7 habits of highly effective retirement savers

Saving for retirement can be a slog, yet some people have a better time of it than others.

Planning ahead helps a lot. The best retirement savers are more than four times as likely to have given "a great deal" of thought about their retirement age, their lifestyle during their golden years, their future health-care costs and their financial goals than the worst savers, according to a new survey by Voya Financial, which scored more than 1,000 full-time workers on how prepared they were for retirement.

Overall, Voya found that Americans had middling scores for retirement readiness, but the best savers shared some common financial traits.The top scorers did more than think about retirement, they took action. Here are seven habits they had that you can use to boost your retirement savings:

Create a budget. Seems obvious, but 65 percent of the highest scoring workers had a budget compared with 19 percent of the lowest-scoring savers. "This attention to detail here allows for a more predictable glide path through the retirement years," said George Clough, vice president of wealth management strategies at People's United Bank in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Max out your workplace retirement plans. The highest-scoring workers were twice as likely to contribute the maximum amount to their workplace retirement plan than lowest-scoring workers. The top savers were also more likely to at least contribute enough to their retirement plans to receive their employer's matching contribution. It's free money.

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Calculate how much income you will need to replace in retirement. "It helps people to figure out how their savings will translate into future monthly retirement income," said James Nichols, head of retirement income and advice strategy for retirement solutions at Voya Financial. The company offers a free calculator that estimates what a person's monthly income will be in retirement.

Senior couple financial planning
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Use educational materials at work. More employers are offering financial wellness programs that help workers with budgeting and saving skills. Workers who saved the most used online financial advice tools and educational materials provided by their employers at more than double the rate of the lowest-scoring savers.

Buy life insurance. Eighty-five percent of the best savers had at least $100,000 in life insurance coverage whereas 42 percent of the worst savers did. Overall, 47 percent of workers Voya surveyed had term life insurance, which provides coverage for a specific period of time and is cheaper than cash value life insurance.

Consult a financial advisor. Voya found that more than half of the top savers had a relationship with a financial advisor, compared with only 7 percent of the worst savers.

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Discuss your retirement lifestyle with your spouse. Time to have that tough money conversation with your spouse because it pays off down the road. Only 9 percent of the lowest-scoring savers had a talk with their spouses about their retirement goals while 65 percent of the people who feel most prepared for retirement did.

"Behaviors of the highest-scoring groups offer great role models for retirement," Nichols said.