Roughly 20% of Americans say saving for retirement is their most important financial goal, according to a recent survey from financial services company LendEDU. That's the good news. The bad news is that too many people think this goal is out of reach.
Approximately four in 10 workers admitted they don't think they'll ever be able to save enough to retire, the survey found, making retirement the most "unattainable" financial goal reported by survey participants.
Saving for retirement is tough, but it's not impossible -- even if you're falling behind. By thinking of it as an unachievable goal, however, it's all the more likely you'll quit before you even get started. Sometimes, though, breaking one large goal into smaller, more manageable chunks is the easiest way to make your retirement dreams a reality.
Baby steps on the path to retirement
Forty-five percent of baby boomers don't have any retirement savings at all, according to a recent report from the Insured Retirement Institute. When you're behind on your savings, it's tempting to think that it's not worth the trouble to save anything when it won't be enough to last through retirement.
However, while you probably won't be able to save $1 million in a few short years, that doesn't mean you can't set goals and save something for retirement. The first step is getting a clear picture of what retirement will realistically cost.
To determine how much you'll need each year in retirement, take a look at what your current annual expenses look like. Most retirees end up spending around 70% to 80% of their current income -- so if you're spending $45,000 per year now, that means you may need between $32,000 and $36,000 per year in retirement. Of course, these figures aren't set in stone, and there are a variety of factors that can throw off your plans. But it's still good to have a general estimate of how much you can expect to spend in retirement.
Next, figure out how much you'll need to save by retirement age. The easiest and most accurate way to do this is by using a retirement calculator. It's a good idea to run your numbers through a few different calculators, though, as each one uses slightly different information and can result in different answers. Some will factor in Social Security benefits, for example, and others will account for inflation costs. Most calculators will also give you an idea of how much you should be saving each month to reach your retirement goal.
Once you have that monthly saving goal in mind, ask yourself whether it's achievable. If you're late to the saving game, you may need to save several hundred or even thousands of dollars per month to accumulate enough to retire comfortably. Sometimes simply combing through your budget and reallocating money toward retirement is enough, but other times you'll need to take more drastic measures.
What to do when cutting costs isn't enough
So what are you supposed to do when you find out exactly how much you should be saving for retirement and you simply don't have that much cash to spare? Sometimes simply cutting out your morning latte or skipping takeout isn't enough to reach your retirement goals, in which case you have a few options.
First, consider whether you're willing and able to make more significant sacrifices, such as downsizing your home. It's a big move, but if you're able to save hundreds of dollars per month on your mortgage or rent (and potentially save money on property taxes and upkeep as well), it could pay off come retirement time.
Finding ways to supplement your income is another option. You don't need to quit your career and become a doctor, lawyer, or rocket scientist, but picking up a side hustle walking dogs, photographing weddings, or building websites can potentially earn you a few extra hundred dollars per month. Put all that money toward retirement, and you'll be closer to reaching your goals.
If all else fails, you may need to reconsider your retirement options. You may have a goal of retiring at age 65, for instance, but working just four or five extra years can boost your retirement fund by tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Waiting to claim Social Security benefits can also result in bigger checks each month, which can go a long way when money is tight.
The last thing you want to do when you're behind on your retirement savings is to give up and do nothing. Without any personal savings to fall back on, you'll likely be left relying solely on Social Security to make ends meet -- and when the average check amounts to just $1,400 per month (or $16,800 per year), that may prove challenging.
No matter what your financial situation looks like or how much you have (or lack) in retirement savings, the only way to guarantee you won't reach your retirement goals is to do nothing. Saving for the future isn't easy, but making sacrifices now will ensure you'll enjoy a much happier and more comfortable retirement.