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How to retire on just $25,000 in the bank

Tracey Samuelson Mar 19, 2013
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Don Easton knows he needs to save for retirement. But he’s been out of work for five years and so instead of putting money into his retirement accounts, he’s been pulling it out. There’s food, gas, and credit card debit.

“Dental care’s a big issue,” he says. “I need a new crown.”

Easton hopes to return to work soon and has been picking up side work painting houses and doing handiwork. He’s optimistic that he’ll again be able to save. But he says if he hits retirement without sufficient savings, he’s lucky to have a safety net—his family.

“I would move in with my sister,” he says. “She has kids and they all enjoy having me around.”

He’d also try to delay retiring by simply working longer.

Those strategies are common solutions for American workers who have not saved enough for retirement.

It’s not that people don’t want to save, says Nevin Adams, the director of education at the Employee Benefit Research Institute. It’s just that there are often more pressing economic concerns.

“Retirement’s down a really long list of things people are trying to worry about,” he says.

More than half of respondents to a EBRI survey released Tuesday reported they have less than $25,000 in savings, excluding their houses and pensions.

Therefore, like Easton, people could lean on family. They can work more. But the biggest chunk of the retirement pie will be Social Security.

“For people who have their whole lives been in, let’s say, the bottom third of the pay distribution, Social Security is going to replace a very large chunk of their pre-retirement earnings, thereby relieving them, potentially, of the need to save a whole lot more,” says Olivia Mitchell, the executive director at Pension Research Council and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

They’ll also likely lean on Medicaid, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

For middle income households, Social Security offers a smaller percentage of what they’re used to living on.

“It’s really the middle class I think is potentially most in trouble,” says Mitchell. “Working a few extra years could well make the difference between having enough and running out.”

For those approaching retirement who haven’t yet saved enough, she has this not-so-cheery mantra: “Work longer, save more, and expect less.”

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