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Oops! I Forgot to Save for Retirement!

Here at The Motley Fool, we talk a lot about how to become wealthy, how to stay that way, and how to provide for your golden years. But awhile back, I took a different tack, and jotted down a few thoughts on how you might instead -- should you be so inclined -- ruin your retirement.

Judging from the number of recommendations, this column was pretty well received. But one comment from a reader really grabbed my attention: charukjamie noted that "there are so many of us that did start late in investing, why don't you do more stories on ways to help us 50 and over. ... What about people with less time before retirement? Thanks. Let's hear it."

And I have to tell you, folks -- that comment really got me to thinking. Personally, I've been saving for retirement since my first job stocking shelves at the local "Super Thrift" (an aptly named supermarket in retrospect) at age 16. But what if I hadn't? What if the thought of saving for retirement just plumb slipped my mind, and I was sitting here, staring at a computer screen at, say, age 55, wondering what in heaven's name I am to do?

Why age 55?
Hint: I didn't pick the number out of a hat. The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) recently polled soon-to-be-retirees age 55 and older, and learned that 30% of them had less than $10,000 tucked away for retirement. Nearly half have less than $50,000. Across the workforce, fewer than one in eight Americans is "very confident" that they've saved enough to retire well.

Considering the size of the problem, I agree with charukjamie that it's high time someone laid out a roadmap for those 55 and older. A plan for how to get from "here" to "there" with enough money laid away to enjoy the arrival. So who wants to give it a whirl?

No volunteers? OK, then I'll do it.
A few weeks back, I described one method of ensuring a comfortable retirement. Putting myself in the shoes of an average 55-year-old retiree, I demonstrated how postponing retirement by just a few years could dramatically increase your Social Security check once you do retire. I won't beat a dead horse by going into detail here; the upshot is this:

If you can postpone retirement from the "early" age of 62 to a hypothetical 70, you can:

  • nearly double your annual payout from SSA, netting as much as $120,000 in "bonus cash" from the government over your lifetime,
  • still collect at least as much money from SSA over the course of your lifetime, as you would have if you retired at age 62 (and perhaps a whole lot more),
  • and to top it all off, use the eight additional years in the workforce to shore up your finances.

The roadmap
How do you do it? Well for starters, you'll be collecting a paycheck for those eight years. If you make, say, $60K a year, that would give you $480,000 in extra income to work with. By postponing R-Day, you've brought yourself nearly half a million closer to ensuring you can afford to retire. You've also pushed back the day of reckoning from seven years to 15.

T minus 15 years and counting
Now you need to make the most of the extra money -- and the extra time. According to the Associated Press, Americans are saving 6.9% of their income on average these days. That's a good start. On a $60,000 salary, it works out to $4,140 a year. But if you've fallen behind on your saving efforts in the past, it still might not cut it. You're in the home stretch now, and need to kick your saving into hi-gear. Can you do 10.9%? 15.9%?

Saving 15.9% ($9,540) a year works out to just $795 a month -- probably less than your mortgage. It's almost certainly less than you shelled out for the kids when they were partying it up in college. Don't you deserve to spend at least as much on yourself?

"Yeah, but money's kinda tight right now ..."
I understand. But it's going to get a whole lot tighter when you reach retirement age and find yourself penniless and dependent upon the kindness of bureaucrats. Plus, saving that extra dough may be easier than you think.

For example, "saving" $795 for tomorrow doesn't mean spending $795 less today. When you put money away in an employer-sponsored, tax-deductible retirement plan such as a 401(k), every dollar you deposit reduces your income tax. If you are in the 25% tax bracket, then "saving" $795 for tomorrow actually only costs you about $600 today.

Or even less!
Speaking of 401(k)s, many employers will match the contributions you make to your account. Basically, they give you "free money" to encourage you to save. A 3% match is pretty standard, and on a $60,000 salary, that's another $150 a month that you don't pay, yet can "save" anyway. Result: Saving $795 a month could cost you as little as $450 out-of-pocket.

