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The biggest concern that people nearing retirement age have is making sure they'll never run out of money. Although many people are right to worry about whether they've saved enough, you can take steps to make sure you won't be among them when you retire.

A big problem
Unfortunately, many boomers who are now within 10 years of normal retirement age aren't in any position to think about retiring. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 47% of workers age 56 to 62 are probably going to come up short in meeting all the expenses that retirement will throw at them.

That isn't particularly surprising, given the double whammy that retirement savers have faced in recent years. Not only have their retirement nest eggs fallen in value, but the big costs of retirement, most importantly health care, continue to rise at an alarming pace.

Moreover, in many cases, employers aren't helping the situation. Apart from the obvious problems of layoffs and mandatory unpaid time off, companies are also cutting back on benefits packages. For instance, HSBC (NYSE: HBC  ) , Kraft Foods (NYSE: KFT  ) , and Pitney Bowes (NYSE: PBI  ) have all announced that they would freeze their pension plans in the coming years. Eligible workers will still receive something for their efforts, but the monthly payments they receive may prove far smaller than they'd otherwise have been.

Hard, but doable
It's not easy to make up for lost time. But with the right combination of steps, you can do everything you can to bulk up your savings in whatever time you have left. Here's the laundry list of what you need to do:

  • Save more. In a tough economy, it's hard to put more money aside. But if you can, the resources are there to help you make the most of it. IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans have catch-up contributions allowing those 50 and older to save a total of $6,500 more than their younger counterparts. Over 15 years, that would add up to almost $100,000 in your retirement bank, not even considering any returns you earn on your investment.
  • Take what employers give you. Even though benefits are becoming more scarce, they haven't disappeared entirely. For instance, although Eastman Kodak (NYSE: EK  ) and Regions Financial (NYSE: RF  ) had to suspend their employer matching contributions to workers' 401(k) accounts, they both reinstated employer matches at the beginning of the year. Ford Motor (NYSE: F  ) didn't just bring back 401(k) matching; it also reinstated tuition assistance for salaried workers. When companies give you benefits like that, you need to make the most of them.
  • Invest smarter. With time definitely not on your side, you can't afford mistakes. For instance, steer clear of employer stock, which can send your 401(k) into a tailspin when things go wrong. BP (NYSE: BP  ) employees have learned that the hard way; 32% of its 401(k) plan assets were invested in BP stock, which has plummeted since the Gulf oil spill disaster. Countless workers have suffered when their employers have suffered big losses; you're better off diversifying away from your employer and toward other stocks.

In particular, trying to decide how to invest is tricky right now. Historically, higher-risk investments like stocks have earned the biggest rewards. But for a long time now, stocks have lagged behind more conservative investments like bonds.

Creating the right mix for near-retirees is a balancing act. Ordinarily, you'd be starting to scale back on your risk level as you approach the end of your peak earning years. But the need to catch up suggests a more aggressive approach.

In the end, the decision really depends on your risk tolerance. Unless you're comfortable rolling the dice with your life savings, the best strategy still involves a diversified approach that includes stocks, bonds, and other investments, all designed to work well together and encourage a steadily growing net worth.

Do your best
Even with your best efforts, late starters may not have the lavish retirement they once dreamed of. But what you can achieve is a much greater chance of never running out of money. Every little bit counts, and the sooner you start, the more you can increase your chances of staying financially independent for the rest of your life.

Sometimes, the best investments are ones most investors have given up on. Let Anand Chokkavelu show you huge opportunities in two left-for-dead stocks.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger counts on his money to work hard. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Ford Motor is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy picks up pennies in the parking lot and still buys $4 lattes.


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Dan Caplinger
TMFGalagan

Dan Caplinger has been a contract writer for the Motley Fool since 2006. As the Fool's Director of Investment Planning, Dan oversees much of the personal-finance and investment-planning content published daily on Fool.com. With a background as an estate-planning attorney and independent financial consultant, Dan's articles are based on more than 20 years of experience from all angles of the financial world.

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