Can I retire without a mountain of savings?

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Question:

I'm a 51-year-old married homeowner (I still have a mortgage and kids in college), with a decent but not fabulously paying job, who has saved very little for retirement. Can you suggest a strategy to keep me out of the old paupers' home?

Answer:

The idea that you'll need gobs of money to retire with dignity is largely a marketing ploy of mutual funds, insurance companies, and other large corporations. They make billions convincing middle-aged Americans to save millions. If you tune out their voices and pick up a pencil and paper, you'll learn a lot by drawing up a simple budget.

Figure out how much you'll really need to live on each year once your last kid is fledged and your mortgage papers are finally burned. Then determine how much your Social Security and any private pension will contribute to this. Usually, it will be more than half. To close any remaining gap, get more serious about adding to your savings -- starting, of course, with any tax-advantaged workplace plans. Incidentally, many Americans do the majority of their retirement saving in their 50s when, for the first time, they have surplus income.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, think about continuing to work part-time beyond normal retirement age. Especially if you learn a skill in a field you really enjoy, working into your late sixties or beyond can keep you active and interested in life, and give you a way to make new friends.

At the same time, working allows you to postpone the need to dip into your savings. And assuming you have invested your savings wisely, this means you have many years in which to add to your nest egg.

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