If there's one thing Americans seem to agree on, it's that Social Security is in trouble. More than 50% of pre-retirees aged 50 to 64 are worried about the program's future, according to a Gallup poll released last year, and just under 50% of workers aged 30 to 49 feel the same.
That concern isn't unfounded. Social Security is facing a funding shortfall that, if left unaddressed, could result in a 20% reduction in retirement benefits. Given that 21% of married seniors and 44% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income, that sort of cut could be catastrophic to today's retirees. It could also hurt future retirees who expect to depend heavily on those benefits as a chief source of income.
If you're losing sleep over Social Security and the potential loss in benefits you might one day face, here's a better idea: Channel that energy into boosting your savings instead. If you do, you might accumulate enough of a nest egg to pay your retirement expenses without having to rely on Social Security at all.
Social Security won't cut it anyway
Before you get hung up on a potential reduction in Social Security income, consider this: Those benefits aren't enough to live on in the first place. If benefits aren't cut, you can expect them to replace about 40% of your pre-retirement income, assuming you were an average earner. Most seniors, however, need at least 70% -- and ideally, more like 80% -- of their former earnings to pay their expenses and live comfortably without worry. And the only way to bridge that gap is to build a healthy level of savings.
Furthermore, while you can't control what happens to Social Security in the future, you can take steps to boost your nest egg. For starters, get on a budget so you understand where your income goes month after month, and cut back on expenses if you're struggling to save for your golden years. If you slash a few of your bills to ramp up your IRA or 401(k) contributions, you can slowly but steadily build wealth over time.
It also pays to look into getting a side job if your earnings and expenses don't allow you to save the way you'd like to. Working a few evenings or weekends a week could produce thousands of dollars a year for your nest egg, which, invested over time, will make a difference.
In fact, imagine you're able to sock away $400 a month in a retirement plan over a 40-year period. If your investments generate an average annual 7% return, which is more than doable if you load up on stocks over that long a time frame, you'll end up with around $958,000. That's a lot of money to work with during your golden years -- enough to perhaps live on without Social Security, and certainly enough to nicely cover the bills when coupled with benefits, even with a reduction at play.
It's too soon to determine what the future has in store for Social Security. Lawmakers are fighting to prevent a cut in benefits, which, incidentally, isn't slated to happen for another 16 years anyway. But for now, your best bet is to focus on building strong savings rather than bemoan the fact that your benefits might take a hit down the line.