Some statistics are bad enough on their own. When you pair them up, they can get really ugly:

  • According to a Sun Life Financial survey, "Over 90% of Americans either have no idea how much they will spend on health care in retirement, or underestimate the costs; three-fourths have no plans to meet health care costs."
  • According to Fidelity Investments, an average 65-year-old couple retiring now will spend about $230,000 on health care in retirement.

In short, not only do you likely have no idea what health care will cost during your retirement, but it'll also likely cost a whole lot.

More bad news
Rather than thinking about their retirement budget, many folks are probably just putting some money aside and hoping for the best. That's a reckless move. Per the 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey, 67% of Americans have less than $50,000 socked away for retirement.

Let's be generous and say that you have $50,000 in your nest egg at the moment, and you're only 50 years old. If you add $5,000 to that every year until age 65, and it all grows at 8% annually, you'll end up with around $305,000. (Try it yourself with your own actual numbers, via this handy calculator.) In that scenario, you risk retiring with just $75,000 to spend on non-health-care expenses. Yikes!

Worse still, that example includes a lot of estimates and assumptions. You may well have less than $50,000 socked away. Your investments may grow at an annual average rate of 5%, not 8%. Your ultimate health-care expenses may cost you $300,000 or more. And even if they cost you $0, that $305,000 may still be far less than you need.

But fortunately...
If you're heading to the kitchen now to stick your head in the oven, stop. All is not lost.

To fix your situation, you can start by saving more every year. Conventional wisdom has long suggested saving 10% of your income, but some experts now suggest 20. If you can swing more than that, consider doing so.

You can also work a few more years. Retire at age 70 instead of 65, and you'll have five more years of saving, investing, and not tapping your nest egg. It may also mean five more years of health coverage from your employer.

Delaying starting Social Security payments can boost them a lot. Start them at age 70 instead of 66, and your checks will be 32% fatter! That will turn a $2,500 payment into a $3,300 one, and an annual sum of $30,000 into nearly $40,000 -- a rather meaningful difference.

You might also examine your investments and perhaps adjust them so that you can expect to earn more. If much of your money is sitting in CDs earning close to nothing, you might consider blue-chip dividend stocks, which can pay you 3% or 5% or more annually. You can also consider downsizing your home, taking on a part-time job, looking into a reverse mortgage, and other options.

Finally, you stand a good chance of lowering your ultimate health care costs by taking good care of yourself. You'll reap the double benefit of prolonging your life and your nest egg.

Get lots of great guidance and tips about planning for retirement here:

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.