Advice and tips on saving for retirement at any age

Look out now into your imaginary future. Whatever you see yourself doing in retirement. Fishing, or time with your grandkids, or just relaxing -- reality is it takes money and a dedicated financial plan. Liz Weston, personal finance columnist and author, joins us to answer your questions about retirement funds -- how to save, what accounts to use, and how to think about planning. And you might want to listen to some of the advice because a new study from Bankrate says that two-thirds of Americans aren't saving enough for a comfortable retirement.

What's stopping folks from putting away more money toward a comfortable retirement? We asked our listeners that question on Facebook. Many of the responses were about unexpected unemployment and other personal financial hardships. We asked Weston the same question.

"There's a couple of things going on. One is obviously people are still recovering from the recession. So they're trying to make up for lost ground, trying to pay off for that debt. They don't realize that retirement has to be their top priority, that you can't put it off. The other thing that's going on is that wonderful human optimism we have that somehow something is going to come along and save us. What I'm worried about is these people are going to hit retirement and they're facing what's called a cliff retirement, which means their lifestyle is going to fall off a cliff. By that time it's too late. By the time you get into your 50s and 60s it's going to be really hard to catch up -- if you even can," says Weston.


A guide to U.S. retirement accounts Learn more about what kind of plans are out there and which is best for you. Plus, browse our other resources to help you reach your retirement goals.


Weston says it's important for people to get an early start on retirement. Unfortunately, though, the message is not getting through.

"We've got to get those people in their 20s. Come on guys, get that 401(k) started. There's a free match most of the time. You're getting a tax break. Just do it. Yes, you have other priorities, but you've got to make retirement first," says Weston.

For young people wondering whether they should pay off student debt first or start a retirement account, Weston says you should start the account.

"The fact is there is no better time to start saving for retirement than in your 20s. You have decades ahead of you for that money to grow. If it's not in there, earning those compounded returns, you're not going to get to the place where you can have some choices with retirement. That's the thing, people think they can catch up later. It becomes increasingly difficult. If you could start saving maybe 10 percent in your 20s for retirement, by your 30s you might have to save 15 or 20 percent, by your 40s you might have to save 20-25 percent. Once you're in your 50s you'd have to save 40 percent of your income to match what you would have gotten if you'd saved just 10 percent starting in your 20s."

Weston also answered the following questions from callers:

  • Diana, 49, from Colorado has $35,000 saved in retirement. She just finished a job as a contractor and is now looking for work. She's had numerous jobs over my lifetime, and had a drastic reduction in income from 2008-2012 due to the loss of her husband and caring for her mother. She wants to retire at 70, but it depends on how much she can save. She wants to advice on what to do. 
  • Mike, 51, from Wisconsin works in the finance department of a public accounting firm. He's married with four kids and has a retirement fund and 401(k). He has a managed account and is wondering whether he should move his money into an index fund. 
  • Heidi from San Jose, Calif., is 44 and has two young kids. She and her husband are trying to save. But it's not substantial. Her kids are growing out of daycare, and she'll end up saving $1,400 a month. How should she invest that money? 
  • Bob from Chico, Calif., was a school custodian. The 66-year-old retiree has about $100,000 in savings. Now that he's retired he has money accumulating in his checking account and wants to know what to do with it.

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.

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