The Employee Benefit Research Institute's April 2019 Retirement Confidence Survey reports that 2 in 3 workers are confident in their ability to live comfortably in retirement. A big part of the increase in worker confidence comes from an increasing belief that they will have the ability to handle one of the key expenses in retirement -- their health care. But that also means that 1 in 3 workers are not confident that they will have saved enough.
If those currently in the workforce follow the same path, they will face a painful reality when they reach retirement age: Social Security provides far from enough income for people in their retirement years. Those who do not save enough will spend these years worrying about paying their bills.
The truth is, retirement is not inexpensive, even if you do not have a mortgage to pay or significant credit card debt. Consider medical costs. The Fidelity Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate found that a couple retiring in 2019 at age 65 with no employer-provided health care coverage will need $285,000 in savings to fund out-of-pocket medical expenses during their retirement years.
The good news? Even if you have been lax in saving for retirement, you can still take steps to increase the amount of money available to you after you quit working. Here is what you should be doing at every stage of your working life to save for retirement.
Just getting started
Admittedly, it is not easy to think about saving for retirement when you are just getting started on your job. However, there are specific steps you can take today to boost the odds that you will have enough money to enjoy your retirement years.
Step one? Participate in your company's 401(k) plan if it offers one. Moreover, participate completely; max out your regular contributions. You will not miss money that is deducted from your paycheck automatically. However, you will undoubtedly appreciate it once you retire.
Next, invest in a traditional or Roth IRA or a combination of the two. That allows you to save money for your retirement years on a tax-deferred basis.
The other important step to take at this stage? Practice sound financial habits. You do not want to enter your retirement years burdened by credit card debt. The less consumer debt you generate during your 20s, the better off you will be as retirement nears.
Again, debt remains a significant factor in how enjoyable your retirement years will be. So do everything you can to pay off your debts as you move closer to retirement. Paying off your credit card debt is a must. If you can afford it, you should pay off your mortgage, too. Not having to make monthly payments in your retirement years will prove a big financial relief.
The mid-point of your career is also the time to start drafting a financial plan for your retirement years. Discuss your goals for your post-work life with your spouse. Do you want to spend most of your time with your grandchildren? Do you want to travel the globe or take regular cruises? Maybe you want to take up golf. Your goals for your retirement years will impact how much money you will need for this time of your life.
Armed with this information, you can sketch out a rough figure of how much you will need to save to reach your retirement goals.
If you have not yet opened IRAs for you and your spouse, do so now. Be sure to contribute regularly to these accounts. Every bit of money you save now becomes critical as retirement nears.
Five to 10 years before retirement
The Internet can help you determine if you are on track to have enough savings to support the lifestyle you desire during retirement. Use an online retirement calculator to determine how prepared you are for your retirement.
That is also an excellent time to evaluate your savings vehicles. You should maintain a diverse portfolio, investing in bonds, stocks, and other savings vehicles. However, this is a good time to move more of your savings to lower-risk investments. That will protect these dollars as your retirement years draw near.
During this time, it is essential to learn about Social Security, too. You do not want to retire too early; this will diminish the amount of Social Security income you receive each year. In fact, the longer you can put off retiring -- if you are healthy enough to work -- the better financially off you will be. Not only will you draw more income to support your retirement years, but you will also boost the amount of Social Security benefits you receive each year.
Finally, practice living on your post-retirement income before you leave the work world. You might find that you have underestimated how much money you will need during your retirement years.
Once you have retired, you need to be cautious about how much money you withdraw from your retirement savings each year. Many retirees follow the 4 percent rule, meaning that they only withdraw 4 percent of their savings each year of retirement. That is a sound financial plan to take.