Saving enough for retirement is a monumental challenge — one that, unfortunately, many people fail to meet. So they do what most people naturally do when life doesn't go according to plan: They adapt.
They try to come up with new techniques to help make the money they do have stretch further, but these strategies don't always work as hoped. Here are three examples of seemingly sound retirement strategies that are more problematic than you realize.
1. Deciding to work indefinitely
Working longer is one of the best ways to cover a retirement savings shortfall — if you're actually able to do it. The trouble is, you don't always have control over your ability to work. You could lose your job and have difficulty finding a new one. Or you could experience a serious illness or injury. Or a family member could become ill and require your daily care.
In any of those circumstances, you could find yourself out of work without any hope of securing another source of income. Then, you'd be forced to rely upon whatever savings you have, even if it's not enough.
2. Planning to reduce expenses in retirement
When you can't save as much as you'd like, you might plan to trim your budget in retirement so you can still cover your essentials. This could work for some people. Many retirees do see their annual expenses decrease somewhat compared to when they were working. But this isn't true for everyone.
If you plan to travel or you have large medical bills in retirement, you could easily spend just as much or more than you did when you were working. Travel is something you can plan for, but emergency bills aren't always predictable. So even though you might have every intention of reducing expenses in retirement, your life may not allow it.
3. Living exclusively on Social Security
Social Security was designed to cover only about 40% of the average worker's pre-retirement income. In reality, it covers less than that for many people. And this problem could get worse if the program sees benefit cuts in the future.
You'll definitely be able to count on some money from Social Security, no matter how far you are from retirement. But you'll need substantial personal savings to cover the bulk of your expenses. Otherwise, you could wind up facing some tough financial calls.
How to reduce the risk of financial problems in retirement
The No. 1 thing you can do to reduce your risk of financial insecurity in retirement is to save as much as you can while you're still working.
You might have heard that you should save 10% to 15% of your annual income per year. That's a good start, but you're better off figuring out how much you actually need to retire comfortably. Then, make that your goal. If you're not able to save enough right now, just save as much as you can and try to increase your savings by 1% of your income every year.
You should also work hard to keep yourself healthy. This will give you a better chance of being able to work as long as you need to. It can also reduce your risk of serious illness and injury that could drain your retirement savings. Focus on establishing a regular exercise routine, eating well, getting plenty of rest, and finding healthy ways to cope with your stress.
It also helps to have some backup plans in case things don't work out like you thought. If you're not able to continue working at your current job for some reason, maybe you could find a new part-time job, work from home, or start a side hustle. And if Social Security doesn't go as far as you thought, maybe you could scale back your travel.
Go through your retirement plan and think about some of the worst-case scenarios. Then, try to determine how you'd handle them. Hopefully, you'll never need to rely upon these backup plans. But you'll be able to enter retirement more confidently if you have them ready.
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