Difficulties of Saving for Retirement Later in Life
Retirement planning can be stressful, especially if you feel behind. According to the 2022 Schroders U.S. Retirement Survey, only 22% of Americans nearing retirement age believe that they have saved enough. This is down from 26% one year ago, largely due to mounting anxiety about inflation and market volatility.
Clearly, the stress and insecurity around retirement readiness is widespread. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce emotional distress while bolstering your financial position – at any age. Even when starting at age 50 or older, saving for retirement is not impossible. It just requires careful planning, hard work and persistence.
Consider these 11 pertinent expert-recommended strategies to help you gain some savings momentum.
1. Think About Your Retirement Lifestyle
As you endeavor to improve your situation, the first thing you should do is spend some time thinking about the retirement lifestyle you want. Be realistic and remember, you are in catch-up mode.
Ask Yourself the Important Questions
- Will your retirement lifestyle be like your current lifestyle?
- Do you want to move to an area with a lower cost of living?
- Are you disposed to costly medical issues?
- Do you want to travel more?
- Do you want to spend more money on grandkids?
The goal of this exercise is to get a foundational sense of how much money you’ll need to live comfortably in retirement. A review of the average retirement income can inform the process. There are also an array of helpful retirement projection tools and calculators on the internet.
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Establishing a retirement savings target is relatively easy, but hitting it takes hard work. Since you are getting a late start, you’ll need to save aggressively and invest strategically to accumulate an adequate amount of money. Then, in retirement, you’ll need to be fiscally-minded to extend the longevity of your retirement savings and navigate around the myriad of retirement risks littering the landscape.
It is important to be honest with yourself about potential costs during retirement, especially when it comes to medical costs.
Working through the process outlined above is not something you should try to do on your own. Rather, consider using the information gleaned from your self-reflection to facilitate an in-depth discussion with a financial professional. This brings us to the next strategy.
2. Hire a Financial Advisor
Generally, the most effective way to get your retirement portfolio on track is to work with a fiduciary financial advisor. He or she can help you get a handle on your day-to-day finances, project how much money you’ll need at retirement and formulate a plan to get you where you need to be.
In an email to Annuity.org, Will Steinberger, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and founder of Think Different Financial Planning, outlined the following five ways a financial advisor can help you:
- “Advisors can help clients consider their options regarding Social Security. This also includes modeling what their future Social Security benefits will reasonably provide.
- Understanding what the client’s taxes will look like in retirement
- Modeling what a realistic spending goal looks like
- Understanding what health care costs could potentially be
- Helping clients understand Medicare coverage, and the cost of health care if clients retire before age 65 (when Medicare kicks in)”
The best financial advisors have years of experience and in-depth financial knowledge, which they leverage to help their clients achieve their retirement goals. However, each advisor has a unique background and perspective, which may not be optimally suited to you. As a result, it is a good idea to interview several advisors to pinpoint the right one.
Guy Baker, founder and managing director of Wealth Teams Alliance recommended the following for late planners:
“Step up and start saving now. This is going to be hard work. Find a good advisor who can help you answer the three most important retirement questions:
- How much capital do I need?
- How much more do I need to save regularly?
- How do I invest with the highest opportunity for success?”
It is important to find an advisor that understands your retirement situation.
3. Eliminate Debt as Quickly as Possible
According to CNBC, in 2022, the average American household with debt owed more than $155,000. That’s a lot of money, and the interest rates associated with some obligations can have a significant drag on your finances and make it difficult to accumulate wealth.
Ideally, the money spent on interest expense should be funneled into a retirement portfolio, allowing you to capitalize on the power of compound interest. Unfortunately, debts do not magically disappear; you must strategically eliminate them.
One popular way to eliminate debt is referred to as the “snowball method.” Just like a snowball starts small and grows bigger, gaining momentum as it rolls down a hill, so too can your debt payments.
Essentially, the “snowball method” entails paying off small debts first – as quickly as possible. As you eliminate the small debts, you gain a psychological advantage and the confidence to tackle bigger and bigger debts.
Here are the basic steps:
- Step 1: Make a list of all your debts from smallest to largest — paying no attention to the interest rates.
- Step 2: Make the minimum payment on all debts, except the smallest.
- Step 3: Put as much money as possible toward the smallest debt – in order to quickly pay it off.
- Step 4: Once the smallest debt is paid off, apply the money you had been putting toward its balance to the next smallest debt on the list.
- Step 5: Follow this sequential process until all debts have been paid in full.