And if you're still not convinced, then let me give you a final nudge: If you can tuck away $795 a month, and do so diligently over the full 15 years between now and age 70, you should be able to top off your nest egg with another $345,054 -- and even assuming a 3% inflation rate, that's still a cool $258,246 in post-inflation, 2009 dollars.

This is also assuming you earn the average annual rate of return for the S&P 500 -- 10.5%. If you invest in individual stocks, the occasional bad pick ...


Decline from its 52 week high

Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  )


ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  )


PotashCorp (NYSE: POT  )


...could reduce your returns. On the other hand, a handful of high-quality, high-performance stocks such as...


Rise from its 52-week low

Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  )

158%  (Nasdaq: NTES  )


Whole Foods (Nasdaq: WFMI  )


Transocean (NYSE: RIG  )


... could give your portfolio a mighty boost. (Incidentally, the first three of these high performers are recommendations of various Motley Fool newsletters.)

The Foolish takeaway
So let's sum up. Ten minutes ago, before reading this column, you were age 55, and staring at a retirement just seven years away. Now, for an extra eight years in the work force, you can increase your nest egg by:

  • Postponing retirement to take full advantage of the Social Security Administration's payout formulas -- $120,000 extra.
  • Working eight more years to earn a salary -- adding whatever you can save out of $480,000.
  • Investing well enough to earn an additional $260,000.

How's that for a plan?

Of course, if you could use more help in planning your retirement, the friendly Fools over at Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement will be glad to help out. Why, they're even offering free trials of the service right now -- and you can claim one at the touch of a button. It doesn't get any easier than that.

Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any company mentioned in this article, but as mentioned above, is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection, while both Netflix and Whole Foods Market are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (25) | Recommend This Article (30)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2009, at 4:17 PM, bud357mag wrote:

    My friend,you play fast and loose with your opinions.You assume way to much to be effictive in this forum. just a note POT has been a rec in the past by TMF as has NFLX

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2009, at 4:24 PM, beachlaw wrote:

    You failed to mention the ancillary social benefits of remaining actively involved with others through a job that many people miss upon retirement.

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2009, at 6:20 PM, barrymac1945 wrote:

    In 2005 at age 60, I looked up from my computer and said,"Wow you can't retire." What was I doing? Getting married at 38 for the first time. Child at 40, another at 43, another at 46. Yes, they are all still at home with dear old dad. And, I love it! But, that won't pay the bills when I retire.

    "Oops, I forgot to save for my retirement", gives me some hope. I have already learn about the Stock Market at a cost of about $15,000. The best investment I ever made. The second best investment has been the Motley Fool Pro.

    Retirement will be late just like marriage, but with some encouraging words and good advice, I will make it.

    Not discouraged,


  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2009, at 8:14 PM, jerryguru69 wrote:

    Sadly, some of us Fools actually did save for retirement, but met with a few financial setbacks. Your advice is very timely for far too many. I have some of personal advice from my own situation.

    Become a cheapskate as much as possible. Sacrifice your current standard of living and cut back to the same level you plan to have when you retire; pretend that you are on a small, fixed-income. Vacation becomes a day at the beach, a hot fudge sundae for dinner, and a 3-D movie becomes your vacation, not a 7 day cruise to the Mexican Riviera. This should increase your yearly savings. Take the Saving and Spending advice in the Personal Finance section seriously.

    Remember that when you do start to save, there are some catch-up IRA provisions, this will reduce your tax bill and you will save even more.

    Stop buying new cars. This is the biggest waste of money that too many people commit.

    Give up your plans to "retire". Accept the fact that you will have to work part-time for the rest of your life, until the day they force you into a nursing home.

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2009, at 11:37 PM, davelawsonhome wrote:

    I am too, approaching 52 years of age. I have been purchasing dividend paying stocks in the past 2 years. In the past ten years with the dot bomb of 2000 and the most recent DJ collapse I am nearly even in the past 10 years! With one exception, the dividend paying stock I had in the late 80's, which I still have. I have made more money in dividends in the past 12 months than I did in the previous 10 years.

