin to start thinking about saving until you free up some money in your life. That’s where a budget comes in.

“Budget” doesn’t have to be a scary word. Sometimes people are put off by the idea of budgeting because they don’t know how to get started.

While there are a lot of approaches to budgeting, there are two in particular we return to again and again here on Clark.com:

  1. The CLARK method
  2. The envelope method

The CLARK method is our own budgeting plan developed in-house by members of Team Clark. It’s easy to follow because we want people to be able to stick to it. And you’re one click away from the free worksheet that will help you get started!

Meanwhile, the envelope method is a time-tested traditional approach to budgeting that you may already be aware of. But we’ll make it easy for you to get started with this approach, too!

2. Pick Up the Full Retirement Match at Work

Chances are you’re already participating in the retirement savings plan at work — and you may not even know it!

That’s because most employers will automatically default you into some level of contribution. The only way to get out of it is to specifically take steps to opt out of the plan. Which you would never do, right?

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Furthermore, some employers even offer a company match when you contribute to your 401(k) or Roth 401(k). We’ve got a full explanation of the similarities and difference of both investment choices here.

If your employer is generous like this, you want to be sure you’re contributing at least the minimum to pick up the full match. Otherwise, you’re leaving free money on the table!


Note: If you have children, you may wonder whether saving for their college education should take a higher priority than saving for your own retirement.

Scholarships, grants, in-state tuition, community college and working during school can help your son or daughter deal with the cost of education. But you don’t have any of those options for your later life. The only one who can make retirement happen for you is you!

That’s led Clark to make a pretty bold pronouncement over the years:

“Do not save a penny for your child’s college education until you fully fund your own retirement,” he says. “There are no scholarship plans for your golden years!”


Finally, when you want to save for retirement in your 40s, you should also invest outside of the workplace. That often involves a tax-free account called a Roth IRA that’s available to most people.

We’ve got a complete explanation of how the Roth IRA works here.

3. Build a Rainy Day Account

We all know that life happens and things can get in the way of your savings plans. Maybe that’s been the story of your life up until now.

That’s why it’s so important to have an emergency savings account. With an emergency fund, you won’t have to halt your efforts to save for retirement in your 40s each time you see the dark clouds of a rainy day approaching.

Clark recommends you have between three to six months of living expenses stored in your emergency fund to deal with bumps and bruises of life.

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“It’s not what somebody makes, it’s what it costs them to live each month,” he says. “I don’t want somebody to be overwhelmed by [the three to six month number]. I want them to gradually build up the money for living expenses.”

The key thing with your emergency savings is you want to keep the money liquid for when you need it on a moment’s notice. And you also want to earn a high rate of interest on the money to achieve compound growth.

Fortunately, there are so many places you can stash cash today. For example, there are a variety of online banks and fintech startups that pay a high rate of interest.

In fact, it’s not uncommon right now to earn at least 2% APY on your savings with these players versus the 0.09% or whatever paltry number you see with the traditional banks. You just have to look in the right places, which our guide to the best online banks will help you do.

4. Focus on Paying Down Your Debt

Are you still paying high interest rates on a credit card? Now is a great time to get a lower interest card and do a balance transfer. Generally, you’ll need a FICO credit score of around 720 to get the best balance transfer offers. Be sure to read our article 6 Steps to Pay Off Debt With a Credit Card Balance Transfer before doing this.

Reducing your debt today is one surefire way to get on the path to retirement tomorrow. If you’re carrying a lot of debt right now, you have at least one thing to be thankful for: With interest rates so low compared to what they have been in the past, what you’re paying each month to service that debt is very favorable. Take advantage of this unique moment in American history and keep reducing your debt.

5. Consider a 15-Year Mortgage

Particularly if you’re around 45 or older, Clark Howard recommends looking at a 15-year mortgage instead of a 30-year one when you’re buying or refinancing a home.

“I know it might mean you have to buy a little bit smaller home to be able to afford the monthly payment on a 15-year loan if you’re in your mid-40s or later,” Clark says, “but the benefit to your wallet and your financial security will be extraordinary.”

You can read more of Clark’s thoughts on this topic in our article Should I Take Out a 15-Year Mortgage Instead of a 30-Year Loan?

Just know this: The short-term sacrifice of a higher monthly payment on a 15-year loan will put you in good shape down the road. That’s because the latest research shows most happy retirees go into retirement either mortgage-free or with a five-year time horizon of wiping out their mortgage debt.

Final Thought

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been saving all along or you’re just getting started saving for retirement in your 40s. Either way, you can still have a nice retirement if you just have a plan and stay focused on it.

Not sure how to get started saving for your retirement? We’ve got a simple guide to How to Start Investing and Saving for Retirement that you’ll want to see.

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We know saving for retirement can seem overwhelming at times. That’s why if you’ve got more questions we didn’t cover, you might think about calling our Consumer Action Center.

We have a FREE help line open Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m and Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. EST with volunteers available to answer YOUR concerns! Call Team Clark @ 404-892-8227.

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