How to make $1 million dollars for retirement (without taking huge risks)

This is not a get rich quick scheme nor will I teach how you to cherry-pick individual stocks in the stock market, but I will show you some quick tips on how to properly invest and set your expectations.

Before you start focusing on retirement, you will need to make sure you have a solid foundation. You will want to make sure you have a solid budget in place, your debt is manageable and have established your emergency savings. Once all of those are complete, you are in a healthy financial situation to aggressively focus on retirement. 

Surveys show that 27% of Americans have less than $25,000 saved for retirement, while 46% say they didn’t know how much they had saved at all.  For those thinking about and planning for retirement, this article is for you. More specifically, it’s about the steps you can take to make $1 million for your retirement account. There’s nothing magical about the $1 million mark, it’s just a handy benchmark to use. Even if your circumstances mean that you can’t follow the exact steps in this article, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider them. They’re all things that anyone can do to improve their retirement account balance (without taking crazy risks).

Saving $1 million for retirement has something in common with dieting or getting up early. It’s all about mindset. If you don’t deeply want to do it and commit to it, it won’t happen.

There are research-backed ways to improve your mindset and commitment to a goal, especially a long-term one like this:

  • Commit publicly – this doesn’t mean putting in on social media. It means getting the commitment ‘out of your head’ and into the real world. This might mean writing it down and sticking in on your home office noticeboard or fridge. Or it might be sharing it with a partner. Committing to goals publicly helps you stay with them (and not forget).
  • Write down a plan – ‘save $1 million for retirement’ isn’t a plan, it’s a pretty big goal. You also need the ‘small steps’ that you can take on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis to get there. Of course, this will be different for everyone so it might help to talk to a financial planner to develop a realistic plan tailored to you.

Second: Start Investing

The best time to start saving for retirement was 10 years ago (or 20). But the second-best time? Today.

Of course, saving works better the longer you do it. But just because you haven’t started yet, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start now. Some numbers help show why that’s important. For all of these examples we’re going to pick a pretty ‘normal’ growth rate of 7% per year. That means in one year $1,000 turns into $1,070. Not that exciting right? You must keep in mind that your portfolio will grow on how comfortable you are with volatility.

But imagine you start at 30 years old. And you invest $600 in your retirement savings account at the end of each month. That’s $150 from each weekly paycheck. Guess what happens to that $600 a month if you keep at it until you’re 65? Give yourself a hand if you guessed: ‘it will be $1 million’. Amazing right? 

If you begin at age 40 instead (still earning 7% a year in your investment account) then you need to put away $1,300 each month to reach that same $1 million by age 65. 

And if you are lucky enough to read this at age 20? Well then, you only need to be putting away $300 a month to make your million by age 65. 

All these examples are meant to show one thing: the earlier you start, the better your results. And the earliest you can start after reading this is ‘tomorrow’.

The key is to invest as aggressively as you can handle. What that means is if on a scale from 1-5 the most volatility you would be comfortable with is a 4 (Moderately Aggressive), then we would keep it a 4 for as long as we could.

How your portfolio is invested matters too.

If it’s only in individual stock it could do one of 3 things; grow, lose money or do nothing. Only one of those three things is in your favor.

If it’s only in bonds it may not be growing enough for you.

If it’s in mutual funds and ETFs (our choice), you minimize the risk through diversification and can maximize the growth depending on how your portfolio is aligned.

Third: Find the Small Wins

There is one way you can specifically influence your retirement account: Invest what you can afford

Maybe you buy a coffee every day that costs $4. If you just cut that in half by purchasing an $8 tin of coffee that lasts you a month and a $20 coffee maker, you’ll already save $90 the first month and $110 every month thereafter. Find two of these small wins and you’re already making the lifestyle changes that will build great savings habits. 

We’re not saying ‘spend nothing and live a miserable life’. As a matter of fact, we build-in a “fun money expense” into our budget. We’re just saying that some pretty minor changes can add up to some big results down the line. Besides, if it was easy to save $1 million for retirement, then everyone would do it.

Fourth: Bank the Big Wins

If you get a tax refund, bonus, or a raise at work have a plan to ‘bank’ all (or at least half) of it to your retirement savings. If you were on-top of your bills before that money came in then you don’t ‘need’ to spend all of the money. Sometimes one thing can help you save without feeling like you’re saving or giving anything up. It’s a great habit to get into and helps boost your retirement savings.

Fifth: Leave Your Account Alone 

The biggest killer to most retirements is when a client sees they’ve saved up a lot of money and want to withdraw it for the purchase of a new vehicle, vacation or any other frivolous expense. If you have 15, 20, or 25 years until retirement you have to ensure that the money stays invested for as long as possible. There’s a theory that every dollar you take out of retirement 10 years prior is another hour you have to work in retirement. Why? Because of the growth you missed out on while that money could have been invested.

Many times your money would have been invested as aggressively as you could handle, allowing you to try and achieve the maximum growth you’re comfortable with. So if you combine, a portfolio trying to aggressively grow your funds and your withdrawals draining your portfolio it leads to your future-self having to work longer in order to pay for your expenses of today.

Of course, these are just some of the ideas you can put into place. The hardest part is figuring out what ideas will work for you given your financial circumstances like Social Security status, job, life expenses, children and medical bills. 

More Articles and Calculators to help your financial plan are available at

(About the author) Brandon Young is a licensed, independent financial planner and founder of Fulgent Wealth Management, an Arizona-based financial planning firm. Having been in the industry since 2010, he decided to establish his firm to make financial planning accessible to everyone, regardless of income or net-worth.