Steps I recommend to people over age 40 include paying extra on the mortgage and getting the house paid off by the time they reach retirement age. Bite the bullet, tighten your belt, and pay off the credit cards. It's pretty simple: You cannot look at debt in your 50s the same way you did in your 30s or even your 40s. You've got to focus on limiting outflow every bit as much, or more, as inflow.
Next, save the maximum in your company's savings plan. Many conscientious savers put the maximum ($17,500 for 401(k) plan participants) away in 2014, but don't forget that if you're age 50 or older, you have access to the "catch-up contribution," which gives you the option of putting away an additional $5,500. If you end up working until age 65 or beyond, that's great! But even five or 10 extra years of utilizing the catch-up can make a big difference down the road.
Lastly, I talk about goals—but not just financial ones—to clients in just about every meeting. Too many people put money away without having a clear idea of what they want their retirement to look like.
Read MoreFinding your retirement 'magic number'
Goals change over time. This means your preparation needs to change as well. Visualizing your retirement gives you the opportunity to look at things from more than just a financial perspective. It's a minor but important distinction to envision yourself as a retired person and not merely see your current self living on the money you're saving now.
Those are two very different people. Imagining your future self is a huge motivator that helps you to hone in on the task at hand, which is to save money, pay down debt and prepare for the unexpected.
—By Scott Hanson, special to CNBC.com. Scott Hanson, a certified financial planner, is a senior partner at Hanson McClain Advisors.