Small salary? Here's how to save for retirement

Do you make less than $50,000 a year? How about less than $30,000? Marilyn Timbers, a certified financial planner and ING retirement coach in Stamford, Conn., has good news: You can still save enough to live a comfortable life during your retirement years.

The key? Don't let your low salary dissuade you from saving for retirement, even if you can only set aside a small portion of each paycheck.

Timbers points to a past client: This single mom never made much money. She received no financial support from her ex-husband. But she was diligent about her savings. And she was willing to work extra years -- not retiring until she reached 70 -- to generate extra money for her post-work life.

"She is now traveling. She is having a great time in retirement," Timbers says. "She's happy. It can be done, even if your income is small."

The importance of planning

If you think that your annual salary is too small to save enough for retirement, you may be using flawed thinking, says Timbers and other financial planners. In fact, those who earn higher incomes are nearly as likely to feel that they are unprepared for their retirement years.

A 2013 survey by American Consumer Credit Counseling found that 86 percent of individuals who made $20,000 to $30,000 each year felt that they were unprepared for retirement. More surprising is that the same survey found that 79 percent of individuals who earned $100,000 to $150,000 each year also said that they felt unprepared for their retirement years.

The lesson? Preparing for retirement takes planning, whether you make $30,000 a year or $150,000.

The key is to remember the goal of retirement: You want to maintain your current lifestyle after you leave the working world. If you make less money, the odds are that you won't need to maintain as extravagant a lifestyle as if you were making millions each year.

"No two people have the same retirement goals and needs," says Sharon Appelman, director of financial planing and income management with Francis Financial in New York City. "People with low incomes have to save proportionally, as do people who are making millions. They need to save enough to supplement their Social Security and maintain their lifestyles."

Making a little go a long way

Here are some tips for low-earners who want to enjoy a stress-free retirement: