Though most working Americans look forward to retirement with pleasant anticipation, saving for it can be a source of stress. Since Social Security alone won't sustain the average retiree in anything near the lifestyle they desire, it's critical to prioritize your long-term investing and set aside as much money as possible for the future during your career.

Here's the challenge though: While a large percentage of workers are saving for the future, many have no idea how much they actually need to save, and a big reason for that boils down to healthcare. Whereas the costs of housing and other core expenses in retirement are somewhat predictable, healthcare is the one piece of the budgeting puzzle that's loaded with, and dictated by, a host of unknowns. It's no wonder, then, that 54% of workers say they're "overwhelmed" by the idea of healthcare costs and dealing with insurance in retirement, according to a report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Doctor examining senior male patient

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

If worries about how you'll paying for healthcare as a senior are keeping you up at night, here are a few ways to relieve some of that anxiety.

1. Read up on your costs

There's no crystal ball that will let any individual predict how much healthcare will cost them in retirement. But we can at least give you a ballpark figure: According to HealthView Services, the average healthy 65-year-old couple today will be hit by roughly $400,000 in medical costs in retirement. Now this figure represents an average, and it applies to healthy couples. If you already have a known health issue that's likely to worsen over time, your costs could end up higher. But this estimate at least gives you a starting point for your calculations.

Keep in mind, however, that the aforementioned $400,000 does not include things like nursing home care or assisted living. More on those in a minute.

2. Save aggressively

Since you can bet on healthcare costing you a bundle, the best way to reduce the associated stress is to save adequately. This means not only contributing to a retirement account early on in your career, but also investing in stocks, which, historically, have delivered much higher average returns than safer investments.

Now here's some good news: If you manage to score a decent average annual return on your investments, and you give yourself an expansive savings window, you don't need to set aside a ton of money each month for the future. Rather, you can consistently save a small portion of each paycheck, and let the power of compound growth work its magic.

The following table illustrates this concept. Here's what a monthly investment of $200 might grow into based on the length of time you give yourself to invest:

If You Start Saving $200 a Month at Age...

...Here's What You'll Have by Age 65 (Assumes an 8% Average Annual Return)

25

$622,000

30

$413,000

35

$272,000

40

$175,000

45

$110,000

50

$65,000

55

$35,000

TABLE AND CALCULATIONS BY AUTHOR.

As you can see, if you give yourself 40 years to build a nest egg via monthly contributions of $200, you'll come away with $622,000 if your investments bring in an average annual 8% return, which is actually a bit below the stock market's average performance. And that's well more than the $400,000 that average healthy senior couple will see in healthcare.

If your timeline from here is shorter (because you're already in your 30s or 40s), you'll need to boost those monthly contributions. But even if you don't set aside a dime before the age of 40, you still have a strong chance of being able to covering your healthcare costs in retirement, and then some. If, for example, you invest $600 a month for 25 years, you'll come away with $526,000, assuming that same average annual 8% return.

3. Invest in long-term care insurance

If long-term care insurance were free, or moderately cheap, more people would get it. But while you will need to lay out some money on those premiums, doing so will buy you some valuable peace of mind.

Currently, the average nursing home stay costs $225 per day. That's $82,125 a year, assuming you're willing to bunk with a roommate. Assisted living facilities aren't cheap either, though they're far less costly than nursing homes. you'll still spend $43,539 a year, on average, to reside in one.

Long-term care insurance will help cover these monumental costs. An estimated 70% of seniors will require some type of long-term care in retirement, and the sooner you apply, the more likely you are to qualify for a health-based discount.

Though it's natural to worry about how you'll cover your healthcare costs in retirement, putting a solid plan in place long before the bills start coming in will help take some of the stress out of the equation. Then you can actually get back to looking forward to retirement, rather than wondering how on Earth you're ever going to afford it.

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