Starting from where you are
Want a secure retirement? Start saving in your 20s, use every legal tax break and don't be gun-shy about the stock market. In your 30s, 40s or older? Start saving now, use every legal tax break and don't be gun-shy about the stock market.
While you're at it, pay off any mortgage before retirement, control credit-card debt as if your life depended on it and touch that retirement nest egg only as a last resort.
What, no cod-liver oil? Before your eyes glaze over and you run screaming to the mall, $4.50 latte in hand, think for a moment about how you will pay your bills when your career ends. You may well live a decade or two or three past that last paycheck.
So what's your game plan? Social Security? A poverty subsistence. Pension checks like Grandpa got? That notion is becoming as quaint as dial telephones. Move to Sunny Cheap Place, U.S.A.? You might not want to leave old friends and those adorable grandchildren.
The eat-your-oatmeal truth is, to ensure a comfortable retirement, you'll need to save for it. Save as in save money, this month, next month and so on.
A simple proposition? No, but it's easier if you know what steps to take when. Read up on your game plan:
40 years until retirement
30 years until retirement
20 years until retirement
10 years until retirement
I'm not saving because ...
Savings = 0: Just 42 percent of workers last year saved anything for retirement, the lowest percentage since 1980.
No to 401(k)s: 28 percent of those eligible to participate in 401(k) plans don't do so. Participation dropped in 2002 and 2003, especially in small and midsize companies, though they are the least likely to offer pensions.
Insecurity over jobs is one factor. Another: fear of "throwing good money after bad" after having lost 401(k) and other pre-tax-savings-plan money in the stock-market downturn.
Financial planners insist such reluctance is faulty thinking, especially because longer life expectancies mean retirees are likely to have many years to ride market dips and swells. Forgoing 401(k) participation means sacrificing possible tax breaks, depending on your income level, as well as tax-deferred interest accumulation and employer matches, if any.
Sources: Roper Center poll; Plansponsor.com; Salisa Roberts, financial planner; Knight-Ridder