It has been a full ten years since Congress first established National Save for Retirement Week to raise public awareness about this issue, but the need to address retirement security has never been more urgent. Consider this: according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 52% of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings (such as a 401(k) plan or an IRA).
That’s sobering. But the truth is, it is never too late to save for retirement. If you’re entering your final 10-20 years before retirement and still have a way to go before reaching your savings goals, don’t be discouraged; instead, embrace this period as a unique window of opportunity.
Here’s my advice:
- Have a comprehensive, up-to-date financial plan. This plan will tell you exactly how much you still need to sock away. A clearly defined goal is often what we need to galvanize us into action. If you do not yet have a comprehensive financial plan, now is the time to get one. Your financial plan will tell you, for example, exactly how much you should contribute to your 401(k) this year. If you’re curious what that amount might be, here’s a quick way to get an idea. Consider that your retirement portfolio (not just your stock portfolio but assets that include real estate and rental income as well) should be 10-15 times your expenses in retirement. Compare that ideal retirement portfolio number to what you currently have saved, and you’ll get a general idea of how much you’ll need to crank up your retirement savings.
- Make saving for retirement your #1 financial priority—then really lean in to your savings goals. It’s never too late to save and, chances are, you are now at the peak of your earning power. Plus, with the kids finished with college and out of the house, you have more funds to direct into your retirement savings. This is the perfect time to fatten your nest egg and set yourself up for long-term financial security, so make it your top priority. Max out all retirement vehicles available to you and take advantage of “Catch Up” contributions available through your employer and for your IRA.
- Pay off any lingering debts. If you have outstanding balances on credit cards, car loans or other installment loans, plan on paying them off before you retire. If possible, you should arrive at retirement debt-free. That way, the retirement savings you’ve worked so hard to accumulate will be yours to spend in full, rather than being reduced every month by debt payments.
- Reduce your living expenses. The flip side of boosting your retirement savings is gradually streamlining your lifestyle now, in preparation for retirement. Take a close look at your monthly expenses and identify items you can do without. Start eliminating a few expenses every year until you retire. This gradual approach will let you significantly cut your monthly expenses without feeling the shock of adjustment. Often, not knowing how much you really need to live on is the biggest challenge to your retirement dreams.
- Consider creative sources of retirement income. Keep in mind that there are many ways to generate the income you need in retirement—it does not all have to come from your investment portfolio. With 10 or more years to plan creatively, you can set yourself up to receive solid rental income by converting part of your home into a rental or investing in a multifamily residence. You can participate in the sharing economy (Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit and DogVacay are some services to consider). Or, you can plan to sell specific assets to boost your income in any given year. Typically, asset sales aren’t recurring sources of income, but don’t discount creativity. I learned of an insurance agent who shops at Walmart on Black Friday and then sells the items he bought at a deep discount for 4x their original price on eBay!