If your retirement is a decade or two away and you're not on track to have a sufficiently large nest egg by your desired retirement date, then be warned: You'd better love your job -- because you'll probably be toiling away longer than you planned.
So how much money do you need to retire with? Well, it depends on lots of factors, such as how long your retirement might last, the cost of living where you live, how much you expect to spend in retirement, how much you want to have on hand for health-care expenses (which some have estimated as totaling around $250,000 for a retired couple, on average), whether you have pension income, how much you expect to collect from Social Security, and so on.
Spend a little time estimating how much you'll need to spend annually in retirement and how much you'll need to amass to support that. Add together expected income streams such as what you expect from Social Security, dividends, annuities, and so on. That will give you an idea of how on or off track you are.
You're not alone
If you're not quite where you need to be, you might take a little comfort in the fact that you're not alone. A PBS NewsHour report offered these eye-opening stats:
- "More than half of today's households won't have enough money for retirement."
- "The percentage of workers who expect to work past age 65 has more than tripled over the past 30 years," rising from 11% in 1991 to $36% in 2013.
Here are some more, from the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey published annually by the Employee Benefit Research Institute:
- Only 57% of American workers (or their spouses) were saving for retirement in 2014, down from a recent peak of 65% in 2009.
- Fully 73% of American workers have no retirement plan.
- More than a third of Americans, 36%, have socked away less than $1,000.
What's going on?
A confluence of factors is contributing to this dire situation: For one thing, people are living longer, so their nest eggs, which are often insufficient, need to carry them through more years. Meanwhile, pensions have been disappearing, replaced in large part by workplace 401(k) plans, in which many workers don't participate, or don't contribute sufficiently to. (The old rule of thumb to sock away 10% of your income isn't enough for most of us. Aiming for 15% or even 20%, especially if we're starting late, is much better.)
The recent recession didn't help, either, as it set many people's savings back a bunch of years -- though, as has always (eventually) happened after market downturns, the stock market recovered. The lesson there is to keep any money you'll need within a few years (or even 10 years, to be more conservative) out of stocks and in less volatile investments, such as savings accounts, money market accounts, or CDs.
What to do
Fortunately, all is not lost, even if you're way behind in saving for retirement. There are a number of steps you can take, such as saving more aggressively and investing more effectively. For many or even most of us, a simple, inexpensive broad-market index fund or two will give us the best chance at long-term growth. If you haven't been making the most of tax-advantaged retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s and IRAs, start contributing as much as you can to them. You might also downsize in retirement, to save money.
And then there's this solution for people who are undersaved: Work longer. It's not what many people want, but it's very effective, as it lets you earn more money to sock away, lets your investments keep growing for longer without needing to be tapped, can help you delay starting to collect Social Security (which increases the size of your checks), and can keep you on a cheaper company health insurance plan longer, too.
Tips on how to love your job
Finally, here are some tips that might help you like your job more, which can help if you're looking at staying there longer. (If you can't imagine any way to like your job, think about changing careers -- it may not be too late to find a more rewarding or enjoyable occupation.)
- Be productive, as that can make you happier with your work. Make task lists and cross off items throughout the day. Take short breaks to re-energize yourself.
- If you feel you're underpaid, consider asking for a raise. It can be helpful to research salaries online to help make your case. Gaining more skills or certifications can be helpful here, too. Continuing to learn can keep you more engaged and can boost your productivity, too.
- Focus on any aspect(s) of your job that you do like, and make the most of that. Don't focus too much on aspects you don't like. Imagine how your job could be more satisfying, and see if you can negotiate any changes with your boss.
Working longer isn't what most people want, but there are upsides to it beyond even the financial ones. Many people, for example, feel a little purposeless in retirement, and miss the structure of the workday. Working longer can delay that. If you just really don't want to work any longer than you have to, though, this is the time to start taking steps to beef up your retirement portfolio and accumulate savings aggressively.
Longtime Fool specialist Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, has no position in any stocks mentioned. Nor does The Motley Fool. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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.