If you start investing consistently at the beginning of your career and continue for decades, it's almost trivially simple to wind up financially comfortable in retirement. If most of your career is behind you by the time you start saving, then it's a lot tougher to build that nest egg.
However, even if you're starting late, a decent retirement may still be within your reach. It might look different from what you originally envisioned, but so long as you're still drawing a paycheck, you can take steps that get you closer to the retirement you were hoping for.
What can you do?
Financially speaking, three factors matter more to you in retirement than any others:
- How much money is coming in
- How much money is going out
- How long your nest egg has to last
Your goal for a successful retirement is to have enough money coming in to cover the money going out, for at least as long as your retirement lasts. To some extent, you can make adjustments to all three factors, but if you're getting a late start on saving for retirement, that first factor will be the hardest to adjust.
If you're worried about having enough money coming in, then your best option is to continue working if possible. Working longer gives you more time to save, gives your investments more time to compound, and reduces the amount of time your nest egg needs to last. Working longer can also enhance your eventual Social Security benefits. Between your full retirement age (66 for most Americans) and age 70, your eventual benefit will increase by 8% for every year you delay benefits. Furthermore, given that Social Security decides your benefits based on the 35 highest-earning years of your career, your income may boost your benefit as well.
As a prospective retiree, working doesn't necessarily mean staying at the job you want to retire from. It could mean going part-time, working with a nonprofit you've long admired, or joining an outfit that specializes in hiring experienced experts for consulting, such as YourEncore. Any income supplement can help cover the gap between what's coming in and what's going out.
Costs matter, too
It's a little easier to adjust on the spending side, at least during the early stages of your retirement, when you're likely still able to live independently. If you take a look at every aspect of your life and re-evaluate it from your new perspective as a retiree, you'll likely find expenses that were once very important to you but no longer matter.
For instance, consider your living arrangements. If you own a home large enough to raise a family in a top-notch school district supported by high property taxes, you can probably save a substantial chunk of change by selling your home. You still need somewhere to live, but there are significant costs of home ownership beyond just a mortgage. Many of those costs may have made sense when you were working and raising a family but aren't as critical for an empty-nest retiree. So consider moving and downsizing size as a way to save substantial sums.
Within your home, look at what you're paying for television, phone, and Internet and consider whether you could get by with fewer services, negotiate a better price by bundling, or find lower-cost substitutes. Also consider upgrades like a programmable thermostat that you can use to control heating and cooling costs while you're out of the house or sleeping.
On top of where you live, consider how you get around town, what you do for food and clothing, and even your healthcare costs.
While your healthcare costs will likely rise as you age, keeping them in check while you can will go a long way toward improving your quality of life in your retirement. You do have options: Different Medicare supplements or Affordable Care Act exchange plans have different trade-offs between costs, providers, and how care is covered. It's a good idea to start looking early to find a plan that has the right balance of cost and features to find what you expect to need at your lowest total cost.
On top of those big expenses, review where the rest of your money is going and figure out ways to get what you need for less while eliminating or reducing the costs of the things you don't need. For instance, if you're in a two-car household, can you get by on one -- or even on mass transit if you no longer need to commute and time is no longer of the essence? Can more of your meals be home-cooked? Food takes longer to prepare that way, but it costs substantially less.
By reviewing every penny you spend and considering ways to get what you really need for less, you can save a bundle and really make your income count.
Balance your money to protect your time
Ultimately, your successful retirement is about enjoying the time you have left on this Earth. If you're starting late on your savings journey and don't have quite the nest egg you were hoping for, a reasonable retirement may still be within your reach. The balancing act you face might be a little tougher, but if you go into it with your eyes wide open and try your best to balance those top three factors, you'll be giving yourself a great shot at success.
Chuck Saletta has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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.