Retirement is an exciting milestone for many Americans, but a scary one for others. After all, it's hard to go from earning a steady paycheck to suddenly throwing caution to the wind and hoping your savings and Social Security benefits will be enough to sustain you for what could easily be a 30-year period of life or longer. And while you can do your best to plan for your golden years, increases in living costs and other surprises can still render you cash-strapped down the line.

It's not surprising, then, to see that roughly 14% of Americans aged 50 and over are convinced they'll never really be ready for retirement, according to Nationwide. If that's how you feel, here are a few ways to improve your outlook.

Older man and woman looking at documents


1. Know your costs

Though you can't predict what every single expense you incur in retirement will look like over time, you can do your best to estimate your living expenses by mapping out a budget for your golden years in advance. Decide where you want to live, whether you'll rent or own a home, and what sort of lifestyle you're hoping to maintain (traveling and joining a country club will cost a lot more than spending time in your neighborhood and starting a book or gardening club). By having a solid idea of what retirement will cost you, you'll be able to better prepare for it.

2. Have plenty of savings

If there were a magic savings target that guaranteed you'd be able to pay your bills throughout retirement, you'd have an easier time knowing how much wealth to amass. Unfortunately, that number doesn't exist, but a good rule of thumb is to aim to close out your career with 10 times your ending salary in your IRA or 401(k). And if you're hoping to enjoy a more lavish retirement, you'll need even more money.

If you're in your 50s and aren't comfortable with the amount you've saved thus far, cut back on some expenses so you're able to ramp up. If you have access to a 401(k) plan, you're allowed to sock away up to $26,000 a year in it. Do so for the next decade, and you'll add roughly $360,000 to your nest egg, assuming your investments generate an average annual 7% return during that time (which is doable if you keep a large chunk of your portfolio in stocks).

3. Set aside funds specifically for healthcare

It's estimated that healthcare will cost the average healthy 65-year-old couple today $387,644 throughout retirement. That's a lot of money to shell out, especially since it doesn't account for long-term care -- that's a separate expense. But if you make a point to set aside funds specifically for future healthcare expenses, you'll have an easier time dealing with medical bills during your golden years.

To this end, a health savings account (HSA) is really your best bet. If you're on a high-deductible health insurance plan, you can set aside up to $3,550 this year as an individual, or up to $7,100 at the family level, and then carry that money into retirement, when you're likely to need it the most. If you're 55 or older, you also get a $1,000 catch-up on top of whichever limit applies to you. HSA contributions go in tax-free, can be invested for tax-free growth (as is the case with a Roth 401(k) or IRA), and can be withdrawn tax-free to cover qualified medical expenses. You can use your HSA funds to pay for everything from Medicare premiums to deductibles to copays for prescriptions.

4. Invest in long-term care insurance

Even if you kick off your golden years in relatively good health, you never know when you might get injured to the point where you require long-term care. Furthermore, long-term care often becomes necessary as a byproduct of aging.

The problem? It can be prohibitively expensive. According to Genworth's 2019 Cost of Care Survey, the median cost for a year of semi-private nursing home care is $90,155. For a private room, it's $102,200. Assisted living is cheaper, but still costly, at a median annual price tag of $48,612.

That's why it pays to secure long-term care insurance ahead of retirement. In fact, your 50s are the ideal time to apply. That way, you're not paying those premiums for too long, but you're also young enough to not only increase your chances of getting approved for a policy, but snag a discount on your premiums. Having long-term care insurance is a good way to help alleviate one major potential source of financial stress down the line.

You may not feel ready for your golden years today, but that doesn't mean you can't take steps to get more peace of mind. And once you do, you're likely to find that your retirement outlook shifts for the better.