As the old saying goes, “better late than never.” But, that’s not always true. In some cases, a missed opportunity is better than one taken precipitously or haphazardly. However, when it comes to retirement planning, starting late is most definitely better than not starting at all.
Your senior years are supposed to be a time of relaxation, comfort, and peace of mind. Planning for your retirement is a vital aspect of securing that fulfilling future for yourself. Most experts recommend young working adults begin planning for retirement and saving during their 20s or 30s. However, many people find themselves in a position where they haven’t taken that kind of action early on.
This happens for a number of reasons, such as unanticipated career struggles, medical crises, family obligations, or a financial downturn that often takes immediate precedence over something that’s far off in the future.
Fortunately, it’s never too late to begin planning for retirement and take control of your financial future. Using some practical strategies and tactics designed to help late starters in particular, you can build a solid retirement plan and enjoy your golden years with confidence.
1. Assess Your Current Financial Situation
Before you can successfully plan for a retirement that’s coming up within the next decade or so, you’ll need to first evaluate your current financial status. This analysis gives you a fuller picture of where you stand currently, so that you can more easily spot the places you can take strong action that might yield bigger dividends.
- Begin by identifying how much you’ve already saved, if anything. Include traditional savings as well as any employment-related accounts designed to help you fund your retirement years.
- Next, you’ll want to come up with a rough figure for your projected retirement expenses.
- With both those numbers in mind—your current savings and your projected expenses—you’ll be able to determine the difference, or the amount you’ll want to strive to save between now and the date of your retirement. Knowing that figure will help you set realistic goals and create an effective strategy.
Your next task in your initial financial assessment is to track your current expenses with an eye towards identifying places where you can potentially trim costs and save more. It’s usually helpful during this process to maintain a log of your monthly expenses to gain insight into your spending habits.
Keep a sharp eye out for the expenditures that you can eliminate or at least trim so that you can save more money and increase what you’ll have available for retirement. Can you lower your utilities bill, for example? Could you swap out brand names for generics at the grocery store and save money there?
Even small changes add up and can make a big difference over time. Make those changes first, so that you’ll have as much time as possible for those savings to accumulate.
2. Set Realistic Retirement Goals
If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you’re there? That bit of wisdom is good advice for road trips and it’s also good for planning for retirement. It’s crucial to set retirement savings goals that are actually achievable in the time you have left when you’re starting the planning process late.
One way to begin is to think about your desired retirement lifestyle. Are you dreaming about frequent trips or do you have big plans to spoil the grandkids? Do you plan to relocate or pursue a new hobby or project? Getting clear on your retirement hopes and dreams helps you determine whether your projected retirement living expenses are reasonable and how long you might need to work to meet those goals.
Once you have that vision well in hand, and a better idea of how your dreamed-for retirement will impact your savings plans, break that total down into realistic goals that you can reasonably meet in the time allotted. For example, you might choose to save a specific amount each year or decide you’d be better off paying down outstanding debts first.
By setting manageable milestones, you can more accurately track and measure your progress while maintaining your motivation. Remember, every step forward gets you closer to your goals, no matter how small that step might be.
3. Maximize Retirement Contributions
Maximizing your retirement contributions becomes even more critical when you’re a late starter. IRS rules allow you to make catch-up contributions annually if you’re 50 years old or above; for 2023, you can make up to $7,500 in additional catch-up contributions. If you are financially able to devote those additional funds to your retirement account, they can significantly boost your savings to make up for lost time.
This is where your work in the first step—identifying places where you can trim expenses—comes into play. Reallocate the funds you saved towards maxing out your retirement contributions. Also consider seeking additional income through gig or freelance work or other ways of growing your income. A diligent budgeting strategy combined with a commitment to prioritizing retirement savings will accelerate your progress towards meeting your goal.
4. Research Investment Options
People who are starting the financial planning process for retirement a bit late should focus their attention and energy on those investment strategies that align with both their goals and their tolerance for financial risk. Look for options that most closely match both your need and your tolerance level. Mutual funds, index funds, and target-date retirement funds are all rather popular choices that offer both diversification and simplicity.
Diversification can help add a layer of protection to your investments, especially if you choose a mix of assets and investment vehicles with an eye towards spreading the risk to your investment funds and maximizing your potential returns. Just keep in mind that as a general rule, investments with higher potential returns also carry higher risk profiles. Explore in particular those longer-term investments that can help your funds grow steadily over time.
Don’t hesitate to consult with a qualified financial advisor who can explain and help you explore investment options that are tailored to your specific needs and preferences.
5. Consider Delayed Retirement or Phased Retirement
While the goal is always to meet your planned retirement date and fund your preferred lifestyle after you quit working, you might also want to consider an alternative: Delaying your retirement can offer a few benefits, especially if you were late getting started with savings and planning. You’ll get additional time to save more money, while simultaneously allowing your investments more time to grow. If you’re physically and mentally up for it, consider adding a few years to your working life in order to gain a greater degree of security and comfort during your retirement.
Another option is phased retirement, wherein you gradually transition from full-time work to retirement. This plan will let you decrease your work hours, while still earning an income and beginning to enjoy some of the benefits of retirement. Talk to your employer’s HR department or your manager about the possibility of electing a phased retirement plan. Work to negotiate a slow-down work schedule that suits your needs as well as your employer’s.
6. Explore Alternative Income Sources
Late-starting retirement planners may also want to think about exploring alternative income sources to increase their savings. Consider part-time work, freelancing, or even starting a small business based on your skills, experience, and passions. These income streams can help augment your savings and provide some much-deserved financial stability during your senior years.
The gig economy offers unprecedented opportunity for smart, savvy, and experienced workers to leverage their existing skills. Utilize freelancing platforms, job platforms, and even online marketplaces to make the most of your assets and skills while simultaneously boosting your savings.
7. Manage Your Healthcare and Insurance Needs
Retirement planning doesn’t just mean dollars in a savings vehicle or two. You’ll also need to think about how to meet your healthcare and insurance needs, so planning for these aspects of retirement are critical aspects of a well-rounded preparation process. Now’s a good time to get familiar with Medicare and understand the coverage options that will be available to you. You’ll also want to look at long-term care insurance to see whether it’s something you should consider.
Retirement healthcare expenses can soar, even with Medicare and supplemental policies, so it’s essential to budget and prepare for those additional expenses. Healthcare costs can be significant as we age, so make sure you’ve adequately accounted for these expenses in your planning. To help offset those expenses, consider health savings accounts (HSAs). Finally, work with your medical care provider to create a plan to keep you as healthy as possible as you age, to help minimize those costs and maximize your enjoyment of your retirement years.
8. Seek Professional Guidance
While you might be a little panicked about the thought of spending money to help you save money for retirement, late starters should seriously consider getting some quality professional advice from certified financial planners and retirement advisors.
Look for experts with experience in helping clients plan and save for retirement later in life. These professionals have both the experience and the knowledge of current laws and regulations to help you find your way to the best possible route forward, maximizing your funds and tailoring their recommendations to you based on your position and current needs. The right professional can also help you assess your current fiscal situation, set reasonable goals, and give you continued guidance as you work towards those goals.
9. Embrace a Positive Mindset and Take Action
While starting the retirement planning process later in life does create some additional challenges, it’s important to try to maintain a positive mindset during that process. Don’t ruminate on the opportunities you missed out on, or the things you should have done 20 years ago. Keep reminding yourself that you’re working towards important goals now, and that you’re doing all you can to ensure a successful close to your working years and a great launch to your retirement.