Retirement should be a great time in your life -- not a time full of financial stress because you're worried about going broke. Unfortunately, far too many people struggle in retirement because of too little savings and the absence of a plan to cover healthcare costs.
You want to be one of those retirees that travels, has cash to spoil the grandkids, and lives without money woes. The good thing is, there are things you can start doing right now to help you on this path. Here are five steps you should consider taking today to help ensure your retirement years are full of joy and free of financial worry.
1. Increase your 401(k) or IRA contribution
Traditionally, experts recommended saving at least 10% of your income for retirement. Many people aren't meeting that goal. And many financial professionals now warn that you should aim closer to saving 15% of income because of lengthening lifespans and gloomier projections for investment returns in upcoming years.
No matter how much you're saving, it won't hurt you to save a little more so your nest egg is bigger during retirement. And you don't need to increase your savings by that much to make a big difference in the amount you end up with.
If you up your annual savings by just $1,000 -- a mere $83.33 a month -- this $1,000 increase in annual savings alone could turn into a nest egg of $113,283 over 30 years, assuming an 8% return on investment. That's a lot of extra money for the price of a few meals out per month.
2. Open a health savings account
Healthcare is probably going to be one of the single biggest costs you face in retirement. In fact, the Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates a senior couple who needs lots of prescription drugs should have $370,000 saved to have a 90% chance of affording their care during retirement.
One of the best ways to make sure you can afford healthcare costs is to open a health savings account. You're eligible to open a HSA if you have a qualifying high-deductible health plan, either just for yourself or for yourself and your family. The specific requirements for opening an HSA -- and the contribution limits -- change each year. This 2019 guide to HSAs will help you determine if you can contribute this year.
The major benefit to opening a HSA is you get tax breaks on both ends -- when you put money in and when you withdraw it. With most other tax-advantaged savings accounts, including Roth or traditional 401(k) and IRA accounts, you either get to invest with pre-tax dollars or you get tax-free withdrawals, not both. With an HSA, as long as you take the money out to use for qualifying healthcare expenses, you can invest with pre-tax dollars and make tax-free withdrawals. That provides a huge tax savings.
If you end up healthier than anticipated and don't need to spend your HSA money on medical care, you can take the money out penalty-free and use it for any purpose after age 65. You'll just pay taxes at ordinary income tax rates on money you withdraw for anything other than medical services.
3. Develop a good diet and exercise regimen
There's never any guarantee you won't get sick or hurt during your working life or as a retiree. But there are lifestyle habits you can adopt that reduce the risk of illness or injury. This includes eating healthy, giving up smoking, and getting regular exercise.
If you take steps to stay healthy now, hopefully you can lessen the chances of serious health issues in retirement -- or at least delay the onset of medical issues. Close to 4 in 10 retirees responding to a Nationwide survey indicated health issues are preventing them from having the retirement they planned. It's also especially important because, among those having health issues, 80% said their troubles began earlier than they expected.
If you can stave off health problems by maintaining healthy habits, you won't have to worry as much about the high cost of care as a senior -- and you can enjoy doing activities you always dreamed of in retirement.
4. Get serious about repaying debt
More seniors than ever before retire with outstanding debts. Seniors owe money on all sorts of things that many older people didn't owe in the past, including mortgages, student loans, car loans, and credit cards.
If you retire with debt you still have to pay back, a good portion of your fixed monthly income from Social Security and retirement investments will likely go toward paying interest. Your money won't stretch as far when it's enriching your creditors and you'll have less to live on because of those monthly payments you have to make. You'll also have a lot more stress about making sure you can pay your bills.
If you want to set yourself up for an easier and more secure life as a retiree, make a plan today to become debt-free ASAP -- and definitely before you leave the workforce. Use techniques such as the debt snowball and debt avalanche to pay down your consumer debt more quickly. And commit not to tap into the equity in your home, which can delay paying off your mortgage until after you're a retiree.
5. Start teaching your kids about financial independence
Finally, one of the single best things you can do to secure your own retirement is to help your kids learn to become financially independent so they aren't reliant on you after you've left work.
Research shows as many as 75% of parents are making a big mistake by helping out their children financially at the expense of their own retirement. It's hard to say no to children who need assistance, so try to set your kids up for financial success from a young age so they won't need your money as they get older.
This can mean starting a college account for your children when they're born and encouraging family and friends to contribute to it instead of giving other gifts. It can also mean helping your kids figure out how to budget and save money so they don't end up in debt. Any steps you can take now to set your kids up to be independent of you by the time you reach retirement age, the better off you -- and your children -- will be.
Take these steps today to help make sure your retirement is secure
There are lots of things you can start doing now to help set yourself up for security as a senior. It's worth the effort to save a little more and make smart lifestyle choices so you can enjoy your golden years with the cash you need to live worry-free.