A 100-year-old Texas woman recently celebrated her 85th year of employment at the same job.

Since the age of 15, this woman has been the piano player at her nearby church. "She's an inspiration to all of us," said one parishioner.

The difference between inspiring and depressing
That's quite a story. But what makes her story inspiring is that she chooses to continue her work.  She's not been forced back into the workforce because her retirement purse is dry.

I wish I could say the same for most future American retirees. According to a recent study, only 28% of Americans think they'll have enough cash for a comfortable retirement.

Redefining retirement
If you're lumped in with the other 72% of Americans, it's no reason to panic.

Later, I'll provide a few strategies for saving as much as you can as fast as you can. The only way you can retire well in the future is to plan well now.

But there's another way to achieve your retirement goals without living in penury. It will require you to be a bit more creative in defining what a successful retirement looks like, however. Very simply: Consider working in some capacity during retirement.

"Working during retirement"?! Isn't that a contradiction?!
For reasons financial as well as emotional, working in retirement can make a ton of sense. There are social, mental, psychological, and physiological reasons for working during your supposed leisure years -- you'll keep your mind sharp and your body moving. And the financial benefits speak for themselves.

Maybe it means that you can still give up the rat race and supplement your savings with income from a job you love at a not-for-profit agency. Perhaps it means leveraging your accumulated years of experience as a part-time consultant to local companies.

If you know you want to stay active and employed during retirement, but you're not sure how or where to go, AARP has a great list of places looking to hire seniors. It even publishes an annual list of best employers for those looking for retirement careers.

No matter how you choose to work in your golden years, it's only worth retiring in the first place if you can enjoy yourself once you're there. So even if you haven't yet saved a dime for your retirement, it's still worthwhile to get started. Your future financial flexibility depends on it!

The scary reality
You won't be able to live comfortably on Social Security. Traditional pension plans are rapidly disappearing. If the extent of your retirement planning has been to hope those two ugly facts will somehow change for the better, you're in trouble.

After all, it takes time to go from $0 to retired. How much time depends on three key factors:

  • How much you can routinely save
  • What you earn on your money
  • How bad inflation will be

The only one of those you can control is how much you can routinely save. And if you haven't started saving yet, however, the longer you wait the more of an uphill battle it becomes.

Let's say you expect inflation will average around 4% between now and the time you're ready to retire. This table shows how many years you'll have to save, depending on your contributions and returns, in order to retire with a nest egg worth the inflation-adjusted equivalent of today's $1 million:


7% Returns

8% Returns

9% Returns

10% Returns

Contribution Significance






$10 per day






Max out IRA, $5,000 per year






Max out 401(k), $15,500 per year






Max out both IRA and 401(k), $20,500 per year






2 people, max out both IRA and 401(k), $41,000 per year

If you haven't already started saving in a big way, the numbers suggest that it will be difficult to coast to a traditional retirement from your savings alone. (If that's the case, revisit that AARP site for suggestions on working part-time during retirement.)

Stuffing your purse
Perhaps the most straightforward way to build that nest egg is with a Vanguard Target Retirement Fund. You buy the fund that most closely corresponds with your age, and it instantly hands you a diversified, age-appropriate portfolio. It's a simple, extremely cost-effective way to build a retirement nest egg that includes:

Fund Held by the Target Retirement Funds

Sample Holdings

Total Market Index Fund (VTSMX)

ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), AT&T (NYSE:T)

European Stock Index Fund (VEURX)


Pacific Stock Index Fund (VPACX)

Canon (NYSE:CAJ), Honda (NYSE:HMC)

Emerging Markets Stock Index Fund (VEIEX)

China Mobil (NYSE:CHL)

Total Bond Market Index Fund (VBMFX)

AAA Bonds (79% of fund)

Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX)

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities

Prime Money Market Fund (VMMXX)

Ultra-short-term debt

If you haven't started saving for your retirement, these target retirement funds are a tremendous way to take that first step while you build your overall plan for your future.

At Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement, we aim to help folks make the most of their retirement, whether aiming to be a traditional retiree or one that has a second career. Whatever path you're on, and no matter how far along you are, we can help you find the best route from now through your golden years. Click here to learn more about a 30-day free trial.

At the time of publication, Fool contributor Chuck Saletta did not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.