How Super Savers Can Juice Their Retirement War Chest

You may not know it, but the U.S. has a "retirement deficit." And it's a big one.

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Americans have a total retirement savings deficit of $4.3 trillion. What does that really mean? In blunt terms, it means the combination of all U.S. heads of household hold $4.3 trillion less in their savings than they'll need for retirement.

Let that sink in: we, as a nation are way underprepared for our golden years, with no clear, cohesive "big picture" idea on what to do about the problem. Wall Street doesn't have an answer for the retirement savings deficit, and neither does the federal government or academia - which Americans count on to steer them toward resolutions to big, life-changing problems like low retirement savings.

Heads of American household share the blame, too. Holding on to a perception that retirement is years, even decades, away and thus doesn't require urgent action has proven to be a losing proposition, as more and more cash-starved retirees are starting to figure out.

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That's the macro side of the retirement savings picture, and it's a grim one. On the micro side of the equation, there are specific steps Americans can take to boost their retirement savings and start to catch up on any retirement savings shortfalls.

Granted, you may not like some of the following retirement savings "booster" ideas, especially big picture changes like downsizing your home, as they do require some sacrifice and budget pruning. But added up, they could mean the difference between living out your golden years in relative comfort or living them working under the Golden Arches.

To avoid the latter scenario, try these long-term savings accelerators on for size:

Leverage the benefits of an IRA - Open and contribute to an individual retirement account (IRA), even if you have a 401(k) or other retirement savings plan at work, advises Sharon Marchisello, a retiree and the author of the personal finance e-book Live Cheaply, Be Happy, Grow Wealthy. Marchisello, who based her book on her own experience of living frugally, saving, investing and retiring early, says the tax savings in opening an IRA are abundant. "Also, if you earn too much to qualify for a Roth IRA, you can still open a traditional IRA, and convert it to a Roth IRA," she says.

Play "catch-up" - Take advantage of catch-up contributions if you're over 50, Marchisello says. "In 2017, workers over 50 years-old can contribute an extra $1,000 to an IRA, and an extra $6,000 to a 401(k) plan, with decided tax advantages," she says.

Delay taking Social Security payments - By waiting to age 70 to take Social Security, you can increase your monthly check by $500. "That's a big payoff for being patient," notes Bruce Cameron, a retiree who worked for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Rent out your home (or portions of it) - Cameron rents out his abode via Airbnb and makes good money for little time or work, he says. "This is an extra income that comes in handy," he says. "I live near a NASCAR track in Dallas and have hosted super bowl guests, as well. It's added up to thousands of dollars."

Increase your retirement contribution by 1% - "While this idea may not seem like a lot of money, over time, the increased savings can add up to an additional six-figures in your account when you retire," states Ben Westerman, senior vice president of HM Capital Management, LLC, in Clayton, Mo. "In addition, if you increase your retirement contribution by 1% annually, you'll significantly super-charge retirement savings."

Max out on your company's 401(k) matching contributions - This seems like a no-brainer, but way too many retirement savers don't meet their employer's 401(k) employee matching maximum amounts. "If you're not taking full advantage of your company's 401(k) match, you are giving up free money," Westerman says.

Downsize your home - and save big - One uncommon step people don't think about is to downsize their homes, says Ted Jenkin co-CEO and founder of oXYGen Financial, Inc., near Atlanta. "The difference of living in a 3,000 square-foot house and a 2,000 square-foot house amounts to between $500 to $1,000 a month of total savings," Jenkin says. "Redistribute this savings into 401(k)s, IRAs and Roth IRAs, and increase your retirement savings."

Taking any or all of these tips into action means you're doing your part to cut that $4.3 trillion U.S. retirement deficit. It'll help you and your fellow Americans, to boot.

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