Little or Nothing Saved For Retirement? You Are Not Alone

Philip Rosenau |

By some studies, 20% of Americans haven't saved anything for their golden years.

If you are in your 50s or older and have little if anything saved for retirement, well you are not alone.

Financial planners say they are increasingly dealing with clients who are middle-aged and older with only paltry savings -- if that -- squeezed between helping college-age children get a start in life and caring for elderly parents.

Roughly a third of Baby Boomers have saved less than $25,000 while just over a fifth of all American have no savings at all, according to a study by Northwestern Mutual.

However, the good news is that it is never too late to start saving for retirement, or to make decisions that will help create more financial stability when it comes time to retire, planners say.

In fact, people in their 50s and 60s who have little salted away in the bank for their golden years should not despair, for they still have the ability to make decisions that could boost their financial security in retirement, planners say.

"If you see a large estimated gap in financial resources for your retirement, it should be a sobering reminder that you need to urgently buckle down, create a plan and start adhering to the plan," said Cynthia Boman Thompson, a certified financial planner, or CFP, in Portland, Ore., and vice president of client relationships at Cinder Staffing. 

Reassessing Retirement Date

Being short on retirement savings doesn't necessarily mean you won't be ever be able to kick back and put the work world behind.

But it may mean taking a realistic look at when you hope to retire, whether it's the traditional 65 or maybe even older -- to see whether your investments, savings and Social Security payments will be enough.

While working longer than you had planned on may not exactly be a morale booster, it does not have to be a radical readjustment, either.

Leon LaBrecque, chief growth officer for Sequoia Financial Group in Michigan, said he worked with a single, 62-year-old client with $200,000 in savings who wanted to retire now.

After a close look at his client's finances, it was clear that if the client were to stop working now and start collecting Social Security, he would be "way too close to the line of base subsistence," LaBrecque said.

LaBrecque convinced him hang in there for another three years before he pulled trigger on his retirement plans.

By waiting until he was 65, his client gained an additional 8% a year in his Social Security payments, while also putting more money away into savings. His client was also able to immediately enroll in Medicare when he turned 65, cutting his health care expenses, LaBrecque said.

"I then suggested he visualize a package of ramen noodles in his left hand and a sleeve of golf balls in his right hand. Right hand is 65, left hand is now. He waited," noted LaBrecque, a CFP, as well as a CPA and a CFA.

Kevin Reardon, a CFP at Shakespeare Wealth Management in Pewaukee, Wis., suggests taking a second job or delving into the "gig economy" to boost retirement savings.

"If you can't keep your career job as long as you like, these hobby jobs can help bridge the gap between your Social Security check, current savings and the extra $$$ that you need each month," Reardon said.

Spend less, save more

If you haven't already done a significant amount of belt tightening, it might be time to do so, planners say.

Paul Kain III, president of Asset Planning Corp. in Knoxville, Tenn., suggested getting back to basics by reducing spending, boosting savings and working longer.

"People need to make tough spending choices to change their retirement trajectory: downsize housing, graduate dependent children, work another three to five years, downsize retirement spending expectations, etc.," Fain noted, adding, "it can be done!"

Boman Thompson suggests getting creative in exploring ways of cutting costs and saving.

That could mean relocating or bringing in a roommate. Set up automatic transfers into your retirement and savings accounts and become a "catch-up" ninja to figure out various ways to stash away more money, she said.

She also suggested clients take a look at their spending to zero in on behaviors that may have contributed to poor savings habits in the past.

"Focus on correcting those behaviors by embracing an intensive mission of saving to build a comfortable retirement," Boman Thompson said.

Get motivated

Hard work, saving and frugality are all crucial.

But it's also important to build a positive vision of what you would like life in retirement to be, planners said.

To do so, Boman Thompson recommends "trying to visualize your retirement in detail for both motivating yourself and for planning."

She suggests hammering out a detailed budget, forecasting how much you will need to live as well as your expenses, and looking for gaps that need to be plugged.

Sarah Carlson, founder and private wealth advisor of Fulcrum Financial Group in Spokane, Wash., suggested envisioning what you would like your life to be like in your 70s and 80s.

But whatever you do, don't delay, she urges.

"Start today!" Carlson said. "This choppy market can actually be a blessing in disguise, and a wonderful opportunity to accumulate quality investments."