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2009, at 11:38 PM, davelawsonhome wrote:

    I am too, approaching 52 years of age. I have been purchasing dividend paying stocks in the past 2 years. In the past ten years with the dot bomb of 2000 and the most recent DJ collapse I am nearly even in the past 10 years! With one exception, the dividend paying stock I had in the late 80's, which I still have. I have made more money in dividends in the past 12 months than I did in the previous 10 years.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 1:11 AM, thisislabor wrote:

    hey truth, i hate to break some reality to you buddy, cause I have heard your story before.

    but when SS goes broke sometime in the next 7-12 years they are going to start doing means based testing on who gets what and how much of SS payments.

    in english because you have been doing the right thing and paying off your debts (which sounds to me like you got screwed) and saving your money, it means you now have financial means. those with the means will be the first to get their social security checks cut.

    at least that is just this foolish 24yo guess.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 1:21 AM, thisislabor wrote:

    I do a little tax preparation and general retirement planning and advice when I work (I am by no means a financial advisor though so take my words with a grain of salt)....

    I will leave the financial recommendations to the Foolish pros.

    but let me ask a question to them, WHY are you not starting from how long they will live working backwards?

    this is like the most important question to ask? how long you will live, and how well you want to live, dictates how much money a person will need.

    genetic factors play a huge role here.

    but things I would recommend to you:

    watch your health first and foremost. work at staying healthy. dentist check ups at least 2x a year.

    - work at staying healthy.

    get your sleep, all 8 hours of it. maybe get ear plugs?

    get your exercise.

    when you retire you and your new woman are going to have a big "culture shock" about how to deal with each other being around each other 16 hours a day. when you retire you are each going have your regular patterns you are use to, and then you are going to find someone in your hair all day added to that pattern. You will need some activities to do or daily plans that will keep you two from being each other's hair all day long.

    and remember to work at staying healthy.

    also, you guys may want to consider getting some younger friends then your age group right now.... develop em before your current groups will die off over next 15 years. or else you will both old and without friends. - im serious.

    oh yeah did I mention work at staying healthy?

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 1:28 AM, thisislabor wrote:

    btw, im not so sure I agree with that work tell 70 thing.

    I mean yes, I do. sure one can work forever when starting at 55 or 25 like in my case. but you are making the assumption that they will be healthy enough to do so. that is like making the inheritance assumption. that they will receive this big inheritance to retire on.

    perhaps maybe, but not necessarily. as time goes on the risk of losing one's health, or one's job increases. as your gets older your risk of not being rehired in same job field at same pay rate goes up too. so fight for the job you have and dont just quit unless if you for sure have one in the bad already elsewhere. I have seen lots of people in this age bracket lose their jobs and not be able to find one at same pay elsewhere or in same field even.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 1:53 AM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    thisislabor, from what i know, the receipts to expenditures deficits in the social security program will happen as soon as next year. how can they fix this without means testing and/raising the amount of income subject to it, or raising age of people getting it?

    it was always a ponzi scheme. well, they told you it was insurance but it was always a ponzi scheme.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 2:05 AM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    truth, i don't think you are wrong for buying utility stocks with a good dividend, they are a regulated monopoly, hard to lose, just hard to gain much.

    maybe better to buy equities that are undervalued, not weird penny stock sh*t, just solid companies.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 8:04 AM, quietjohn wrote:

    There is a group of us that not only got the "I can't retire" wake-up call at the same time we were kicked out the door so our employers could hold on to younger, cheaper workers.

    So, I add one more thought to the list: Create your own job!

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 8:35 AM, Huayra wrote:

    Saving for retirement, or anything for that matter, is only difficult when you don't give yourself enough time to achieve that goal.

    A very good starting point is to buy your own house/appartment when you're 25-35, just make sure you take all related costs into account & don't go beyond 35-40% of net montly income on mortgage related costs on interest and investments to pay of the mortgage.

