In the past, retired investors had things easy. Since they could count on both Social Security and a healthy pension from their former employers, workers could rely on having a comfortable retirement where they wouldn't have to worry about investing in anything riskier than FDIC-insured CDs and other safe investments.

Fast-forward to today, though, and everything's changed for the worse for retirees. Health-care costs in retirement have skyrocketed, even with Medicare helping to cover some of the expense. Retiree health coverage has virtually disappeared, with companies like General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) having made cuts to health benefits for some retirees in recent years. And pensions could be the next to feel the brunt of the financial crisis.

You now need your investments to produce a lot more income to make ends meet. Here's how you can get started.

Know your options
What's clear is that you can no longer count on bank CDs to cover your living expenses. With even five-year CDs yielding only 3% or so on average, you'll lose money to inflation and taxes each and every year.

Luckily, though, you have a lot of options for getting more income from your portfolio. Consider your investment choices:

  • Stocks in general currently offer yields that haven't been seen in years. The S&P's current yield of 3.16% beats the five-year CD average while also affording you opportunities for greater growth.
  • Higher-yielding stocks often pose somewhat more risk, but their immediate payoff is greater. With yields of 6% or more, stocks like Altria (NYSE:MO), Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY), and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) could double what you get from CDs.
  • Certain niche investments also pay attractive yields. Royalty trusts like BP Prudhoe Bay (NYSE:BPT) turn energy investments into high income for shareholders. Meanwhile, REITs like AvalonBay Communities (NYSE:AVB) let investors tap into income generated by real estate.
  • Bonds have offered a mixed bag lately for investors, as low-risk Treasuries have seen prices soar while corporate bonds have sagged amid the credit crunch. Yet while Treasuries still don't pay much in interest, even investment-grade corporates pay a lot more.
  • Some investors who already own stocks have turned to strategies like covered call options to boost income.

But with all these choices, how do you put together a portfolio that will generate more income without increasing your overall risk beyond your comfort level? Here are some simple rules of thumb.

You still need your bank
For most retirees, capital preservation is still essential. So, you'll never want to take all your money out of the bank. Even if dividends on stocks are as attractive or even better than what you're getting from your bank, you simply can't afford to roll the dice on a market recovery -- no matter how likely it may seem.

What you can do, though, is make sure you're getting the best rates you can. Don't just take what your local bank branch offers; shop around and see if you can do better. For tech-savvy seniors, the Internet can bring great deals to your doorstep -- just make sure you're dealing with a legitimate FDIC-insured institution and you should do fine.

Taking a bit more risk
With money you can afford to put at risk, though, the right mix depends on your situation. For older retirees who are more conservative, you'll want to stick with well-known dividend-paying stocks for the riskier portion of your portfolio.

On the other hand, if you've just retired and are comfortable with the risks involved, an even split of regular and high-yielding dividend stocks, along with smaller portions of corporate bonds, REITs, and royalty trusts, can help boost your income further. In addition, that mix of investments gives you some growth potential -- which will prove helpful in making your nest egg last longer.

Just keep in mind that you don't want to get too aggressive. Too many retirees did exactly that, hoping for a boost to their standard of living -- and the bear market burned them.

Pulling income from your portfolio is often a challenge, but never more so than today. If your investments aren't giving you enough to live on, though, consider whether some simple changes could get you back on track.

For more on getting income from your portfolio, read about:

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger likes income investments even though he's not retired. He owns shares of Altria. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy knows what to do.