Retirement isn't a period of life we should just dive into. Rather, there should be a host of planning -- and saving -- involved. And that effort should happen over the course of many years -- ideally, throughout your career.
The good news is that 54% of Gen Xers in their 40s and 50s think they're on track for retirement, according to a new report from the Society of Actuaries. But that also means that nearly half of middle-aged Americans think they still have a lot of work to do. If you're feeling less than secure about your retirement and you're already halfway through your career, here are some essential moves to make.
1. Start ramping up your retirement plan contributions
A big reason you may be concerned with the idea of retiring is that you don't have a lot of money socked away for it. Well, don't despair. If you're in your 40s or 50s, it means you're probably not retiring tomorrow, so rather than focus on the years of savings you've missed, focus on the years ahead of you.
Get yourself on a budget so you can better control your spending, and carve out more money to contribute to your IRA or 401(k) plan. If you manage to sock away $600 a month for the next 20 years, and your retirement plan investments generate an average annual 8% return during that time (which we'll get into below), you'll wind up with about $330,000. Make it $800 a month, and you'll be sitting on close to $440,000.
Keep in mind that these figures don't account for any money you've saved for retirement already. If you have a $50,000 nest egg and you sock away $600 a month for 20 more years, and you score that 8% return, you'll wind up with around $563,000. And with an $800 monthly investment and a $50,000 starting point, you'll have $672,000.
2. Make sure you're invested appropriately
It's generally a good idea to invest conservatively when retirement starts getting close. But if you're in your 40s or 50s and won't be leaving the workforce for at least a decade or longer, then there's no reason to stay away from stocks.
The 8% return we used in the example above is based on a stock-heavy portfolio. In fact, 8% is actually a bit below the market's historical average, but it also takes the fact that you'll shift toward safer investments closer to retirement into account. However, if you play it too safe, your savings won't grow as much, which could leave you cash-strapped once your career comes to an end.
3. Start thinking about your senior years
You may feel that you're not on track for retirement simply because you have no idea what your senior years will look like. Now the reality is that if you're in your 40s or even 50s, you may not yet know where you want to end up a decade or more down the line. But one thing you should be more in tune with is your personality.
Are you the type of person who enjoys a laid-back lifestyle, or do you constantly need to be on the go and doing things? Do you prefer to stay close to home, or do you get the itch to travel every few months? And what type of area do you prefer to live in -- a bustling city, or a quiet neighborhood in the suburbs? These aspects of your personality will likely dictate what your retirement looks like to a large degree, and that could, in turn, help you plan and save appropriately for it.
By the time you reach your 40s or 50s, you want to feel confident about retirement. If you're not there yet, take these steps to change your outlook and get yourself on a solid path.