    If you do that you will have enough monthly savings to save for a car, motorcycle, vacations, furniture, etc, etc.

    This idea that next to a mortgage, it is normal to also have car payments, creditcards, personal loans is really a concept which doesn't show adequate fiscal responsibility when it comes to personal finances.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 8:45 AM, thisislabor wrote:


    the SS system to my understanding actually DID start off as a Ponzi scheme for the first 3 or 4 generations or so. as we slowly move to 2 kids per couple, the SS system slowly becomes a "generational wealth transfer system". or more like gaurunteed retirement insurance. and because it is MANDATED by every single US citizen, it is actually not quite the same as a ponzi scheme anymore... only because no one can get out of it.

    the SS fund actually runs dry every single year. every dollar that comes in every year goes out. in the past more has been coming in then has been set to be going out.

    so in theory there should be a very large slush fund to start taking from.

    not the case.

    with excess funds that have been coming in for last X number of years congress has been sending it out the door in forms of government loans. these loans have been used to help pay for wars and local government debts and bonds.

    that means this trillion dollar slush fund is actually at zero, because it is all out on loan to the government. actual cash value = 0. actual asset value = several trillion... in the form of government bonds to be repaid back into the fund.

    these debt obligations to the SS fund will now HAVE to be repaid back because now the fund will be bringing in less than the total amount of payments to be paid out every single year.

    and as the number of people who are in the 60+ bracket decide to retire instead of job hunt even more SS funds will be drawn off. and as the unemployment rate goes up the total amount of annual proceeds to SS fund will go down.

    this means the cost of borrowing money for your local governments is going to go through the frieking roof over next 1 - 5 years. and probably stay high for the next 6 - 12 years because of other debts out side the SS fund.

    you will see interest rates soar, or massive inflation. probably both.

    this time around I'm betting money you wont see as much foreign dollars buying up US debt obligations for the interest payments... mainly because the foreigner's economies are even more screwed up then ours and they wont have money to buy debt obligations with.

    long story short finding trillions of dollars on the open market to renew these government debts to SS fund (which is what they will have to do, because there is no way they will be able to repay them... which also means the local governments will start DEFAULTING on their gov. bonds, and price of currently issued bonds will go down) the bond market on gov and municipality bonds interest rates will go through the roof over the next few years.

    I dont really understand it all that well. I'm not a CFA, but since the motley fool writers know more about money then I ever will they could take the time to research it a little and explain it a little better (and the investing opportunities there of) to the rest of.

    I personally think finding some cash to buy these high interest rate yielding bonds might be a good thing. then again.... they might all end just defaulting nonetheless.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 8:52 AM, ShadoRydr wrote:

    Part of the problem, and reason, people may not have been saving for retirement, is not everyone makes 60k+ per year. I for one have never made that much.

    Not that you can't save no matter what your income, but a higher income certainly makes it easier. Many times I read the articles here, or in other business journals, or questions to the finance adviser in papers, and all the questions/answers are geared toward degree'd individuals who make darn good money.

    It's a lot harder to save,. when you only make 20, 30 40k a year, or less.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 8:54 AM, thisislabor wrote:

    as an acknowledgement to the actual article though, I gotta agree with the author on trying to come up with an extra 200k or so.

    If you can do that you can generally I think earn around 5% or so in dividends and interest payments. between that and SS payments you should be OK.

    that is not the same as well off. but it should cover food and rent. I would just guess though. that is advice i generally give to my clients who ask.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 8:59 AM, thisislabor wrote:


    for what it's worth, I don't think they will completely cut out SS payments for nearly anyone.

    but I do have a feeling they will end up being more like only 60% or 50% of what they say they are suppose to be in 10 years from now.

    much closer to just above or just below minimum wage... probably for almost everyone.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 12:31 PM, ET69 wrote:

    To Truth Isn't Stupid,

    Man you got heart. you are O.K. with me. One suggestion. You might consider retiring in a third world country and then you could retire on the beautiful beach. Good luck fron Seattle!

