The recent derailing of our economy has obliterated jobs, tightened credit availability, and, for employees at many companies, dried up 401(k) matching funds. Even the AARP, an advocacy organization for the retired and pre-retired, suspended its 401(k) matches. That's the bad news -- but it may be getting better.

As traditional pensions fade away, 401(k)s have become critical parts of many people's retirements. A 50% match of contributions up to 6% of a $60,000 salary amounts to as much as $1,800 of free money for an employee each year. If you get that $1,800 year after year for 25 years, and invest it at 8%, you'll end up with more than $142,000.

But recently, many employers cut back on those matching contributions for some or all employees, including Ford (NYSE:F), United Parcel Service (NYSE:UPS), and FedEx (NYSE:FDX).

Return of the missing match
There's good news around the bend, though. Recessions end. Things improve. In a Watson Wyatt survey of HR execs at 175 companies, 64% planned to restore matches within 18 months, while 43% expected them to return between six and 12 months from now. 

This might surprise some cynics, who expected the companies to make the cuts permanent. Such a cost-saving measure makes some sense, but it's also true that companies rely on benefits such as 401(k) matches to attract and retain employees. Expect more matching funds to reappear (along with a thaw in frozen salaries).

The right response
Unfortunately, not all bad trends will reverse themselves. For instance, the majority of employers plan to continue asking workers to shoulder more of the burden of health-care costs.

The key is not to rely too much on your employer for your retirement. If you're the victim of a match cut, consider upping your contribution to make up for it. Even if you're not, consider contributing more to help your nest egg grow.

Among other steps you can take to strengthen your retirement:

Open and fund a Roth IRA
You won't get a tax break up front, but you'll be able to withdraw the money tax-free in retirement. If your investments grow at a good clip, like these stocks have historically, that could be an excellent trade-off:


20-Year Average Annual Return

Best Buy (NYSE:BBY)




Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)


Automatic Data Processing (NASDAQ:ADP)


Data: Yahoo! Finance.

Investing $10,000 in a Roth IRA for 20 years, at an average of 12% growth, would yield almost $100,000. In a Roth IRA, you'd keep that entire amount without forfeiting any of the gain to taxes. In a traditional IRA or 401(k), you'd face a big tax liability.

Increase your contribution if you're 50 or older
Beyond that age, you can contribute more to your IRAs and 401(k)s -- several thousand dollars more per year, with 401(k)s. These "catch-up contributions" can make a huge difference.

Investigate a Roth 401(k)
Your employer may also offer these plans, which combine features of Roth IRAs and 401(k)s. You can typically invest much more in them each year than in IRAs, and you can eventually make withdrawals from them tax-free, if you follow the rules.

Whether or not you're headed for a joyous reunion with your absent matching funds, these steps can help firm up the foundation of your financial future.

Should you get out of stocks now before it's too late? John Rosevear has the answers you want right here.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Johnson & Johnson. Best Buy and FedEx are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Automatic Data Processing, Johnson & Johnson, and United Parcel Service are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Intel and Best Buy are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy. Try any of our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.