Retirement advice for early preppers... and those at the career finish line

We're talking saving and investing on this week's show -- trying to figure out if, and how, we can ever afford to retire. This is  the topic that we get the most listener questions about on our website and on Facebook and Twitter. That's why we asked Jill Schlesinger, a certified financial planner and CBS News Business Analyst, to help answer those questions.

A recent Gallup poll that says about half of young people are pretty optimistic about retirement. They think they'll have enough money to take care of themselves and enjoy life after work. But is that realistic?

"With the youth at least, you've got time on your side," says Schlesinger. "If you're under 30, you really have learned painful lessons coming into a tough job market, you've probably seen your parents suffer, maybe your grandparents suffer during the Great Recession. I think that these are actually, they tend to be the types of people who become very good savers. So I'm optimistic with them."

But talking and thinking about retirement can be pretty scary -- especially when we hear advice like you should save 15 percent of your income. Schlesinger says it can become daunting, but advises people to break it down into little pieces at a time.

"The best advice is that you just have to do what is within your capabilities of doing today. You don't have to worry that you're not doing 15 percent this second. There may be other priorities in your life that you have to deal with first. Maybe you've got to pay down some nasty, old credit card debt. Maybe you've got to pay down some student loans and you can't do 15 percent, but you want to get in the habit of putting some amount of money aside -- hopefully the most you can stomach and still have a good life -- and just increase that a little bit as you can," says Schlesinger.

Schlesinger says you've just got to put your mind to it and put some sort of plan in place. She offered advice to callers both young and old.

Jane, 70, from Montana is about ready to retire, but $57,000 of debt is standing in her way. She and her husband have purchased a number of vehicles for their children and her retired husband has a hard time saying "no" to their kids. He recently bought another car for their son, a purchase Jane did not condone. 

Schlesinger advises Jane to recruit a trusted third-party to help her confront her husband about going into debt to provide for their children. That person can help Jane mediate the conversation and deliver some tough love. Otherwise, Jane will never be able to retire.

Meanwhile Ginger, 28, is fortunate to be debt-free and have some savings put away. She has contributed the maximum allowable amount to her roth IRA since she got out of graduate school two years ago. She wants advice on what to do with her money.

"You're committing to invest for 30 years -- that's what happens with retirement," says Schlesinger. "I think it would work if you created some kind of account, let's call it a general investment account... that does not enjoy any tax preference. It's just a plain, old taxable account where you can start putting money away where it could be your travel fund or it could be your new car fund."

Schlesinger also advised other listeners on these questions:

  • Steven in New York City just sold his apartment and got a nice little nest egg of $100,000. He's currently renting and plans to  look again in about a year. He wants advice on whether he should invest his nest egg.
  • Joshua, 32, and his wife live in Minnesota. He wants to know whether his pension and his wife's pension plans are enough to retire on.  

About the author

Jill Schlesinger is editor-at-large for CBS/MoneyWatch.

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