Many Americans haven’t saved enough for retirement. The problem is especially common among Baby Boomers.
A 2015 CNBC report said that only 60 percent of Baby Boomers reported having any retirement savings at all, and only 27 percent were confident they had saved enough to last them through end-of-life care.
Millions of Americans now in their 50s are still living paycheck to paycheck, or perilously close to it. The National Institute on Retirement Security reported that two-thirds of households aged 55-64 have retirement savings equal to their annual income or less. And many of them are finding they need to stay in the workforce longer than they intended to, because they simply can’t afford to retire.
But, as they say, recognizing the problem is the first step to recovery. If you're in your 50s and haven't saved enough for retirement, you can take steps now to change your prospects, or to save more and give yourself an extra hedge against the rapidly increasing cost of senior care.
1. Divide and conquer your personal debts
You need to focus the most budget attention on reducing personal debt, because it not only obligates you to pay installments, but also costs you compounding interest.
Do not take out new lines of personal credit and make sure you pay existing bills on time (to avoid costly late fees). To reduce your debt load as fast as possible, follow a divide-and-conquer strategy for debt reduction.
Target the smallest outstanding balance, pay off the obligation, then add its monthly payment to your monthly payment for the next biggest outstanding balance. If two balances are similar in size, pay off the one with the higher interest rate first. In this way, paying off one debt allows you to double down on paying off the next one, and the effect quickly snowballs.
2. Take advantage of catch-up contributions to your IRA or 401(k)
People 50 and older can make up to $1,000 in annual catch-up contributions to their tax-deferred IRAs (for a total allowance of $6,500 in contributions per year) for 2016 and 2017. You can also make $6,500 in annual contributions to Roth IRAs, on which tax is paid up front (beneficial if you believe that federal tax rates will be higher when you hit retirement age than they are today).
Those amounts may change in the future, depending on Congressional action, so take advantage of them while you can. Similarly, if you’re over 50, you can make up to $6,000 in additional annual contributions to your 401(k) account, for a total allowed amount of $24,000 per year.
3. Downsize and squirrel away the proceeds
If you have decent equity and more space than you really need in your home, by all means, consider downsizing. Buy a smaller, less expensive home (ideally, a ranch-style home with an open layout, that would be ideal for aging in place even if you or your spouse were to develop mobility challenges), or move to an affordable 55+ retirement community, and add the difference in monthly payments to your nest egg.
Or, you could invest the proceeds in something that would provide you additional income in retirement: annuities, bonds, high-dividend stocks or rental properties.
If you and your spouse have two or more vehicles, consider downsizing to one household vehicle and share it! If you both work, figure out a carpooling arrangement or use public transportation. This cost-saving strategy worked for our mothers and fathers back in the 1950s; with patience and some willingness to compromise, it works just as well now.
4. Cut costs
For Boomers unprepared for an impending retirement crisis, cutting costs now will be an important tactic for extending the life of their retirement savings. Many of us will need to get comfortable living with less.
That may sound a bit harsh. But so is the reality that many people now in their 50s will, sometime over the next three decades, become “too frail to work, too poor to retire,” unless they make a concerted effort now to reduce their household overhead. If you’re seriously unprepared for retirement, cut luxury spending out of your budget post-haste.
That’s not to say you can’t have any fun — a certain amount of leisure spending could be considered necessary, from a mental health perspective. “All work and no play...,” as the old proverb goes.
But be smart about your leisure spending. If you want to, say, go out to dinner with a friend, hit up your local mom-and-pop diner, instead of going out for an indulgent gourmet meal. Approach leisure spending as a line item — budget for it as you would for your mortgage payment and do not exceed your luxury allocation.
5. Until you build up your financial security, stick mostly to essential purchases
And, of those, make sure you buy based on price and durability. Sometimes paying a little more up front for a quality replacement appliance or piece of clothing that will last a good 15 or so years is better than purchasing a cheaper item that would quickly run down and again need to be replaced.
Don’t be afraid to shop thrift stores, garage sales and estate sales here in Cincinnati, either. They can be hit or miss, but you can often find quality household goods and clothing at a greatly reduced price.
Some younger people are happy to sell or donate perfectly good items for low prices, just to clear space for their burgeoning families or pet projects. The hours you spend looking for bargains can be fun — a bit like looking for buried treasure!
Follow the 5 tips above to reboot your retirement savings plan.
If you’re 50+, living in Cincinnati and unprepared for retirement, these strategies will help you right your financial ship. Just remember to be diligent in minimizing your expenditures, reducing your debt and saving as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to downsize where appropriate. Trust us — you can do this!