America's Social Security system is on exceptionally shaky footing. Don't just take my word for it. Based on data from the Social Security Administration, it will:

  • Begin paying out more than it takes in as revenues in 2017.
  • Exhaust its "trust fund" in 2041.
  • Require $4.7 trillion in extra revenue to pay estimated benefits for the next 75 years.

Sound like a program that will meet the retirement needs of anyone from Generation X or beyond? Didn't think so. Even if further tax hikes, economic growth, or benefit changes keep the system somewhat solvent, the fact is that it was never much of a retirement plan to begin with. Based on the most recently available data, the average Social Security benefit received by a retiree's family is $1,097.95 per month -- $13,175.40 per year. That's less than a full-time, minimum-wage job in some states.

The unfortunate reality is that, at its best, Social Security is little more than a safety net to help keep people out of abject destitution. Given the program's shaky financial footing, however, even that is at long-term risk.

Shore up your future
If you love your job so much that you plan to work until they pry your keyboard from your cold, dead fingers, Social Security's problems may not matter to you. The rest of us need a better plan. "Hope and wait" won't pay the rent or put food on the table. In all likelihood, your investments will provide you your best chance at a comfortable retirement.

As you plan those investments, remember that one of the most important things you can do is invest to protect your purchasing power. A dollar 30 years from now will buy you far less than it can today. That's a great reason to focus on companies that pay and regularly raise their dividends. While you're accumulating your nest egg, those payments can be reinvested to help accelerate the process. Once you retire, you can take those rising dividends as cash to get the inflation-protected income stream you need to keep pace with the cost of living. Here are a handful of companies that:

  • Carry at least a 2% yield.
  • Have paid higher dividends each year for at least the past 10 years.
  • Have raised those dividends at a faster-than-inflation pace over the past five years.



Five-Year Annualized
Dividend Growth

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE:KMP)






Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)



Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC)



Pfizer (NYSE:PFE)



Sysco (NYSE:SYY)



McDonald's (NYSE:MCD)



Where else can you get the unbeatable combination of current income and decent income growth that you'll need to beat back the ravages of inflation?

Start now
Your retirement is too important to depend on a rickety Social Security system. Even if it does survive, the benefits Social Security will provide won't give you the comfortable retirement you deserve. Your best chance of making sure your golden years are truly golden is to start investing for them now, while you still have the time you'll need to build your nest egg.

If you want to retire with a decent lifestyle, our team at Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement can help get you there. Only you can make the commitment to securing your financial future, but we'd be happy to help you find your way there. Take the next 30 days to look around, free. It just may be the most beneficial month of your life.

Fool contributor Chuck Saletta anticipates that, at best, his future Social Security checks may help him pay the taxes on his retirement investment income. At the time of publication, Chuck owned shares of Sysco, Johnson & Johnson, and Kinder Morgan Management (a related company to Kinder Morgan Energy Partners). Sysco and Johnson & Johnson are Income Investor recommendations. Pfizer is an Inside Value pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.