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 1:26 PM, docmjr1 wrote:

    The only problem I have with the most popular solution to not having enough for retirement, ie to work longer, makes some assumptions that are not necessarily valid. First, in this business environment there are plenty of people that don't have the opportunity to work at all no less the opportunity to work longer or even part time. No matter what age they are. Second, there are plenty of people whose health begins to interfere with their ability to be productive as they get older and often times this is through no fault of their own. Stuff happens. Third, there are plenty of older workers who have been "rode hard and put away wet" that can no longer keep up the pace that business demands.....or at least find it very much more difficult than they did when they were younger.

    Personally, I've worked more 12 hours days and weekends than I care to remember and I'm looking forward to the time when I no longer have to do this - not to more years of the same. Not whining. It's the natural progression of things for most of us when we get older.....and continuing to work long and hard isn't often high on that bucket list for many older workers.

    On another note: saving is incredibly important. Obvious and no argument there. But what you do with those savings is equally important. Retirement is all about cash flow. Dividends, dividends, dividends. Secure ones that increase with time with said increases beating inflation.

    Again and again and again. Also, let those dividends beget dividends as long as possible. If you haven't started already, start doing this now! No matter what your age. And let the Fool help you find the companies that are really good at this.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 4:31 PM, ET69 wrote:

    To Truth Isn't Stupid,

    Take your girlfriend with ya and just in case it doesn't last forever believe me if you move to a poor country to retire and you have ANY money ...then somehow you will find a girlfriend or she will find you!

    I am wondering what countries people would pick at this point. For me it would be the Ukraine or Burma.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2009, at 10:32 PM, foolishlymeek wrote:

    Rich, you have some good ideas, but I'm afraid that you, like many politicians, are not living in the world of the "average" man. I grew up very poor. From this experience, I learned to save money long before it was in style. My mother always bought winter coats at the end of the season, food when it was on sale, and Christmas presents all year long. We lived in a "trailer" (60' x 10' or 600 square feet for five people). We didn't have a car.

    Yet my mother and stepfather now have about $1 million in savings. They did it little by little - with $4,000 a year in an IRA. I, at 50, have about $1/4 million - but I still don't feel safe about retirement.

    So some pointers from me - a cheapskate who has had some set backs like others (unemployment, losses in the stock market, etc.):

    1. Save a little at a time. Even if you do not have a 401(K) plan at work, open a Roth IRA. You are allowed to save $5,000 ($6,000 if you are 50 or over) a year. You pay taxes now, but nothing on profits when you pull the money out.

    2. Invest in dividend-paying stocks. Historically, dividend-paying stocks have out-performed non-dividend-paying stocks. In addition, it's wonderful to see those dollars trickle in every quarter.

    3. Keep expenses down on your investments. I use Sharebuilder. I can buy 12 or more stocks a month at $1 a trade. Or I can buy one stock for $4. Also, TIAA-CREF (a retirement firm originally for university and government workers) has some great no-load, loww expense mutual funds. I have $25 a month deducted from my checking account each month for the mutual funds. Also, ING has a fair savings account called an Orange Account. They pay a bigger interest rate than most banks (1.3% right now), the money is insured by the FDIC, and you can get the money within 3 days. I also have $25 a month deducted from checking for my Orange Account.

    4. Invest automatically. It's amazing how little I miss the $25 dollar deductions from my checking account - even when I've been unemployed. Yet, seeing that I know have over $9,000 in my Orange Account brings a smile. I started saving $25 a month in 1999 and have taken out $2,000 for car repairs. It's a nice little amount for emergencies.

    5. Live beneath your means. David Bach wrote a book, "Start Late, Finish Rich," for those of us over 50 who have not been saving since 16, don't have a pension plan, and don't expect an inheritance! He mentions you "latte factor." What are you spending a few dollars a day on that you could - or need to - give up? The Starbucks coffee? Going out to lunch? New shoes every few months? Paying someone else to clean your house or mow the lawn. You may not want to give these items up, but saving (or spending) a few dollars a day can add up fast (see Number 4 above).

