We're told of the importance of saving for retirement, but in case you didn't get the memo, here's the scoop: Unless you have a pension or another solid source of income, you'll need a healthy amount of independent savings to cover the bills once you're no longer working. Social Security alone just won't cut it, and if you don't accumulate a decent chunk of cash in your nest egg, you're going to struggle financially when you're older.
Unfortunately, many of today's workers don't have pensions -- but they also don't have much in the way of savings, either. In fact, the Federal Reserve Board reports that fewer than 40% of U.S. adults think their retirement savings are on track, and it's not just younger workers who feel that way. One in eight older workers in their 50s and 60s have no personal savings, and fewer than 50% of folks in this age group think they're on track for a financially secure retirement.
If you're lacking confidence in your retirement savings, it's time to start making some changes while you still have a paycheck rolling in. Otherwise, you're likely to struggle when your working years come to a close.
1. Start saving immediately
Whether you're 30 or 60, if you're not happy with the way your nest egg is looking, your best bet is to start saving more money as soon as you possibly can, even if that means contributing an extra $50 your first month and working your way up from there. Currently, workers under 50 can put up to $18,500 a year into a 401(k) and $5,500 into an IRA. If you're 50 or older, you get a catch-up provision that raises these limits to $24,500 and $6,500, respectively.
This means that if you're 60 years old with just $40,000 set aside for the future, maxing out a 401(k) for the next seven years will leave you with $276,000, assuming your investments generate a 7% average annual return during that time.
Of course, if you're younger, you don't need to get as extreme. Imagine you're 40 years old with $40,000 in your IRA or 401(k). If you were to save $400 a month for the next 27 years, you'd end up with $606,000, assuming that same 7% average annual return. And that's a decent chunk of money to work with.
2. Work longer
Maybe your goal is to retire at your Social Security full retirement age (66, 67, or somewhere in between for today's workers), or to call it quits at 65 when you're eligible for Medicare. That's all fine and good, but if your savings aren't up to snuff, you may have to resign yourself to working longer than expected. That could mean staying at your job until 70 or even beyond.
But it's not all bad news. First of all, seniors are living longer these days, so even if you put in a few extra years in the workforce, you might still easily end up with a 20-year retirement or more. Additionally, some studies have shown that working longer can lead to a longer life, so if it makes sense to do so from a financial standpoint, hold off on tendering your resignation.
3. Have a backup plan
If you still have a number of working years ahead of you, you have a great opportunity to continue building a nest egg and retire with a respectable sum of cash. But if you're in your 60s already with limited savings, and the idea of maxing out a retirement plan for the next 10 years is laughable, then you may have no choice but to resort to a backup plan once your career closes out. That could mean planning to work part-time in retirement, renting out a portion of your home to collect monthly income, or even converting a hobby into a money-making opportunity. You can only do so much to make up for lost time, so if retirement is looming and your savings aren't looking great, you'll need to be flexible and get creative.
If you're concerned that your savings aren't on track for retirement, don't just ignore the problem. Start putting more money away, make plans to extend your career, and devise a backup plan for generating additional income during your golden years. It's a far better bet than winding up cash-strapped and hating retirement as a result.