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You'll Be Shocked by How Many Americans Have No Retirement Savings at All

By Maurie Backman - Feb 19, 2020 at 6:31AM

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An uncomfortably large percentage of U.S. adults haven't begun setting money aside for their senior years. And that's really scary.

Social Security does a good job of helping millions of seniors stay afloat financially. But let's be clear: You can't live on those benefits alone.

These days, the typical senior on Social Security receives just over $18,000 in annual income. That may be enough to provide for a nice lifestyle when there's other money on hand, such as distributions from a retirement savings plan. But without income outside Social Security, you're apt to struggle financially once your time in the workforce comes to an end.

Unfortunately, a large number of Americans are vulnerable to that very risk. That's because a surprising 35% have no money set aside for retirement at all, according to a FinanceBuzz survey released in January 2020.

Side profile of serious man

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

If you've yet to begin funding your nest egg, you should know that you're doing your future self a major disservice. And the sooner you realize that, the sooner you can take steps to salvage your golden years.

A little effort goes a long way

Many people don't save for retirement because they're led to believe that Social Security will provide enough income for them to live comfortably. Others don't save because their income is monopolized by near-term expenses -- things like rent, food, and healthcare. But if you don't push yourself to save consistently for retirement, you're more likely than not to have a hard time paying your bills when you're older.

So what should you do if you're not in the habit of saving for retirement at all, and you can't imagine how on earth you're going to suddenly start eking out money for savings? Well, for one thing, get yourself on a budget. List your ongoing expenses, figure out how much they really cost you, and then see how your spending compares to what you earn. Once you have that budget in place, you'll be able to go through your different expense categories and make some changes that free up money for your retirement savings.

For example, say you currently spend $200 a month on leisure. That may seem perfectly reasonable at first, but since that's technically not an absolute necessity, you can cut that figure in half and sock the remainder away in your IRA or 401(k).

It also pays to consider getting yourself a second job if your current earnings don't leave you with much opportunity to build savings. Thankfully, the gig economy makes it easy to earn money on your own terms, and a little effort on your part could make a huge difference as far as your nest egg is concerned.

Finally, plan to invest your savings aggressively, especially if you're more than 10 years away from retirement. Loading up on stocks is your best bet, because while stocks may be volatile, they tend to produce much higher returns than safer investments like bonds.

Now, let's say you're able to cut back on spending a bit and generate a little extra cash for savings via a second job so you're able to stick $250 a month into your IRA or 401(k). Let's also assume you load up on stocks in your retirement plan so that your investments generate an average annual 7% return, which is a bit below the stock market's average. Here's what your nest egg might amount to, depending on your savings window:

If You Start Saving $250 a Month at Age:

Here's What You'll Have by Age 67 (Assumes an Average Annual 7% Return)

27

$599,000

32

$415,000

37

$283,000

42

$190,000

47

$123,000

Data source: author. 

Your retirement isn't going to pay for itself, and Social Security won't pay for it, either -- at least not in full. If you want to avoid struggling later in life, make an effort to build savings while you still have a steady paycheck coming in. It may require some sacrifice, but you'll be grateful for that money when you're older and you realize just how expensive retirement can be.

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