To reinforce your debt-elimination efforts, it’s a great idea to make a list of the reasons you want to be debt-free. Be as specific and honest with yourself as possible. Emotion-evoking reminders can help you stay motivated when the going gets tough.
4. Create a Budget and Stick to It
Creating a budget for retirement entails identifying your sources of income and each expense category where you spend money (i.e., mortgage payment, utilities, groceries, gasoline, insurance, etc.). Then, you need to establish monthly estimates for each line item – based on your historical experience and any anticipated changes. Paul Sundin, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and tax strategist at Emparion, offered the following guidance:
“Write down both your fixed expenses and variable payments. Fixed expenses include your mortgage or rent, car payment, cable and other expenses that are the same every month. Variable payments are also regular payments you do monthly but with varying amounts, like groceries, gasoline, etc. For variable payments, you need to get the average amount by dividing the number by 12 months.”
The end product is a transparent and detailed personal income statement that projects the money coming in and the money going out. Ideally, the bottom-line reflects a positive number, a surplus, that can be periodically added to your retirement savings. If the opposite exists, a deficit, the budget detail can be analyzed to identify and address instances of overspending.
Ultimately, the goal is to use a budget to maintain fiscal discipline and maximize your savings potential. By regularly reviewing the areas where you spend money, you can determine where to cut back to optimize your financial position. If you are struggling with how to conduct such a review, Timothy Iseler of Iseler Financial LLC offered the following approach:
“I recommend a one-month ‘spending fast,’ during which all expenses except the essential — like housing, utilities, groceries, insurance premiums and debt payments — are paused. A month should be enough time to know which discretionary expenses will be easiest to control and highlight which others are most important.”
Michael Shea, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ with Applied Capital, stresses the following: “You can’t hurt yourself by over-saving. Make sure you’re allocating enough of your income into retirement. I’d recommend anywhere from 15% to 30% depending on your current retirement savings.”
5. Maximize Retirement Account Contributions
Contributing the maximum amount possible to retirement accounts, such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401(k) plans and 403(b) plans, is an excellent way to grow your savings. The money contributed is tax-advantaged, and it can be invested in a diversified manner.
Additionally, many employers match contributions made to 401(k) and 403(b) plans, helping you earn more money over the long run. A common employer match is 50% of the employee’s contribution, up to 6% of their salary. If your employer sponsors a retirement plan, be sure to explore this potential benefit.
Incidentally, for 2022, the annual contribution limits for IRAs, 401(k) plans, and 403(b) plans are $6,000, $20,500 and $20,500, respectively. However, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) permits individuals age 50 and older to contribute an additional $1,000 to an IRA and an additional $6,500 to 401(k) and 403(b) plans. The additional contribution, which is often referred to as a catch-up contribution, can have a big impact on the growth of your savings. If you’re at least 50, seriously consider taking advantage of the catch-up provision. George Birrell, Certified Public Accountant and founder of TaxHub, stated that “Putting the money you save from budgeting techniques towards these catch-up contributions can really help.”
6. Consider Annuities
In addition to maximizing your retirement account contributions, consider purchasing an annuity to enhance your retirement plan. Like all investment decisions, determining if you should buy an annuity is highly personal. For a conservative, hands-off investor, an annuity can be an efficient, low-risk way to fund your retirement needs, and in some cases, an annuity can serve as a prudent complement to other investments.
Michael Potorti, a CPA and founder of Aurelius Resources, provided the following context: “Annuities are a great way to set you up for a steady stream of income for the rest of your life. If something happened to you before or while you were in retirement, your beneficiaries would be able to receive a lump-sum payment of any amounts left over.”
For people on the verge of retirement, a particularly attractive type of annuity is the single premium immediate annuity (SPIA). In exchange for a lump-sum premium, it kicks off a guaranteed stream of periodic payments, which begin within one year of purchase. The payments consist of interest earned and a partial return of premium.
For those with 10 or more years until retirement, a deferred annuity is more appropriate than an SPIA. This type of annuity is structured to allow your contract value to grow as you continue working toward your retirement. The longer you wait to receive your annuity income payments, the more your money can grow and work for you. Then, when the time is right, the vehicle shifts from accumulation to distribution mode, providing you with regular payments.
These are very high-level descriptions. Annuities come in many different shapes and sizes, with an array of terms and customizable features. If the low-risk, income-oriented nature of this investment appeals to you, take some time to find the annuity that is right for you.
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7. Consider Staying on the Job Longer
Many Americans frown at the idea of working past the typical retirement age of 65. However, working longer can yield significant financial benefits.
