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How to Grow A Strong 401K For Your Retirement

I've always been amazed with roses. Compared to other flowers they're brighter, more colorful and stay around longer.

I learned later on that it takes four crucial elements for a rose to grow. These same elements are essential for growing a strong 401K. Like roses and redwoods, a 401K needs strong roots if it has a chance to survive.

Here are 4 key ingredients for growing a strong 401K for your retirement.

Key Element #1: Time

Imagine dropping some rose seeds into the ground, covering them up with dirt and then expecting a bed of roses over night. Forget it, because it ain't gonna happen! If you want your 401K to grow into the financial monster you'll need, give it time to grow. The best evidence of this is the power of compound interest.

When you owe interest on your credit card, it compounds each month. A $100 credit car bill can become a $132 bill 30 days later. That $32 is leaving your pocket and going to the credit card companies. This is compound interest working against you. But if you're investing $100 a month in your 401K, each month that interest is working for you.

I'll never forget the first time I saw my 401K statement. At the time the $50 a month I was investing didn't seem like much. But with a 50% employee match, that $50 quickly turned into $3,000 6-8 months later! If you continue to give your 401K time to grow, you could be looking at a six or seven figure retirement next egg!

Key Element #2: Regular Deposits

From roses to daisies flowers need water to hit the seeds. If there's no water there's no growth. If you're not making regular deposits into your 401K or IRA, it won't grow very fast. Here's a good rule of thumb. When you first start investing into your 401K at work, go with 3%. A year later you should move up to 5%. You may want to set a goal of investing 10% of your paycheck a month, 1-2 years after that. Most employers will match up to 50% of your investment. Here's what can happen when you steadily "water" your 401K.

One of the best things about a 401K is that you don't have to be rich to make it grow. Look at what can happen if you make only $35,000 a year.

Let's say you decide to work 20 years for your employer. And you get zealous and invest 10% of your monthly income. You start out with a 401K balance of only $500. Now we'll throw in a salary increase of 3% a year, employer frequency match of 6% and a rate of return of 9%.

At the end of your first year you'll have $5,237.13 socked away for retirement. If that doesn't make you smell the roses, let's fast forward to 20 years later. If you stay diligent and keep watering, you're looking at $299,837.38! Not bad for some time in the old 401K garden.

Keep in mind this is if you don't get creative. You can be as conservative or aggressive as you want with your 401K.

If you're more conservative, go with a 5% contribution. At the end of the first year, you'll have $3,241.06. At the end of year 20, $173,476.54! When you combine time with "watering", your 401K will grow into the strong fund you want it to become.

Key Element #3: Expertise

Unless you're a financial wizard with an MBA in finance, let me make a suggestion. Enlist the services of a Financial Planner. Anyone who wants to become a master gardener should learn from one. Treating your personal finances like a hobby is a quick way to retirement poverty! A Financial Planner can show you where to invest percentages of your 401K. Sectors like healthcare, energy and defense normally do well in down economies. Allow them to help you cultivate your 401K. It will grow properly over time.

Key Element #4: Patience

If there was ever a word folks don't like its patience. I hate waiting. How about you? This is no different when it comes to our money. I want my 401K to grow fast. But that's not always possible. The markets have moved up and down over the past year. At last count 401K's have lost 20% of their value. That's tough to take when we're talking about your retirement income! But patience is a powerful equalizer. Stick to your plan and be patient. Financial collapses pass. New investment opportunities are out there. If you use patience instead of blind emotion your 401K will rebound.

Practice using these 4 key elements no matter what the economy does. When you do your 401K will grow. During retirement you'll have money strong enough to sustain you!

Clyde McDade is a Financial Copywriter. He can be reached at

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