We're spending our kids' inheritance!

I get a chuckle every time I see that bumper sticker, but it's not for the reason you think.

I mean, sure, it's funny the first time you read it.

But over time, you begin to notice the same slogan on many cars. The first one I saw was, fittingly enough, on an RV as we hugged the Cumberland Gap's mountainous curves in Tennessee. I saw another on a Chrysler Sebring convertible, with gray hair flowing in the wind. Unfortunately, the last one I saw was on a beat-up car tied up in a rush-hour commute.

So I laugh, but it's a bittersweet chuckle. Some retirees are eating into their nest eggs, while others are begrudgingly shoving off to work again, because they can't get by on their pensions and Social Security checks.

You don't look a day over thrifty
The good news is that we're living longer. The bad news is, well, that we're living longer. As medical breakthroughs and healthier lifestyles expand our life expectancies, you simply can't count on hanging up your cleats the way your parents and grandparents did.

Because your retirement will last longer than you probably think, you really face just two choices:

  • Put off your retirement as long as you can.
  • Plan better for your retirement so your bumper sticker isn't sadly ironic.

You are certainly welcome to wing it ... if you did, you wouldn't be alone. However, before you begin pondering reverse mortgages or viaticals after your pockets run dry in retirement, you owe it to yourself to gain as big a lead as possible on the gravity of your greenbacks.

Three tips to make your money immortal
There are plenty of shortcomings that can erode your nest egg, but the biggest retirement killer has to be the inability to maximize your retirement savings.

I've got a few tips to help you get there.

1. Invest thematically

If retirees are living longer, cash in on the stocks that stand to benefit from prolonged periods of retirement. Here are a few worth researching further:

  • Almost Family (NASDAQ:AFAM) is a fast-growing provider of home-based health services.
  • Carnival (NYSE:CCL) is the country's leading cruise line. Cruising offers a convenient way to travel. As the pool of retirees grows, ships will be able to book more passengers during the seasonal lulls between younger family vacation breaks.
  • Life Partners (NASDAQ:LPHI) helps broker deals on life insurance settlements for terminally ill patients. It's a grim business, but one I believe will grow in popularity as cash-strapped seniors seek out capital infusions.
  • Thor Industries (NYSE:THO) is a leading RV maker, and one of the few that remains profitable. Don't just envy the retirees seeing the country on wheels. Profit from them.

2. Only trust the right dividends

When General Electric (NYSE:GE) recently slashed its dividend, it didn't take anyone by surprise. It may have been the first time that the conglomerate lowered its payout since 1938, but investors saw it coming. The stock had been beaten down so low in the months leading to the reduction that the ridiculously high yield really was too good to be true.

If you want to invest for income, only consider companies that have the financial outlook to cover their distributions. The payout ratio is your friend here. Is the company paying comfortably less in dividends than it is taking in through earnings? Check the payouts against earnings expectations, too.

It also doesn't hurt if the stock has a healthy history of hiking its dividend, like these long-haul achievers:

  • Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) has bumped up its dividend in 47 consecutive years.
  • 3M (NYSE:MMM) has delivered 51 years of higher quarterly disbursements.

3. Think now, play later

Retirement planning isn't a full-time job, but a full-time job is what many who fail to plan may face. Do you know how much you'll need for a comfortable retirement? Have you lined up your future income and expenses to see if you're sitting pretty or spooning down cat food? You're not alone if you're shaking your head. Last year's 18th annual Retirement Confidence Survey indicated that less than half of American workers have taken the time to make basic retirement calculations.

My longtime friend and colleague Robert Brokamp runs an excellent service called Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement. Every month, he covers timely issues like tax planning and retirement account trends. He also runs model portfolios to help retirees -- and eventual retirees -- achieve ideal asset-allocation strategies. If you need help taking control of your future, I encourage you to try the service free of charge for the next 30 days -- just click here to learn more.

So why wait until it's too late? Seize control of your future by taking the wheel while you still can. The last thing you want to see is me in your rearview mirror, shaking my head at your bumper sticker.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz would rather have a bumper sticker that reads "We're INVESTING our kids' inheritance!" He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. 3M and Coca-Cola are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. The Fool has a disclosure policy