As a nurse, you spend most of your life taking care of others — but who’s going to take care of you when it’s time to retire? A Fidelity Investments Money FIT Nurses Study revealed that 56 percent of working nurses don’t feel confident when it comes to financial planning. The same study found that 41 percent of nurses who don’t have confidence about financial planning cite lack of time to focus on financial goals as the reason. Cultural differences and language barriers can further stand in the way of working nurses as they strive to save for the future.

It’s tough being a nurse because you’re pulled in different directions every day, but taking the time to put your financial ducks in a row for retirement will pay off big when it’s time to hang up your scrubs for good. Here’s how to get started or bolster your savings efforts while there’s still time.

Know the Lingo

There are several programs that can help you save for retirement. These include 401(k)s or 403(b)s in the case of tax-exempt workplaces, like hospitals; IRAs; and Flexible Spending Accounts. If you don’t know the difference, now’s the time to learn the language of personal financial planning.

IRAs, which stands for individual retirement accounts, are funded solely by you whereas 401(k)s are funded partially by you. Employers typically offer matching 401(k) plans. For example, if you elect to contribute 5 percent of your earnings to a 401(k), your employer may match that rate, netting you an extra 5 percent in savings for retirement. In 2017, you can contribute up to $18,000 to a 401(k) account if you’re under age 50. You get an extra $6,000 if you’re older than 50.

On a related note, think carefully about your health care needs in retirement, especially if you’re not quite ready for Medicare, which starts at age 65. A high-deductible health plan paired with a health savings account may help you keep monthly premiums low while allowing you to save for unexpected medical emergencies. Understanding the different benefits and drawbacks to retirement saving options can be confusing, so it’s wise to talk to a financial adviser about your choices before committing to just one plan.

Start Right Now

You don’t need to set aside thousands of dollars right away. Make small changes, and focus on simple, achievable steps so that you can reach big milestones later. Here are a few simple ways to improve your saving habits:

  • Start planning – today! Writing down your savings goals is the first step to implementing them.
  • Focus on eliminating debt – you can aim to get each credit card paid off individually, try transferring your balances to one card, or negotiate lower interest rates.
  • Cut back on unnecessary expenses – can you eliminate some small charges here and there, like a Netflix or Spotify subscription? Are you sure you’re getting the best deal on your cell phone bill? There’s more than one way to whittle down your monthly discretionary spending, so it can pay to get creative!

Nurses may tend to think less about their own future and more about the immediate needs of their families, such as paying tuition for adult children or taking care of elderly parents. However, you can’t take care of your loved ones if you don’t have any funds after you retire. Estimate how much you’ll need to live on comfortably once you stop working, and build a plan based on that figure.

Find a Support System

It’s critical to find a financial adviser who can guide you through this process. There’s no need to settle either. Seek out recommendations, do some digging and interview prospective advisers with the same scrutiny that you’d use to find a lawyer or doctor. A good financial planner will help you sort through your current finances, identify areas that need improvement, set up a solid retirement plan and answer your questions as you go. Look for advisers with the right credentials too, such as those certified by the Financial Planning Association.

Don’t let unfamiliarity about financial planning keep you from living the retirement life that you’ve earned. As a working nurse, it’s important to find a financial adviser who understands your unique needs and can get you on the right track. Start early, do your homework and be diligent about saving. Your post-retirement life will thank you!

Beth Kotz

Beth Kotz is a contributing writer to Credit.com. She specializes in covering financial advice for female entrepreneurs, college students and recent graduates. She earned a BA in Communications and Media from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, where she continues to live and work.

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