When it comes to saving for retirement, many workers may be lulling themselves into a false sense of security.
Around 13% of workers over the age of 60 don't have a dime saved for retirement, according to a study from the Federal Reserve Bank, yet 45% of workers in that age group think they're on track to retire comfortably. Also, among workers age 45 to 59, just 27% have $250,000 or more saved -- even though 42% believe they're on track.
A quarter of a million dollars may sound like a lot of money, but if you're withdrawing, say, a conservative $30,000 per year, those savings will only last around eight years. If you think you're on track when in reality your savings won't last more than a few years, you may be setting yourself up for financial failure. A few years into retirement, you may find that your savings are beginning to run dry -- at which point it might be too late to return to work and increase your retirement income.
If you run out of money in retirement, you'll likely end up depending on Social Security benefits to make ends meet. Just over half of recent retirees say they rely on their benefits as their primary source of income, a survey from the Nationwide Retirement Institute found, while only 11% say most of their income comes from their personal savings. However, the average Social Security beneficiary only receives around $1,400 per month, which likely won't be enough to live on. If you're under the impression that you can skate through retirement with little to nothing saved, you may be in for a rude awakening.
So how do you avoid the risk of a financial disaster during retirement? The key is to do your homework and make sure you have a realistic idea of how much you need in savings to last the rest of your life.
Determining your retirement needs
In order to figure out whether you're on track to retire comfortably, you'll first need to determine what you should aim to save. The easiest way to do that is to plug your information into a retirement calculator. Keep in mind, though, that different calculators use different considerations when coming up with your results (for instance, some factor in Social Security benefits and the effects of inflation, while others don't), so it may be a good idea to look at a few different calculators to receive a range of results.
When inputting your information into the calculator, be as honest and accurate as possible. Many calculators will ask how many years you plan to spend in retirement, for instance. The average life expectancy is around 85 years, the Social Security Administration estimates, but a third of today's retirees can expect to live past age 90. So it may be a good idea to err on the side of caution and assume you'll spend more time in retirement than you think.
Also, consider how much you expect to spend each year in retirement compared to what you're spending now. For many retirees, expenses will decrease once they leave their jobs. But that's not always the case, and if you have a long retirement bucket list filled with a lot of expensive trips and activities, you may need more each year than you do now. Being honest with yourself when calculating your retirement needs will help ensure you're as prepared as possible financially.
Finally, don't forget about how Social Security benefits will impact your savings -- and how the age at which you claim affects how much you receive. Some calculators will factor in Social Security benefits, giving you a more accurate idea of what you need to save on your own. But the age at which you claim will affect how big your checks are. The only way to receive your full benefit amount is to claim at your full retirement age (FRA). You'll receive less each month if you claim before your FRA, and by waiting until after that age (up until age 70), you'll receive slightly bigger checks. If you're planning on retiring and claiming benefits at, say, age 62, those smaller Social Security checks can potentially throw off your plans if you weren't preparing for them.
How to catch up if you're off track
Many retirement calculators will not only tell you how much you need to have saved by the time you retire, but also how much you should be saving each month to reach your goal. That makes it easier to tell whether you're on track -- and if you're falling behind, how much you'll need to start saving to catch up.
If you find that your savings are off track, try to make corrections as soon as you can. The earlier you start saving, the less you'll need to save every month to reach your goal, thanks to the power of compounding. If you wait until you're just a few years or even a decade away from retirement, you may need to save thousands of dollars every month to catch up. Start early, though, and you may only need to save a few hundred dollars per month to reach your goal.
Once you know how much you should be saving every month, you may need to make some budgeting adjustments to find the cash. Depending on how far behind you are, you may need to make minor tweaks or major sacrifices. Sometimes, cutting just one or two relatively small expenses is enough to reach your monthly saving goal. If you're seriously behind, though, you may need to consider picking up some part-time work or even downsizing your home to find extra money to put toward retirement.
If you're behind on your savings, it's not the end of the world. The most important thing is to realize you're off track and start making adjustments to get back on the right path. You don't know what you don't know, but if you do your research and find out exactly what you need to save for retirement and create an action plan to get there, you'll be much more prepared for the future.