First off, if you work longer, you can continue contributing money to your retirement portfolio, rather than drawing from it. Secondly, by letting your portfolio grow for a longer period of time, you can accumulate a lot of incremental wealth. Finally, waiting to claim your Social Security benefit will result in a higher benefit (see strategy #11 for more on this).
The financial advantages are clear, but they aren’t the only reason you may want to delay retirement. Working longer can have substantial lifestyle benefits. Patti Black, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ with Bridgeworth Wealth Management elaborates on this idea as follows:
“Consider working beyond normal retirement age either on a full-time or part-time basis. Of course, there are financial benefits to working longer and reducing the nest egg you need to have saved for retirement. There are also non-financial benefits. Many retirees miss not having a purpose, and a meaningful job may help motivate you to get out of bed in the morning. In addition, work may provide a source of social connections as well as help you stay up to date on technology.”
8. Start a Side Hustle
An increasingly popular way to boost your retirement savings is to launch a side hustle. Not only will it increase your cash flows, but it may also provide you with a part-time job in retirement. This may not appeal to everyone, but many retirees look for opportunities to stay busy and mentally engaged.
When it comes to launching a side hustle, the possibilities are endless. Perhaps, you could monetize a hobby. Maybe you could leverage your work experience to set up a consulting business. Perhaps, you join the gig economy to bring in some extra money a few nights a week. Lyndon Davis, a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor and Senior Vice President of Investments at Lyndon Davis Private Wealth Management of Raymond James, recommended the latter approach, given its highly flexible nature.
The gig economy refers to a labor market characterized by the prevalence of flexible, short-term arrangements, freelance work and irregular schedules. This is very different than traditional employment, which is characterized by permanent jobs and more rigid schedules.
Davis also encourages clients to focus on finding ways to generate passive income. Doing so may require a little work upfront, but offers the potential for steady returns and minimal effort over the long run. Examples of passive income endeavors include investing in commercial real estate, establishing an affiliate marketing program and selling stock photography.
9. Consider Downsizing
Generally, your needs change as you age. For example, maintaining a large home with lots of space and amenities may be ideal when raising a family. However, as you approach your golden years, caring for a large house and spacious backyard may become more of a hassle than a joy.
Downsizing for retirement is a smart way to make the most of your time, energy and money. You may want to sell your home, utilize the proceeds to buy a smaller house or condominium and funnel any leftover money into your retirement portfolio. Alternatively, you could hold onto the original home and turn it into an income-generating rental property.
In either case, you’ll put yourself into a more manageable residence and improve your financial flexibility. For late starters saving for retirement, the added flexibility is invaluable. However, additional downsizing maneuvers may be necessary. To save more money, focus on cutting back on nonessential expenditures, such as new car purchases and lengthy vacations to costly resorts. Perhaps, a fuel-efficient, used car and a short, local excursion or two are in the cards.
10. Generate Value from Things You Don’t Need or Want
Do you have a storage unit full of things you no longer need or want? If so, sell them and save the proceeds. Maybe you have excess storage space or a spare room you could rent out to someone. Take some time to think about your situation and all the unused things in your life. The value you could generate may be substantial.
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11. Decide When To Claim Social Security
In addition to saving, investing and earning extra income, it’s important to make the right decision regarding your Social Security benefit. While you can claim Social Security as early as 62 years of age, this isn’t always the best option. Claiming the benefit prior to full retirement age, which is between 66 and 67, will result in a reduced monthly payment.
Brian Fry, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and founder of Safe Landing Financial, offers the following advice on the matter: “To receive 100% of your Social Security benefit, you must wait until full retirement age. Each year that you claim before full retirement age, you give up between 5% and 6.67% of your full benefit. Benefits increase by approximately 8% for each year that you delay claiming Social Security after full retirement age.”
When it comes to claiming your Social Security benefit, there is no universally correct decision. The optimal election age depends on your financial needs and life expectancy as well as the confidence level you have in this often-criticized welfare program. Given the unknowns, begin thinking about your election well before age 62. Some planning is likely to help you avoid making a costly mistake by claiming Social Security benefits too early or too late.
The prospect of accumulating retirement savings late in the game can be daunting, but it’s not impossible. By methodically implementing some of the strategies outlined above, you can put yourself on better footing.
At a minimum, consider collaborating with a financial advisor to establish a budget, formulate a realistic retirement plan and eliminate problematic debt. These actions, alone, can improve your financial condition. Then, when feasible, consider implementing a few of the other strategies highlighted to put yourself in an even stronger position.