What to Do If You’re 50 and Have No Retirement Savings

What to Do If You’re 50 and Have No Retirement Savings
(Oriana Zhang/The Epoch Times, Shutterstock.ai)
February 11, 2024
Updated:
February 16, 2024

It’s understandable: You were working tirelessly to provide for your family. Maybe you prioritized your children going to college, or maybe you dealt with serious health issues. Maybe you didn’t make the best decisions along the way. But in any case, you reached your 50s and don’t have retirement savings. Now, what do you do?

First of all, you’re not alone. Almost half of U.S. households don’t have retirement accounts, according to the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF). This includes individual retirement accounts (IRAs), Keogh accounts, and certain employer-sponsored accounts, such as 401(k) and 403(b).

If you are one of them and are already in your 50s, the good news is that you still have a good chance to keep up with your savings before you retire. But one thing is for sure: You need to act fast.

If you take action now, you can still retire at the age you’d like, with the lifestyle you desire. (Dilok Klaisataporn/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
If you take action now, you can still retire at the age you’d like, with the lifestyle you desire. (Dilok Klaisataporn/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ready, Set, Go!

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The first step to start saving for your retirement is to evaluate your current financial situation. You need to know your monthly budget, considering dependents and any debts. And then, basically start cutting expenses and maximizing your savings.

“Understanding where you are right now is crucial for making any changes to your financial lifestyle,” Raymond Quisumbing, registered financial planner and contributor to Business Mirror, said.
Once you have a clear picture of your financial situation, you can begin to plan. He advised: “One should be able to answer questions such as:
  • At what age do you plan to retire?
  • How much monthly income do you need to spend post-retirement?
  • Will you be working part time even after retirement?
  • How much are you allotting per asset type?
“Having clear goals will guide your savings and investment strategy,” Mr. Quisumbing said.

This can be harder than it sounds. It’s prudent to consult with a financial adviser who provides personalized advice based on your specific financial situation.

Start strategizing how you save. (Freepik)
Start strategizing how you save. (Freepik)

Save as Much as You Can

First, pay off your debts. “Tackle high-interest debts aggressively. Paying off these debts can free up more funds for retirement savings and reduce financial stress,” Taylor Kovar, CEO at Kovar Wealth Management, said.

Then, you can evaluate your expenses and decide what to cut off. Do you really need every single streaming service? Keep one or two, and unsubscribe from the rest. Do you usually eat out or get your food delivered? Start cooking at home and save money. Same with drinking your coffee at popular chains—it may not look like a big expense, but when they add up week after week, it can help you to save a good amount of money.

“Cutting unnecessary expenses can free up additional funds for more savings. This may include reassessing housing, transportation, and lifestyle choices. In my case, I limited and planned my travel routes in order to save on fuel costs and delay wear and tear on my vehicle,” Mr. Quisumbing said.

Look over your budget to see where you can cut expenses. (Grace Cary/Moment/Getty Images)
Look over your budget to see where you can cut expenses. (Grace Cary/Moment/Getty Images)

Cutting expenses might mean moving to a smaller home, a cheaper state, or even a different country.

“Take a serious look at moving to a very low-cost-of-living area in the U.S. in retirement. You might even look to retire to another country. You could very well cut your expenses in half. I made friends with a man who moved to a safe area of Mexico to retire on a modest pension. He loves it,” Scott Lieberman, founder of TouchdownMoney.com, said.

If you’re open to moving to a different state, consider the cost of living and tax rates. The weather and local attractions could be a factor depending on your lifestyle.

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Florida is a popular state to retire to. The cost of living is reasonable, and Florida is a tax-friendly state—no inheritance tax, estate tax, or state income tax. The beaches and the warm winters are definitely a plus.

Colorado and Delaware are also good choices for tax reasons. If you are a veteran, Virginia offers you many health care and tax exemption benefits.

If you would like to explore other countries, make sure to research the local rules about taxes first, and what it’s like to live there as a resident, not a tourist. Trying it out for a few months is a good idea, but as usual, mind your budget first.

Look for More Sources of Income

After you adjust your budget and reduce unnecessary expenses, look for more income sources.

“You need to maximize your income while you’re still of sound mind and body,” Mr. Lieberman said. “Earlier in life, you may have taken jobs you enjoyed that paid less. Now is the time to take the jobs that pay more—if you want to retire. This may include learning a new skill, like sales. This is the 21st century; you don’t need a college degree. You can learn nearly anything online.”

