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How do you save for retirement when you are self-employed? Use the 10% rule

Steve Strauss

A recent survey by Paychex found that only 30% of small business owners felt even “somewhat confident” that they will be financially ready to retire at some point. The culprit? A lack of savings. Almost 3/4 of those surveyed said that simply being able to save more would ease their concern. 

The good news is that saving for retirement when you work for yourself is not that difficult. Really. I swear. The secret comes from a little book called The Richest Man in Babylon

The book tells the parable of Bansir and Arkad. Every year, no matter how hard he worked, Bansir never seemed to have enough money (sound familiar?) This was all the more frustrating given that his childhood friend Arkad had grown very wealthy, even though Arkad worked no harder than Bansir (sound familiar x2?) 

Bansir had to know what Arkad did differently, and so he asked his friend his secret. 

Arkad told Bansir that it was actually very simple. What he did was to pay himself first. That’s it. Before he paid his bills, before he bought food, paid rent, or anything else, Arkad socked away 10% of his income.  

“I found the road to wealth,” he said, “when I decided that a part of all I earned was mine to keep.” 

Yes, as a small business owner, saving money, especially for retirement, can seem challenging. Indeed, according to Forbes, 70% of the self-employed in America do not save regularly for retirement, and almost a quarter are not saving at all. 

The good news is that implementing the 10% rule is a lot easier than you think. 

One good way to start is simply by setting up an auto-transfer system with your bank, automatically transferring money out of your checking account and into your savings account every month. By doing this, the saving will hardly be noticeable and, equally importantly, you won’t be able to talk yourself out of it. 

Another strategy that works for some people is to find a “finance accountability partner.” The idea here is to have someone to whom you are accountable every month for making, hitting, and sharing your financial goals. In turn, you do the same for them. Being accountable to someone besides yourself works.   

The next step in this process is the fun stuff. Once you have nailed down, through whatever means necessary, a way to save, then you need to figure out which sort of retirement plan is best for you to invest in. 

Here are some options for “qualified plans” in order of ease of implementation (qualified meaning that they must meet IRS standards, and contributions can be made on a pre-tax basis).  However, keep in mind that some of the more complex plans may offer more flexibility which can mean bigger benefits long-term.   

• Simple IRA: An Individual Retirement Account is quite easy to set up and requires little paper work.   

• SEP IRA: A Simplified Employee Pension Plan, or SEP IRA, is also easy to create and maintain. SEP IRAs allow higher contribution levels than Simple IRAs. 

• Solo 401(k) Plan: This 401(k) plan works just like a 401(k) that you would have if you worked for someone else, except that, as both the employee and the employer, you can potentially contribute more than you could if you were just an employee.    

• Annuities: An annuity is an investment that converts your contributions into periodic payments that can last for life.  

The thing to remember is that advice that Arkad gave to Bansir: Pay yourself first. If you do, you might just become the richest person in Babylon too.

Steve Strauss is an attorney, popular speaker, and the bestselling author of 17 books, including The Small Business Bible. You can learn more about Steve at MrAllBiz.com, get even more tips at his site TheSelfEmployed, and connect with him on Twitter at @SteveStrauss and on Facebook at TheSelfEmployed.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How do you save for retirement when you are self-employed? Use the 10% rule