    I also agree that you should max out a 401(k) plan, work as long as you can or want, and put as much money as you can into a Roth IRA. Unfortunately, many Americans do not have a pension plan, medical insurance, excellent health, or a full-time job! Little, diligent steps can make a big difference in just a few years!

  • Report this Comment On October 08, 2009, at 12:05 AM, TMFDitty wrote:


    Excellent points. Thanks for sharing.


  • Report this Comment On October 09, 2009, at 5:35 PM, GreenPSFool wrote:

    The one additional method I did not see is to start living NOW on the amount of monthly income you expect to have when you retire. Two things usually happen: 1. you find out that it is impossible to live on that level of income and get a reality check on what you will actually need, and 2. you get a great motivation to start saving more and cutting back on frivolous expenses.

    If you are 5 - 10 years from retirement and the kids have grown and left home, now is the time to downsize your lifestyle to upsize your retirement. As soon as the real estate market comes back, sell the house that held all the kids and now just holds you and your spouse. Downsize to a smaller home and pop the extra saved into the retirement vehicles outlined above, the more years until retirement, the more this will add to your bottom line. Or you can plow the money saved back in to your new mortgage, pay it off in 5 years, save thousands in interest payments, and have an asset free and clear in case you need to do a reverse mortgage to supplement your eventual retirement.

  • Report this Comment On October 13, 2009, at 11:23 PM, foolishlymeek wrote:

    Thanks, TMFDitty! I've been a subscribing member of The Motley Fool since 2001. A lot of my knowledge of saving comes from life. About 95% of my knowledge of stocks and investing comes from TMF!

    The "expected" route for people blue collar people (me!) in my town was to work at the local university. I worked there from 1977-1979 right out of high school. Then I went to college for a degree in accounting. I was "smart" - getting out of the normal blue collar routine and getting a degree. Now friends from high school are retiring at 50 - after 32 years working for the state - with pension plans and health benefits. So - what was the "smart" route?? In 1977 who knew how much would change? Therefore, I have had to learn to invest - no pension plan for me!

    However, my career has been more exciting than I could ever expect at the local university! ;)


  • Report this Comment On October 14, 2009, at 12:06 AM, foolishlymeek wrote:


    I definitely understand struggling to save when you barely make enough to live on. I also think many politicians have no idea what it's like to live on minimum wage (not when they can give themselves raises, get huge amounts of money from consulting, have expense accounts, PLUS a salary most Americans can never dream of!). Otherwise, they would never consider FINING people for not having health insurance. I was unemployed for a short time during the Clinton administration and have always wondered what an "affordable" health care plan was. On COBRA, I was paying $300 a month for minimum benefits!

    ShadoRydr, I was looking back at my investments today. Most of my first purchases were solid companies that paid dividends (GE, C, KO, AXP, PFE, and PG). Now I own many of the recommendations from TMF - MVL (which will soon be bought by DIS), INFN, GOOG, AAPL, BWLD, CHK, CMG.B, BRK.B, ISRG, and ATVI. Unfortunately, I've also owned at least three stocks that went bankrupt - including Enron!

    I started investing $20 a month. However, it's amazing how $20 a month for the last nine years plus dividends adds up.

    1. NOW is a great time to invest. Many companies are coming back from their 52-week lows. But, you can still get some great deals. Warren Buffett advices that investors be contrarians - buy when others are selling (I buy for life - so I seldom sell!) or in his words "when there is blood in the streets."

    2. If your company has a 401(k), invest as much as you can - especially if there is a match.

    3. Watch the expense ratios - especially with any purchase through a brokerage firm, even your 401(k).

    4. Do the best you can. Everyone is in a crunch right now. The culture of our society has been greatly affected by this Great Recession. I think people's spending and savings habits will be changed for years or decades to come.

    5. Good luck!!

    You didn't mention your age, but if you are younger, time is definitely on your side. Those of us 50 and older wish we had started sooner, saved more, spent less.

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