Playing Retirement Catch-Up

Nancy Mann Jackson

By Nancy Mann Jackson
Freelance journalist Nancy Mann Jackson writes regularly about personal finance, small business, health care, and education. Her work has appeared in Entrepreneur,, Bankrate, Working Mother, and many other publications. She lives in Alabama with her husband and their three boys.
Posted on 07/16/2019

Thirty-one percent of working Americans report that they have no retirement savings or pension, according to a report released recently by the Federal Reserve. Those findings are especially disturbing considering those who are nearing retirement—19 percent of people ages 55 to 64 fell into that category—but they aren’t the only ones who should be concerned. Even if you're not in that higher age bracket, if you've been working for several years and have no retirement savings, you're behind.

People who have several years of work under their belts and little to no retirement savings “should be concerned,” says Darla Thompson, CPA, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Cherry Bekaert, a Richmond, Virginia-based accounting and advisory firm. “The longer you wait to begin saving, the more you will have to save each year, which means your disposable income is less.”

If you are one of the many Americans who has not saved religiously since obtaining your first real job, it’s not too late to reverse the damage. After yesterday, the next best time to start saving is today. The earlier you begin saving, the more you will benefit from compounding interest because the money will have many years to grow before you need it.

If you’re ready to get serious about your retirement savings, consider these tips for getting caught up.

  • Set a goal. Sit down and think seriously about what you want from retirement and when you want it to begin. Having some general objectives in mind can help you determine how much you need to save. Rather than focusing on a certain amount in your nest egg, Thompson suggests setting a retirement target age. Assuming a conservative return on investment (less than 10 percent), back into the amount you need to invest each month to hit your target. Don’t forget to consider inflation: With 3 percent inflation, $1 million will be worth $553,676 in 20 years.
  • Spend less, save more. It’s not popular, but it’s a simple strategy. Build a budget and watch your spending closely. Make sure a portion of each paycheck, bonus and raise goes toward retirement savings. The less money you spend now, the more you’ll have to enjoy during your retirement years. Join the plan. If your employer offers a 401k or other retirement savings plan, make sure you are enrolled. And go beyond simply enrolling; try to contribute the maximum amount, especially if your employer offers a matching contribution. For instance, if your company will match up to 6 percent of your salary, contribute at least 6 percent to the plan. Otherwise, you’re leaving free money on the table.
  • Make it automatic. To keep yourself on track, make sure your contributions to your 401k, IRA or other savings vehicles are automatically withdrawn from your paycheck or checking account. “Set up an automatic deposit program that increases every time you get a raise or bonus until you are on target with your plan,” Thompson says.
  • Diversify your investments. Rather than simply trusting your company’s 401k manager to do a good job for your retirement, make diverse investments of your own. Thompson recommends using index funds, which have a lower cost and more consistent performance. “You need to stay well allocated by not trying to time the market or get in or out depending on how you feel,” she says.
  • Plan to work longer. If you picture yourself retiring in your fifties, but you’re thirty-something with little retirement savings, re imagine your future. If you postpone retirement, you’ll have more time to build a bigger portfolio and fewer years to live off of it. If you wait until age 65 or older to receive your potential Social Security benefits, you’ll get larger checks. And even when you do eventually retire, don’t discount the possibility of continuing to work part-time—for many retirees, working provides needed social interaction and a sense of purpose, along with income.

It’s not too late to get serious about saving for retirement. Even if you think you’re behind now, taking some—or all—of the six steps above can help you make long strides toward a happy, secure retirement life. Start working now to create the post-work lifestyle of your dreams