Retirement is a scary prospect. Think about it: It's basically several decades of unemployment, assuming you don't work in some capacity during that time, coupled with a host of potentially unknown expenses, like repairs on your aging home or medical costs that come in higher than anticipated.
If you have concerns heading into your senior years, you're not alone. But here are a few steps you can take to ease those worries and approach retirement with a lot more confidence.
1. Map out a budget in advance
Getting a handle on what retirement will cost you is a good way to give yourself peace of mind. As that milestone nears, take some time to think about where you want to live, whether you'll own a home or rent, and what you'll do with your newfound free time. Then, do some research to see what your lifestyle will cost you, and figure out how much monthly and annual income that translates to. From there, you'll be better equipped to assess your savings and adjust your plans if necessary.
For example, you may find that to support the lifestyle you're hoping for, you'll need to work and save for two extra years. But that may be a more-than-worthwhile sacrifice if it buys you the retirement you really want.
2. Boost your savings -- both general and healthcare-related
The more money you have going into retirement, the more assured you'll be of having the means to pay your bills. The good news is that popular retirement savings plans like IRAs and 401(k)s have catch-up provisions for older workers, so if your savings need a late-in-the-game boost, that option is on the table.
For the current year, anyone 50 or older can sock away up to $7,000 in an IRA or $26,000 in a 401(k). The limits for younger workers are $6,000 and $19,500, respectively. If you have a 401(k) and are five years away from retirement, maxing out at the current level will leave you with an extra $143,668 on top of what you've already saved, assuming your investments generate a relatively conservative 5% average yearly return during that time.
But don't just max out your IRA or 401(k); max out your health savings account, or HSA, if you're eligible to participate in one. You can contribute up to $3,550 this year on your own behalf, or up to $7,100 on behalf of a family, and if you're 55 or older, you get to put in an additional $1,000 on top of whichever limit you already qualify for. And as a reminder, HSA funds don't expire, so you can carry them into retirement and use that money as a dedicated source of healthcare spending.
3. Maximize your Social Security benefits
The more money you get from Social Security, the more financial flexibility you'll buy yourself as a senior. There are several things you can do to boost your benefits. For one thing, you can hold off on claiming them past your full retirement age, which is either 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on the year you were born. For each year you delay your benefits, they'll increase by 8% up until age 70, at which point those increases stop.
You can also boost your Social Security benefits by fighting for raises later on in your career, since your earnings are tied directly to the amount of money you're eligible to collect as a senior. Similarly, you may be able to boost your benefits by extending your career a bit. Your benefits are based on your 35 highest-paid years in the workforce. If you're earning more toward the end of your career than you were earlier on, you can replace a few years of lower earnings with a higher income to increase the monthly retirement benefit you're entitled to.
It's natural to be nervous about leaving the workforce and entering retirement, but rather than spend your days worrying about it, make an effort to budget for your senior years, increase your savings, and get the most out of Social Security. Doing so could save you a world of stress -- and help you enjoy the period during which you wind down your career and gear up for what lies ahead.