Off to a Late Start? Catching Up Strategies for Retirement

Off to a Late Start? Catching Up Strategies for Retirement

You did not begin saving for retirement early enough. Now you are in your 40s or 50s, and you've barely saved anything for your post-work years.

Fortunately, you can take steps to resolve this. Just because you procrastinated doesn't mean that you are doomed to a retirement filled with money woes.

First, don't worry about the past. You cannot go back in time and boost your retirement savings. The only thing you can do now is to start saving in earnest. It will not be easy, but if you cut down on your expenses and boost your rate of savings, you can still build enough cash to enjoy a comfortable retirement.

The key is to start saving immediately. The more time you waste, the fewer chances you'll have of building a large enough nest egg to reach your goals for your retirement years.

Working longer isn't enough

It is tempting to think that you can compensate for your late start by working longer. After all, every extra year you log at your job will boost the amount of money you receive each year from Social Security.

Problem is, even if you work until you are 70, the extra income you earn and the increase in your Social Security benefits will not provide enough money to live a comfortable retirement.

The reason? Social Security payments simply don't provide enough income for most retirees. The vast majority of retirees will need to rely on other forms of income such as savings and their company-sponsored 401(k) to pay bills and reach their goals during their retirement years.

If you are relying on working longer, then, you'll need to explore other avenues to boost your retirement preparedness.

Boost savings, reduce expenses

There is no magic formula that late starters can use to build a retirement nest egg. Saving enough money for retirement requires hard choices: You'll need to increase your income and dramatically reduce your expenses.

The first step? Employees in their 40s and 50s need to eliminate as much debt as possible, especially debt from credit cards. Your retirement years will be far more stressful if you have large amounts of consumer debt. Make the smart financial decisions today to forego those pricey electronics or extravagant meals out if you cannot afford to pay for them with cash. You'll be grateful you did once retirement comes.

Another possible move? Downsize to a more affordable home. If you are making a large mortgage payment each month, you can dramatically reduce your monthly expenses by selling your existing home and downsizing to a condominium or smaller home that comes with an equally smaller monthly payment.

This might even make sense for your and your spouse. Your living space needs will grow smaller as you age and your children move away. Why not downsize to a home that not only saves you money but also comes with fewer maintenance needs?

You might also make lifestyle changes to reduce the amount of money you are spending each month. You do not need the most expensive luxury car on the market. A mid-priced vehicle can get you to and from your office just as well and for a much smaller monthly payment. Instead of shopping at the highest-end department stores, consider shopping at more reasonably priced retailers. You do not have to cut out all your pleasures, but the more frugal you are now, the better off financially you'll be once you retire.

At the same time you are reducing expenses, you'll need to boost the amount of money you are saving for retirement.

This starts with your company's 401(k) plan. Make sure you are contributing the maximum amount possible to your plan. Since your company will automatically deduct these dollars from your paycheck, you'll barely miss them. However, the extra savings will add up once retirement age hits.

Open IRA accounts, too. Moreover, if you already contribute to IRAs, boost your yearly contributions. Remember, once you hit the age of 50, you can make "catch-up" payments to your IRA and workplace retirement plans. For traditional and Roth IRAs, this means that you can invest an extra $1,000 above the standard contribution limits for these accounts. For 401(k) plans, you can contribute $5,500 more above the annual contribution limits. These additional catch-up payments can dramatically boost the size of your retirement savings.

If you receive unplanned for money from raises and promotions, make sure to save it for retirement. Too often, when workers receive raises, they simply increase their monthly expenses. Don't fall into this trap.

If you are still worried about your future retirement savings, consider adding a second income to your household. This could mean that a spouse who has not worked in the past takes on a second job. It could also mean starting a home-based business or renting out an unused mother-in-law suite in your home. Producing a new income stream for several years before you hit retirement age can significant ally improve your financial standing once you leave the workforce.

Adjusting retirement plans

Even if you take all these steps, you still might not save enough to meet your original retirement goals. If this is the case, you may have to adjust your expectations for your retirement.

For example, maybe you and your spouse planned to travel the world. If you started saving for retirement too late, this might not be possible. Instead, you may have to adjust your expectations. You might have to be happy with a retirement in which you pay your bills, cover your medical costs and spend quality time with your adult children and grandchildren.

The key is to be comfortable during your retirement. You might not lead a life of luxury, but you also won't be worrying about paying the grocery bill each week.