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3 Ways to Build Retirement Savings Later in Life

By Maurie Backman - May 20, 2018 at 7:47AM

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Behind on building your nest egg? Here's how to catch up in time.

We're supposed to start saving for retirement as early in our careers as possible. But things don't always work out that way. Maybe it took too long to boost your earnings enough to sock away a sizable sum. Or maybe you spent your 40s and 50s saddled with mortgage and credit card debt, followed by a string of costly college tuition payments.

No matter the specifics, if you're now at the tail end of your career with minimal savings, it's imperative that you take steps to ramp up. Here's how.

1. Take advantage of catch-up retirement plan contributions

Whether you're saving for retirement in an IRA or 401(k), once you turn 50, you get the option to contribute more money to your plan each year than your younger counterparts. Do it. Maxing out either account type will allow you to accumulate some savings quickly, especially if you manage to score a decent return on that money.

Senior couple at a laptop


Imagine you're 60 years old and sitting on just $30,000 in retirement savings. If you max out your IRA at $6,500 a year over the next seven years and snag a somewhat conservative 6% return on your investments during that period, you'll end up with a total of roughly $100,000 -- more than three times the amount you started with. Max out a 401(k) at $24,500 a year, meanwhile, and you'll wind up with just over $250,000, all other things being equal.

Of course, if you're not used to maxing out a retirement plan, you may be wondering how on earth you're supposed to free up that much cash month after month. And the answer comes down to rethinking your budget and finding ways to cut corners.

Downsizing your living space, unloading a vehicle, cutting back on restaurants and leisure, and taking cheap vacations rather than luxury ones can all serve the key purpose of giving you money to save and invest. And while it will require some sacrifices during the latter part of your career, the payoff will be a more financially secure retirement.

2. Work a side hustle

Maybe you only have so many expenses in your budget you can cut -- or are willing to cut. If that's the case, then you may want to consider a side hustle on top of your regular job.

Working a secondary gig has its benefits, the most obvious being the extra cash. Since any money you earn isn't income you were counting on to pay the bills, you can allocate it to savings instantly. Sock away an extra $500 a month over the last five years of your career and you'll pad your nest egg by $34,000, assuming the same 6% return we applied above.

But additional cash aside, another benefit of working a side hustle is the potential to establish a business you can carry with you into retirement. Many seniors find themselves bored and restless once they stop having a job to go to -- so much so that retirees are 40% more likely to suffer from depression than working adults. Set yourself up with a steady side job and you'll not only have extra cash to look forward to, but a fulfilling means of occupying your time.

3. Extend your career

Now that Americans are living longer, the notion of having to retire in one's 60s no longer holds as much water. In fact, 16% of current workers say they're planning to stay at their jobs until age 75 or beyond. If you're behind on savings, extending your career is a great way to not only catch up, but to avoid dipping into your nest egg for a longer period of time, thus stretching whatever funds you do manage to accumulate.

Of course, working until 75 or later might seem extreme, but if you were initially planning to work until age 67, you might consider staying at your job until 70 or 72. Another option? Look into scaling back your hours over time for a more gradual transition into retirement, assuming your employer is on board.

You might, for instance, go from 40 hours to 30 hours a week at age 67 rather than retire right then, and then go down to 25 hours a week the following year and 20 hours the year after that. There are different setups you can play around with if your employer is game, and going this route might offer you the best of both worlds -- the opportunity to keep working without pushing yourself too hard when you're older.

While Social Security will help pay the bills in retirement, you still need outside income of your own for a shot at a comfortable lifestyle. Follow these tips and with any luck, you'll catch up on savings right in time to enjoy your golden years to the fullest.

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