Saving enough to retire comfortably is becoming more challenging, and many workers struggle to reach their financial goals.
Only 64% of workers have saved anything for retirement, according to a report from the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute, and roughly a quarter have less than $1,000 socked away. If your savings are falling short, you'll have to get creative in retirement to make your money last. But some ideas are more realistic than others.
How workers plan to survive financially in retirement
To make ends meet in retirement, 11% of workers say they plan to depend on their children and other family members for financial assistance, according to a recent survey from Provision Living, an operator of senior living communities. That may sound like a good idea, but retirement can be incredibly expensive, and many families simply can't afford to help aging parents pay their bills.
More than ever, the majority of your retirement income will likely need to come from personal savings. Most employers no longer offer pensions, and the average Social Security check is just $1,471 per month. For many, that's hardly enough to cover basic living expenses, let alone enjoy a comfortable and financially secure retirement.
Expenses may increase significantly as you age and start to develop more health issues. Medicare will help with some costs, but it doesn't cover everything -- you could still be responsible for thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs per year.
All this is to say that if your retirement plan depends on your family to support you financially, you could be in for a rude awakening. If you're lucky, you might receive some assistance in retirement. But even then, you'll likely still need to find a way to cover tens of thousands of dollars in expenses each year.
Save more even when money is tight
Saving more for the future may seem impossible if you don't have much to spare, but you might have more cash for your retirement fund than you think.
Start by establishing a budget that includes all your monthly costs. Divide those expenses by category and whether they're essential or nonessential, then start cutting back wherever you can. For example, maybe you can save by canceling any unused subscriptions, or trim utility bills by making your home more energy-efficient.
No savings are too small; every little bit counts. Even if you save just $10 or $20 per spending category, that can add up to hundreds of dollars each month. Reallocate all that money to your retirement fund, and you can potentially save thousands per year.
If you're only a few years from retirement and have little to nothing saved, you'll need to kick your savings into high gear. Depending on how far behind you are, this might require some major sacrifices. Once again, comb through your budget, and be ruthless when making cuts. Eliminate any expenses that aren't crucial, and even then, see if there are ways you can reduce those necessary costs. Could you downsize your home or sell your car? Drastic moves aren't easy, but they could help you save hundreds more per month.
Budget cuts can be challenging, but if you don't make sacrifices now, you'll need to make them in retirement.
Learn to live on less during your later years
Sometimes no matter how hard you try to save, it's simply not enough. Even if you manage to scrounge up a couple of hundred thousand dollars before you retire, that may only last a few years -- at which point you may be left to rely on just Social Security.
But being forced to live on less doesn't necessarily mean you're doomed to suffer in retirement. You don't always need a lot of money to retire well, and maximizing the savings you do have can help you make the most of your golden years.
The first step to making your money last as long as possible is to create a withdrawal strategy. If you withdraw as much from your retirement fund as you want, you risk running out of money far too soon. Instead, set annual spending limits and stick to them the best you can. It may be tempting to splurge in your first few years of retirement and complete your bucket list of traveling or updating your home with expensive renovations, but resist the urge to overspend. That's not to say you can't do these things; just make sure to budget for them and don't drain your savings too quickly.
Retirement is also a good opportunity to discover how thrifty you can be. Take advantage of senior discounts and try to find cheap or free activities. Teach yourself some new hobbies using online resources instead of signing up for expensive classes. Rather than going out to dinner a few times a week with friends, host a game night at your house. Or take the grandkids for a nature walk instead of going to the movies. Individually, these may not seem to make a major difference on your bottom line. Over time, though, they can potentially help you save a significant amount.
If you're close to retirement and your savings aren't quite where you'd hoped, you may feel forced to rely on others financially. But even the most supportive family members may not be able to help as much as you need. Instead, use whatever time you have left before retirement to supercharge your savings. Then, once you retire, continue making smart choices to make your money last as long as possible. By retiring with a strategic plan, you'll get the most bang for your buck.