The internet offers many opportunities to get additional income. You could become a delivery driver for popular food apps or grocery stores. If you have an extra room at home, try renting it on platforms such as Airbnb. If you are passionate or knowledgeable about a certain topic, there are online tutoring platforms where you can help someone from your home while accumulating more savings.

“Making more money in your remaining working years not only helps you now, but it'll entitle you to higher Social Security payments in the future,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Turn your hobby into an alternative source of income. (Kelvin Murray/Stone/Getty Images)
Turn your hobby into an alternative source of income. (Kelvin Murray/Stone/Getty Images)

Start Contributing ASAP

The first step is going to ssa.gov to see how much in Social Security benefits you have accumulated. “About 97% of people in America will receive Social Security benefits. Throughout your career, whether you worked for a big company, a startup, or even yourself, there’s a good chance you paid into Social Security,” Crissi Cole, founder and CEO of Penny Finance, said.

Second, check with your employer if you have access to a pension. Teachers, police officers, business professionals, and state employees usually have access to a compensation package that functions similarly to Social Security. These pensions disburse monthly payments from your employer once you retire. You can check to see how much this might be, Ms. Cole advised.

The third step is to contribute to a 401(k). Financial experts agree that if you have a 401(k), you should contribute as much as you can afford. If you are older than 50, you can take advantage of “catch-up contributions” and contribute up to $30,500 in 2024.

Check what savings plan your employer offers, and pick an investment method that suits your situation.

“Because you do not have to start withdrawing from the plan until you are 72, you will have 22 years to accumulate your retirement funds [if you start at 50]. Therefore, you can be more aggressive with the investments and not be too concerned about market fluctuations. Many companies offer dated funds that coincide with your retirement. They start aggressively and become more conservative as retirement approaches,” Aviva Pinto, managing director at Wealthspire Advisors, said.

If you don’t have access to an employer-sponsored retirement account, you can open an IRA and invest up to $8,000 per year.

Another option, if you are eligible, is to contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA). “The reason is this reduces your tax burden and you can use your HSA for qualified medical expenses. If you get lucky and have no medical bills, you can use the money for whatever you want after age 65,” Mr. Lieberman said.

A good choice is to make the retirement contributions automatic. What you do need to remember, though, is to control your daily spending. Remember that every penny saved today can make a difference in your retirement years.

There’s also the option of pushing back retirement. If your health allows, keep working and saving until you are 75. Each year can add savings and compounding interest, making a nice difference.

“Delaying Social Security benefits by retiring at a later age can result in higher monthly payouts. If possible, consider waiting until full retirement age, or even beyond to maximize the benefit,” Mr. Quisumbing said.

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(Left) A financial advisor can help you weigh which investment strategies work for your financial situation. (Right) With rising healthcare costs, you can contribute to a Health Savings Account to both reduce your tax burden and save for future medical needs. (shapecharge/ E+/Getty Images)(stefanamer/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Do the Math, and Look Ahead

At the end of the day, planning retirement involves a lot of math. That’s why, unless math and interest rates are your thing, it’s better to consult with a professional before making your decision.

“The hard part about all of this is that it is truly a multivariable math equation. How much will you need? When will you retire? How much can you save now? What are the tax savings? And boom, there you go,” Ms. Cole said.

For example, if you are 50 and want to retire at 70 with a million dollars, you’ll need to put $2,000 every month into a retirement account and invest it. “This is about the max of an employer-sponsored retirement account. Strive for this. Subtract Social Security and pension of the monthly amount,” she said.

Last but not least, you need the right mindset. Never mind if you’ve reached your fifth decade with no retirement savings. You still have time, but you might need to change your habits and develop a long-term mentality.

If you are in your 50s, you might not be familiar with the term “YOLO,” meaning “you only live once.” Forget about that if you want to retire.

“This behavior can lead to spending patterns that focus on enjoying the moment and spending money like there is no tomorrow. In saving for the future, it is important to learn delayed gratification, save, and let your money grow so that you can reap the benefits at a later point in life, such as retirement,” Mr. Quisumbing said.

By saving now, you’ll get to enjoy life in retirement. (Freepik)
By saving now, you’ll get to enjoy life in retirement. (Freepik)
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