It takes decades of consistent saving to build a healthy retirement fund, and if you got off to a late start, your savings may not be quite as robust as you'd like them to be.
The good news is that you're not alone. More than half (56%) of workers globally are expected to fall short of their savings goals by more than 50%, according to a recent report from The Standard Chartered. Researchers studied workers around the world and asked about their "wealth aspirations," or the amount they're hoping to have saved by retirement age. The researchers then looked at participants' "wealth expectancy," or the amount they are expected to accumulate by the time they retire, and found that the majority of them will likely have less than half of the amount they hope to have saved by retirement age.
If you're dramatically behind on your savings, it won't be easy to catch up. However, it can be done, and the earlier you realize you're behind, the less work it will take to significantly boost your savings.
Step 1: Determine your goals
It's tough to determine how far behind you are (or whether you're behind at all) when you don't have a savings goal in mind. So the first step is to simply figure out how much you want to have saved by retirement age, as well as what you'll need to save every month to eventually reach that goal.
There are a few ways you can calculate this goal, but the simplest method is to use a retirement calculator. Before you start plugging in your information, though, be sure your inputs are as accurate as possible. You'll need to know a few numbers, like how much you anticipate spending each year in retirement, how long you'll live in retirement, and how much you'll be receiving in Social Security benefits.
Think about these numbers carefully, because if your estimates are wildly inaccurate, it could potentially wreck your retirement. Particularly if you underestimate these figures, you may spend decades thinking your savings are on track, only to reach retirement age and realize you don't have nearly enough saved. And at that point, there's not much you can do to correct the problem.
Step 2: Adjust your budget
Once you have your goals set -- both your overarching retirement goal and your monthly savings goal -- you'll be ready for the next step: finding extra cash to put toward your financial goals.
If you don't have much time before retirement and your savings are slim, you might find that you need to save several hundred or even a couple of thousand dollars per month to reach your retirement goals. Try not to get discouraged, and remember that even if you can't afford to save as much as the calculator says you need to, saving some is always better than saving nothing.
To save as much as you can, you may need to make some adjustments to your budget. Start tracking your expenses (if you don't do it already), and sort your costs into different categories. It's a lot easier to see where all your cash is going when you have all your expenses mapped out in front of you, and you may find you're spending a lot more in certain categories than you thought. Try to cut back wherever you can, then reallocate that money to your retirement fund.
This step can be difficult for many people, because it's tough to make budget cuts. But keep in mind that you'll need to make sacrifices somewhere. If you're not willing or able to cut back financially now, then you'll likely need to make sacrifices in retirement in order to live on less.
Step 3: Rinse and repeat
Creating retirement goals and making budget cuts shouldn't be "set it and forget it" types of tasks. Every year or so, recalculate your retirement goals to make sure nothing has changed. Also, think about the information you put into the calculator and consider whether those numbers have shifted. For example, if you've moved to a new city with a different cost of living, that will likely affect how much you expect to spend each year once you retire.
Be sure to look at your budget on a regular basis, too, and see if there are areas where you can save more. Make sure you're being diligent about tracking your spending, because it's easy to get lax after a few months. And if you're not paying close attention to your expenses, it's more likely that your spending will gradually start to creep back up and it will be tougher to save for the future.
Preparing for retirement isn't easy, especially if you're significantly behind on your savings. But even if you're off to a late start, that doesn't mean it's impossible to enjoy a comfortable retirement. By setting goals, adjusting your budget, and holding yourself accountable, you can boost your savings and build a healthier nest egg.