The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our society, fundamentally changing the way we currently live. It's also wreaked havoc on the economy, and there's a good chance you've watched your retirement investments take a nosedive in recent weeks.
For those who are still many years away from retirement, this shouldn't worry you too much. The stock market will always experience ups and downs, so although your retirement savings may be in rough shape now, they should bounce back on their own as long as you continue investing consistently.
However, if you're just a year or two away from retirement, you may need to adjust your plans. If your current savings aren't nearly as strong as you'd hoped they'd be by this point, you might have to delay retirement.
Should you push back your retirement?
Determining whether to postpone retirement can be a tough decision, but it comes down to how close you are to your desired retirement age and how much you have in savings.
If you planned to retire this year and your investments have taken a significant hit, you might have no choice but to delay retirement if you can't afford to live on the savings you have. But if you have quite a few years left before you plan to retire, you might be able to supercharge your savings during that time to get back on track and retire on schedule.
It can be challenging to plan for your senior years during a market downturn because nobody knows exactly how long it will be before the economy starts to improve and stocks start to bounce back. So if you're trying to figure out just how much you need to save now or exactly what age you'll be able to retire, there may not be an immediate answer.
Flexibility is key here, so try your best to ride out this storm and adjust your plans along the way. And there are a few things in particular you can do right now to make that task a little easier.
Planning for an unpredictable future
Regardless of whether you're close to retirement or it's still decades away, it's best to continue contributing to your retirement fund. It may feel like you're simply throwing money away when the market is in free fall, but now is actually a smart time to invest when stock prices are low. The stock market will improve over time, so focus on the long term more than the short term.
One thing you don't want to do right now is cash out your retirement fund. Cashing out may sound like a good idea when your investments plummet because you might think it will help salvage whatever money you have left. In reality, though, selling your investments when the stock market is at a low point will only hurt your savings in the long run. By liquidating now and then waiting until the economy improves to start investing again, you're missing out on valuable time to let your money grow.
Once the market starts to recover, it will be easier to gauge whether your savings are enough to be able to retire on time. If you find that your retirement fund isn't quite as robust as you hoped it would be, you'll either need to start stashing away more or push retirement back by a few years. But if the stock market is booming and your investments have grown quickly, you might be right on track for retirement.
If you decide to postpone retirement, working a few years longer has an additional benefit: You could collect larger Social Security checks. You can begin claiming Social Security as early as age 62, but for every month you wait past that age, you'll receive slightly bigger checks. So if you decide to delay retirement by a few years to pad your nest egg, you could also delay benefits, as well, to further boost your retirement income.
Retirement planning is never easy, but it's even more challenging during difficult economic times. While the future may be unpredictable, that doesn't mean you can't take steps to prepare the best you can. By continuing to save and being willing to be flexible with your retirement plans, you can set yourself up for an enjoyable retirement -- even if it's a few years later than you originally expected.