To many people, retirement might seem like a lofty goal -- especially as it becomes more and more difficult to afford to retire.
Pensions are scarce these days, and many workers are concerned about the future of Social Security. That means most of your retirement income will likely need to come from your personal savings, and retirement isn't cheap. In fact, the average worker thinks they'll need to have around $1.7 million saved so that their money lasts the rest of their life, a survey from Charles Schwab found.
If you're behind on your retirement savings, you may feel like you're doomed to struggle in your golden years. But if you're willing to work for it, it is possible to retire rich -- even if you haven't started saving yet.
What exactly does it mean to retire rich?
First, it's important to define what "rich" means in retirement. Everyone has different savings goals, and what "rich" means to one person might be wildly different from another person's definition of the word. For our purposes, let's say retiring rich means being able to afford a comfortable lifestyle in retirement.
Now, the definition of "comfortable" also depends on your unique situation. Think about how much you're currently spending each year, and consider whether that number will change once you retire. Some people will spend far less in retirement than they're spending now, while other retirees will see their expenses increase dramatically -- or you might not see much of a change at all. You don't have to know exactly how much you'll be spending down to the penny in retirement, but think about how your lifestyle will shift. Are you planning several expensive trips once you retire? Or do you expect to spend most of your time at home catching up on your reading and playing with the grandkids?
Another factor to consider is the age at which you plan to retire. If you're in your 40s or 50s with zero retirement savings, it might be unrealistic to assume you can retire at 60 with a healthy nest egg. But if you're willing and able to work a few years longer, you'll be able to save more and enjoy a more comfortable retirement when you eventually do leave your job.
Finally, think about how Social Security benefits will factor into your retirement plan. Your benefits are only designed to replace roughly 40% of your preretirement income, meaning the majority of your retirement money will need to come from other sources. But your benefits can significantly help make ends meet. You can check your estimated benefit amount based on your real earnings by creating a mySocialSecurity account, which will give you an idea of what your future checks might look like. From there, you can determine how much of your retirement income will need to come from your personal savings.
With these numbers in mind, use a retirement calculator to get an estimate of how much you should aim to save by the time you retire. Most calculators will also tell you what you'll need to save each month to reach that goal, which will give you a monthly target to aim for, too.
Now for the tough part: finding enough money to save
Depending on your age and the amount you want to have saved by the time you retire, you might feel a little overwhelmed by how much you need to save each month. But don't panic, because there are ways you can save more and increase your retirement income even if you don't have a ton of cash to spare.
The first step is to figure out where all your money is going and see where you can cut back. If you don't already track your expenses and maintain a budget, now is the time to start. The truth is you might have more to save than you think, because it's possible you're overspending in some areas without realizing it. In fact, the average American spends close to $500 per month on nonessential costs, according to a survey from Charles Schwab, despite the fact that close to 60% of those same respondents say they're living paycheck to paycheck. If you're not accurately tracking your spending, you might feel like you have nothing to save when in reality you could be spending hundreds of dollars per month on unnecessary expenses.
If you've cut all you can and are still nowhere close to reaching your monthly saving goal, you might need to make some more dramatic sacrifices. For example, you could consider downsizing to a smaller home or moving to a less expensive neighborhood. Although it's a big decision that shouldn't be taken lightly, it could save you hundreds per month on your mortgage or rent. Just be sure you're considering all the costs in moving, because if you move to a new area with lower housing costs but much higher property taxes, for example, you might not be saving as much as you think.
Also, simply saving more isn't your only option to boost your retirement income. For example, you may choose to delay retirement by a few years (if you're able to do so) to give you more time to save. Or you could also wait to claim Social Security benefits to receive bigger checks each month. If you claim at your full retirement age (FRA) -- which is age 67 for those born in 1960 or later or either 66 or 66 and a few months for those born before 1960 -- you'll receive the full benefit amount you're entitled to. But if you wait until after your FRA (up until age 70) to claim, you'll receive extra money each month for the rest of your life. This can be a serious advantage if your savings aren't as robust as you'd like, because if you run out of money in retirement, those bigger checks can go a long way.
If you're close to retirement age and you haven't begun saving yet, it will probably be tough to retire a millionaire. But that doesn't mean you can't do your best to save as much as possible in the time you have left. Saving what you can is better than doing nothing, and if you're willing to work for it, you could still build a nest egg worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in a relatively short period of time.