NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Susan Bender Phelps watched her father work until he was 85 years old — and due to some life emergencies, owning her own business and a down stock market, she’s prepared to do the same.
“If I am able, it is likely I will follow in his footsteps,” said the 62-year-old Portland, Ore. area resident.
Like many Americans, Bender Phelps doubts she has enough retirement savings after owning her own business — a corporate training and speaking company — with no retirement planning except for an IRA. According to the recently updated National Retirement Risk Index released by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, only about half of U.S. workers are actually on track to retire comfortably. The research also showed that even as the length of retirement is increasing — with the average retirement age hovering around 63 and life expectancy rising — the median 401(k)/IRA balance for households approaching retirement only is about $110,000.
“Retirement savings is a big problem in the U.S. where how comfortably someone can live in retirement is very dependent on that person taking responsibility for saving,” said Coleen Pantalone, professor of finance at Northeastern University.
Pantalone said for someone late to the game, the choices can be extremely limited. A simple one is Bender Phelps’s solution — don't stop working.
“Beyond that, it is easy to say ‘I'm going to save more,’ but it is hard to put that into practice,” Pantalone said.
Most experts agree while there is no magic bullet when it comes to saving for retirement, planning is paramount if someone wants to reach retirement with a certain level of security in knowing his lifestyle will not have to change much.
“Put a plan together, and keep in mind that a financial plan is a living document,” Kris Carroll, chief investment officer at Carroll Financial Associates in Charlotte, N.C. “It needs to be updated on an ongoing basis because as your life changes, the plan changes.”
Carroll said people must remember to spend less and save more, and a better, easier answer does not exist. He also adds to keep it simple.
“When a plan is simple, it's much easier to stick to than a complex plan,” Carroll said. “Keep it simple and be sure to understand what you are doing. If you don't understand how you are saving for retirement, find someone else to work with who can help you simply your plan.”
Pantalone recommends tracking one’s spending to see where money is really going.
“Most people are surprised how much is frittered away,” she said.
Then build a budget that allows you to up your savings, but don't go on a "no fun diet” — which is a sure way to fail, she said.
Gary Borowiec, senior partner at Atlas Advisory Group in Cranford, N.J., said one of the most effective methods is the "3-Bucket Approach,” — a system that helps answer the question of where one should be investing in the short-term, mid-term and long-term.
The first bucket should provide short-term cash for the next two to five years and is best placed in short-duration bond funds or institutional funds that have diversified assets and could deliver a return of 4 to 5%. The second bucket is dedicated to funding mid-term expenses five to ten years in the future and may include diversified mutual funds, institutional funds and even some exchange-traded funds.
The final bucket is slated solely for retirement savings and differs depending on the number of years until retirement. However, it should be built with an eye to tax diversification and balancing access to pre- and post-tax assets at retirement time.
“While those who haven't saved much at all will certainly be challenged, this strategy makes the most of what is available to provide greatest amount of predictable income throughout retirement,” Borowiec said.
Predictability is something Bender Phelps — like many Americans — may not have in her so-called “golden years.”
“As long as we are healthy, we should be all right,” she said. “The problem is, there are no guarantees.”
--Written by Chris Metinko for MainStreet