Question: Hi. I'm 53 years old and have had to go through the little bit of my retirement savings. Now, I have $5,000 to start something, as far as retirement goes. What should I do? I do not have anything through work. Actually, my workplace is on brink of closing right now. Lisa, Louisville, KY
Answer: It sounds like you've been through some rough times, with another bad patch ahead of you. That's tough. I don't know all the details, of course, but I would emphasize saving the money in a safe place for now, such as a federally insured online savings account or a federally insured credit union. You may need to tap the savings. And if you don't, you can always leave the money alone and use it later on in retirement.
At this point, one of the the most important steps you can take planning for your eventual retirement is to devise ways to keep working well into the traditional retirement years. It's a good way to delay taking Social Security and the benefit grows every year you wait past age 62 until age 70. I would focus on nurturing your network of colleagues, former colleagues, friends and family -- the way most of us get a job. I'd invest in my health.
A retirement savings vehicle you might want to consider is a Roth IRA. The big advantage of the Roth is, since you've already paid taxes on the money going in, you don't have to pay taxes on any accumulated gains when you withdraw money during retirement. The Roth also acts as an "emergency" emergency fund. You don't want to take money out of your Roth. In a pinch you can withdraw contributions tax-free and penalty-free, however.
What I wouldn't do is take big risks with your savings in an attempt to make up for lost time. The danger is that by taking greater risks you end up losing money.