Personal Finance

Here's how to overcome poor retirement planning

Key Points
  • As the economy strengthens, more workers near retirement age are feeling better about their economic prospects. 
  • Still, others haven't saved enough to afford their golden years. 
  • Here's how to get on track to financial security.
Retirement reset
Tips to save enough for retirement

As the economy strengthens, more workers nearing retirement age are feeling better about their economic prospects. That's the good news.

Still, many others are worried about their savings, or lack of savings, and how they will get by once they stop working for good.

Overall, 85 percent of working Americans said retirement will be a "positive new chapter in life," according to a recent retirement study by Wells Fargo, which polled more than 2,500 adults in August.

However, 70 percent of respondents also said they are concerned about running out of money. And rightfully so.

More than half of Americans, or 57 percent, have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts, according to a separate GOBankingRates survey.

Another report by the Stanford Center on Longevity found that nearly one-third of baby boomers had no money saved in retirement plans in 2014, when they were on average 58 years old.

Among boomers with positive balances, the median savings was around $200,000.

For these soon-to-be retirees, it's not too late to get back on track to financial stability, experts say. Here's how:

Avoid potential problems

"Success in retirement requires awareness of the potential pitfalls that can trip you up," said Greg Sullivan, a certified financial planner and the author of "Retirement Fail."

That includes anticipating a longer life expectancy and higher health-care costs than you might think.

In fact, 43 percent of retirees and 38 percent of pre-retirees fell short by at least five years when asked to gauge the average life expectancy for someone of their age and gender, according to a survey from the Society of Actuaries.

With that — and rising medical costs — comes surging projections of what retirees can expect to spend for retirement health costs.

An analysis from Fidelity Investments estimates that a healthy 65-year-old couple retiring this year will need $280,000 to cover their health-care costs. For individuals, the projection is $133,000 for a man and $147,000 for a woman.

Chances are, that will mean you'll need more discretionary income than you originally thought.

Increase savings

To get there, "increase their monthly retirement savings, as significantly as possible," said Michael LaBella, a CFA and the head of global equity strategy at QS Investors.

The Stanford Center advises saving 10 percent to 17 percent of your income if you plan to retire at 65 — about double what most people are actually socking away.

Reaching such a goal may entail downsizing or cutting off financially dependent adult children, added Sullivan.

"Changing your lifestyle is very difficult for most people," he said. "We try to get our clients to look five and 10 years down the road and then put a realistic plan in place to help you along your journey to security and happiness."

More from Personal Finance:
Baby boomers face more risks to their retirement than previous generations
How long $1 million lasts in retirement
The new retirement: Working

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To further shore up your finances, LaBella recommends keeping a chunk of that savings in cash, certificates of deposit and high-quality short-term bond funds as well as "defensive equities," which are less volatile and pay higher dividends.

Work longer

One of the best ways to catch up on retirement savings is to work longer.

Delaying retirement for just three to six months has the same impact as saving 1 percent more of your salary over 30 years, according to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The power of saving continues to decrease as workers approach retirement age, the working paper found.

Aside from the added income, working longer also allows you to preserve your retirement savings and even keep building those assets in tax-advantaged retirement plans while also reaping the benefits of delaying Social Security past full retirement age.

Consider a side gig

Whether by choice or necessity, nearly 3 out of 4 Americans already plan to work beyond traditional retirement age on at least a part-time basis, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Do some research into what flex jobs are available in your area. From Uber driver to freelance graphic designer, there could be some highly desirable opportunities to work remotely or on your own schedule.

"Bonus points if you can keep your current full-time job and add a side gig, stashing all the extra cash you earn," said Arielle O'Shea, an investing and retirement specialist at NerdWallet.

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