Doing the retirement-savings math can be a little scary. Or maybe a lot.
At age 65, statistically speaking, you can expect to live another 18 to 20 years. Of course, you could be around a lot longer than that, so to be on the safe side financial advisers suggest you plan for retirement with the idea of living to 95 or 100. During those years, experts also say, you should expect your living expenses to remain at or near where they are now (some — wardrobe, mortgage — typically decline in retirement, while others — health care, travel — may increase). So if your current income is, say, $50,000 a year (roughly the median for U.S. households), supporting yourself through retirement could require upward of a million dollars.
If you find that figure daunting, join the club. Nearly half of American workers consider themselves "not too confident" or "not at all confident" that they have saved enough to support a comfortable retirement, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute. The confidence level dropped to a record low in the organization's annual survey in 2011, and hasn't budged since then.
But don't panic, if only because panicking won't put a million dollars in your 401(k) account. There are actions you can take to help, either by boosting your savings or scaling back your budget, experts say, that will improve your financial position.
Run the numbers. "Knowledge is power: If you know where your money's going, you can control it," said financial planner Lauri Salverda of Clerestory Advisors in St. Paul. "Look at your budget now, how much cash flow you have, what you're spending that money on, what you're saving, how much you have available to save." Analyzing your budget can help you make necessary adjustments. But it also serves "as a starting point for figuring out what your expenses might be in retirement," said financial planner Dan Katan of Watchdog Financial Advisors in Minneapolis.
Consider your goals and what they'll cost. You may want to make some adjustments in planning your post-retirement activities. Travel can be expensive, but spending time with your family probably isn't.
Estimate what your Social Security benefits will be. You can start drawing benefits at age 62, but every year you postpone — up to age 70 — increases your payments. The Social Security website (www.ssa.gov) offers easy-to-use calculators.
Consider meeting with a fee-only financial adviser. Even a one-time meeting to discuss a long-term strategy that you can implement yourself can be helpful. "Sitting down with someone for several hours and several hundred dollars is a challenge, but perhaps worthwhile if you're talking about 20 to 30 years of your life," Katan said. (A fee-only, or independent, financial adviser has fewer inherent conflicts of interests, and may provide more comprehensive advice, than advisers and brokers who receive compensation for selling financial products. You can find an adviser through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (www.napfa.org).
Anyone lacking financial resources to meetbasic needs can seek help through the Senior LinkAge Line (1-800-333-2433), a joint service of the state of Minnesota and the regional Area Agencies on Aging. Callers are connected with specialists who work with older adults or their family caregivers on affordable housing options, programs that lower health care costs, help purchasing food and fuel, and a wide range of other issues.
Keep earning income as long as possible. You could remain at your current job an extra year or two, perhaps part-time. Or consider taking a different part-time job, providing consulting services, starting a small business or franchise.
"The question is not, 'When do I retire?'" Katan said. "Instead it's 'When do I retire and start doing something that's perhaps more rewarding and still generates an income?'"
Salverda, too, encourages people to find work they enjoy doing. "For example, if one of their goals in retirement is to start playing more golf, they could be a starter at a club," she said. "They can be around a golf atmosphere, but also get a discount for doing something they love."
Invest in your health. Exercising and eating nutritiously may help you stay healthy and keep your medical costs down, Katan said.
Consider giving back in the form of time instead of money. If charitable giving is important to you, consider volunteer work.
Downsize your home. Moving to a smaller place not only reduces your monthly payment. "There's a great deal of savings if you can go from a $400,000 house to a $250,000 house," Salverda said. "You can reduce insurance costs, reduce your property tax, pay off your mortgage sooner."
Invest in education (your own — not your kids'). Learning new skills may help you stay in your current position longer, or prepare for a future job or supplemental job. Take advantage of any education reimbursement your employer offers, or look into tax credits for education. On the other hand, don't spend your retirement savings on your children's college. Tempting though it is to help your kids, loans are available to pay for tuition, but not for retirement. If you want to help your kids and you have the money to do so, wait and then help them pay off their loans. Keep in mind that you probably won't be doing them any favors if your contributions to their college bills mean that, in your later years, you'll be living in their basement.