According to conventional wisdom, retirement income is a stool with three legs: Social Security, personal savings, and employer-provided retirement plans. Unfortunately, it's a heck of a wobbly stool:

  • Social Security is not likely to provide enough for us to comfortably live on.
  • Many pensions have given way to 401(k) plans, with remaining pensions in jeopardy, and many 401(k) accounts having plunged in value recently.
  • According to the 2009 Retirement Confidence Survey, fully 40% of us have less than $10,000 saved or invested. Roughly two-thirds have less than $50,000, and more than a third of those age 55 or older have less than $25,000. Egads.

That's a rather scary picture, isn't it?

Fortunately, all is not lost. Even though the three-legged stool may provide the bulk of your income, those are not the only ways you can get much-needed cash. Let me share with you 10 possible income sources you might want to consider, as well as tips to maximize all 10.

The 10-legged stool

1. Social Security: Yes, we can't count on this for all our retirement needs. But you can still make the most of it. You might, for example, want to start taking your payments at age 62, even if waiting until age 70 seems to offer twice as much money. In many cases, you'll do better with the earlier payout.

2. Pensions: There isn't much you can do about this one, except be prepared for any pension you have to be scaled back or frozen. There are still some jobs out there offering generous pensions, though. Perhaps you'll end up in one of them.

3. Retirement accounts: This is one of your most powerful tools. Making sizable contributions to a 401(k) at work and an IRA at home can do wonders. If you plunk $5,000 into an IRA each year for 15 years and it grows at 10% annually, you'll end up with $175,000. If it's a Roth IRA, you'll be able to take it all out tax-free! $15,000 per year socked into a 401(k) that earns 10% yearly over 20 years will grow to $945,000.

4. Savings: We all need to have some money put aside for an emergency. If you don't have a plan and an emergency fund, establish them. And look around for the best deals -- you'll find good rates at

5. Stocks: Whether you like young and dynamic companies that can potentially turn thousands into millions or bigger companies that can build a lot of long-term wealth for you through dividends and capital appreciation, stocks should be a part of your portfolio. Here, for example, are some top-rated companies that are among the favorites of our Motley Fool CAPS community.


1-Year Return

Dividend Yield

Forward P/E Ratio (estimate)

NYSE Euronext (NYSE:NYX)




ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP)








Valero Energy (NYSE:VLO)




PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP)




Diageo (NYSE:DEO)




Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL)




Data: Motley Fool CAPS, Yahoo! Finance. P/E = price to earnings.

6. Rent and royalties: Obviously, not everyone will be interested in investing in real estate, and if you're not lucky enough to own valuable mineral rights or to have written a profitable book, royalties aren't going to pour in by themselves. Still, look into these possibilities if they seem promising to you.

7. Inheritance: It may be sad to think about, but you may well receive a windfall inheritance from a loved one that can boost your retirement nest egg.

8. Annuities: Variable annuities get a lot of bad press for good reasons, but there are other kinds of annuities that can serve you well. Under the right circumstances, you might buy an income annuity that will pay you regularly for the rest of your life.

9. Part-time work: This might not be as distasteful as you think. Working part-time in retirement can keep you busy, help you socialize, and provide some handy extra income -- and perhaps some benefits, such as health insurance, as well!

10. Home equity: This is another asset that you might want to tap, instead of leaving it to your heirs. A reverse mortgage, for example, isn't for everyone, but it might help you out.

Not all of these may work for you. But expanding your income sources can only help during tough times.

For more on retiring well, read about:

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of PepsiCo. NYSE Euronext is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Diageo and PepsiCo are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.