Many younger workers put off saving for retirement so they can focus on goals like paying off their student debt or buying a home. But if you've reached your 50s and have no money at all in a dedicated retirement savings plan, consider it a wake-up call to start doing better. Here are three critical moves to make if that's the situation you're in.
1. Cut back on living expenses big time
If you're without retirement savings, chances are it's because you're in the habit of spending your entire paycheck. Getting on a serious budget and making lifestyle adjustments could therefore be your ticket to carving out some money for your nest egg and salvaging your retirement in the process.
Once you have your budget set up, comb through it to see where your money is going, and commit to making a few major changes that free up cash. That could mean downsizing to a smaller home, going car-less if there's low-cost public transportation where you live, or eating at home rather than dining out three or four times a week. Smaller changes, like downgrading your cable plan, will help, too, but if you're without retirement savings at all, you'll need to think big to make a difference.
2. Start making catch-up contributions to your IRA or 401(k)
The good thing about being in your 50s is that you're allowed to contribute more to a 401(k) or IRA than younger folks. Currently, workers 50 and older can put up to $25,000 a year into a 401(k) and up to $7,000 into an IRA. Those under 50, meanwhile, max out at $19,000 and $6,000, respectively.
Of course, if you're not in the habit of saving any money at all for retirement, it'll no doubt be a challenge to max out either account type. But let's assume you're housing your savings in an IRA. If you were to sock away $6,000 a year for the next 15 years and invest your savings at an average annual 7% return, you'd wind up with about $151,000. On the other hand, if you were to take advantage of that $1,000 catch-up and instead save $7,000 a year, you'd retire with around $176,000, assuming that same time frame and return on investment. That extra $25,000 could make a huge difference during your golden years, so it pays to push yourself to come up with that additional $1,000 annually.
3. Get a side hustle
There may come a point when you can only cut back on so many expenses or make so many sacrifices to free up cash for your nest egg. If you've exhausted those options, it may be time to consider a side hustle. Of the millions of Americans who have a second gig on top of a main job, 14% are taking on that extra work for the express purpose of saving for retirement.
Not only might a second job help you give your 401(k) or IRA a much-needed boost, but it might also be a gig you're able to continue doing during retirement to supplement your income down the line. And if you've reached your 50s without savings, chances are, you'll need all the money you can get once your full-time career comes to an end.
As of 2016, only 52% of workers 55 and older were saving for retirement in a 401(k) or IRA, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Meanwhile, Social Security will replace only about 40% of the average worker's pre-retirement income, and most seniors need close to double that amount to live comfortably. If you're in your 50s without savings for your golden years, it's time to make some serious changes. Otherwise, you'll risk struggling financially when the time comes to finally leave the workforce.