Retirement is a period of life that's apt to cost money. It may not cost quite as much money as your working years, but seniors still have bills to pay. And they need money to pay them.
Unfortunately, 33% of Americans are making no effort to build a nest egg for retirement, according to KeyBank's Financial Wellness Review of over 35,000 U.S. adults. Of course, it's one thing to be saving insufficiently for retirement, but it's another to not be setting any money aside for the future. And if you're in the latter camp, it's time to do better -- before retirement rolls around and your lack of savings leaves you cash-strapped and miserable.
Social Security alone won't cut it
Many workers neglect their savings not intentionally, but because their limited earnings are eaten up by immediate bills, like rent, transportation, and medical care. Other folks, however, don't make an effort to save because they expect their living costs to drop dramatically and assume that Social Security will provide enough income to cover them.
In reality, your living expenses in retirement aren't likely to drop all that much. Sure, you'll save on commuting costs, and if you pay off your mortgage in time for retirement, that's one less bill to worry about. But if you're a renter, you'll continue having to pay for a roof over your head. And you'll still face the numerous costs workers face all the time, like heat, electricity, food, and clothing.
Social Security, meanwhile, will only replace about 40% of your pre-retirement income if you were an average earner, and most seniors need about double that amount to stay on top of their bills. To not save any money for retirement means you're therefore putting your golden years at risk.
The solution? Ramp up on the savings front, even if that means starting small and increasing retirement plan contributions over time (say, as your earnings grow). Or, save a small amount each month, but do consistently over a long period of time. Case in point: Setting aside $100 a month for 45 years will give you $343,000 for retirement, assuming you invest your savings at an average annual 7% return (which is doable if you load up on stocks).
At the same time, get better about managing your money so that saving for retirement is feasible. Create a budget to stay on top of your expenses, and cut back on those that aren't essential, like leisure and dining out.
Better yet, try automating your retirement savings so that money lands in a dedicated account from the start, and then use your remaining earnings for near-term bills. You can do so by signing up to participate in your employer's 401(k) plan or finding an IRA with an automatic transfer feature and arranging to have money land in that account every month.
Retirement isn't cheap, and it certainly isn't free. If you want to enjoy your golden years, make an effort to build savings. Otherwise, you're likely to end up stressed and unhappy after a lifetime of work.