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1. Underestimating how much money you'll need

It's hard to guess how much money you need to save to retire comfortably, but it's probably more than you realize. Generally, you'll want to cover 70% to 90% of your working income with a combination of your savings and Social Security benefits.

So, someone who makes $60,000 will need $42,000 to $54,000 each year of their retirement. Is that less or more than you thought?

A recent Vanguard study found those between ages 55 and 64 have saved an average of roughly $256,000 for retirement. However, new research by the Federal Reserve shows that an astounding one in four Americans (including the 27% who consider themselves retired) have absolutely nothing saved.

Solution: Accelerate your savings

If you're behind on your savings, you can still retire on time if you increase how much you're saving during your last 10 years of work.

You can even accomplish this without entirely devastating your current plans and lifestyle. How? There are different types of savings account to choose from. Given the current interest rate environment, a CD or high-yield savings account are options.

A CD is like an accelerated savings account that allows you to deposit a sum of money for the bank to hold for a fixed term of anywhere from one to five years. You can't access the money before the end of the term without incurring a penalty, unless you specifically choose a CD that has no penalty.

CDs are considerably lower risk than investing in stocks or mutual funds, and are ideally suited for shorter-term savings goals.

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2. High living expenses

Many people have difficulty saving for their retirement because their cost of living is too high and they don't have much left over after paying bills.

Some picture themselves getting by with the small amount they've saved in their tax-free retirement savings accounts because they plan on transitioning to a thrifty lifestyle once they retire. Unfortunately, this assumption has two flaws that will lead to an inability to retire on time.

First, not putting money aside now is just postponing the fact that you must put money aside. If you don't do it now, you'll have to do it later. That will almost certainly mean having to work past your projected retirement age.

Second, it's harder to give up an expensive lifestyle with a big house and nice car than you might imagine. If you reach retirement age and realize you want to keep these luxuries, you'll have to keep working to save extra for a more comfortable retirement.

Solution: Cut your lifestyle spending

Begin to gradually decrease your lifestyle spending ahead of time.

Look at how much you make a month. Driving the newest car can be expensive, and so are cable TV, premium mobile phone plans, and eating dinner out several times a week.

If you begin to cut down on your monthly spending, you'll have more money left over to put into your savings account, or other investment accounts, that will get you to your savings goal faster.

3. Overspending on housing

Apartment living is very common in Europe and other parts of the world, but it doesn't really jibe with the white-picket-fenced American Dream. If you're living in North America and you own a house, there's a good chance it's bigger or more expensive than you need.

The problem begins during house shopping, when people fall in love with a house and then start pulling strings to see how they can pay for it. They fail to use a mortgage calculator to determine how much house they can afford.

Unfortunately, this results in mortgage and maintenance costs that eat up too much of the family budget to have any left over for retirement savings or investing.

Solution: Downsize

If having a bigger house than you need is making it impossible to save money for retirement, then consider downsizing in the years before you stop working.

This will allow you to put more of your income towards your retirement and increase the chances that you will be able to retire on time. Downsizing earlier will also make your transition to budget-friendly retirement living easier.

Finally, keep in mind that the state you choose to retire in can make a big difference in the quality of life you can achieve with your savings and Social Security.

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4. Investing too aggressively — or not at all

The search for bigger returns leads many people to invest heavily in stocks, which yield higher returns than savings but are riskier thanks to market volatility.

Aside from running the risk of losing your money, successfully investing in stocks works best as a long-term strategy. The best options are growth stocks and income stocks, or mutual funds or exchange-traded funds that pay regular, increasing dividends over time.

This means if you don't have 20 years to pursue investing in stocks, you might be running a higher risk and you won't be making as much money.

The flip side of risky investing plans is not investing at all because you're afraid of the risk. The result is that you'll short-change yourself and make far less money than you need.

Solution: Get higher returns on your money

Putting your money in a CD is a good middle ground that gets you higher returns than regular or high-interest savings accounts while avoiding most of the risk that comes with investing. When you lock your money down for one to five years in a CD, you're locking into a particular interest rate.

The risk is that if interest rates go up, the interest on your money won't — because you've locked in.

To reduce this risk, you can consider putting your money in a one-year CD that will lock in the interest rate but won't force you to stick to it for too long if interest rates do go up.

The next year you could simply put your money in another one-year CD and reap the benefits of higher interest all over again.

More: Will CD rates continue to rise?

5. Not having a retirement plan

Many people choose an age that seems best to retire and leave their “retirement plan” at that.

However, if you don't create a solid plan for your retirement, you may find yourself a year or two away from it and you won't be ready.

You may not have enough saved or you might not have thought about what you'll be doing with all your free time!

Solution: Create a retirement plan

A retirement plan should begin with how much money you think you'll need each month to cover housing, food, and other monthly costs that will ensure a comfortable lifestyle.

Cross-check this with your sources of income, including your Social Security, savings, and perhaps part-time work in retirement.

If there's a gap between how much money you'll have each month, then you'll need to fill it by padding out your retirement savings and possibly working a few years longer than you originally planned.

It won't be the end of the world if you have to work a few extra years before you retire, but it's best to make the most of it. The less time you have until retirement, the more important it is to gain the highest returns possible on your money.

Speaking with a financial planner can also help you get a better picture of what your retirement plan may be. Financial planners can look at your entire financial picture for both short and long term and assist in developing an investment strategy to supplement retirement income.


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Esther Trattner Freelance Contributor

Esther was formerly a freelance contributor to Moneywise.


The content provided on Moneywise is information to help users become financially literate. It is neither tax nor legal advice, is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. Tax, investment and all other decisions should be made, as appropriate, only with guidance from a qualified professional. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, either express or implied, with respect to the data provided, the timeliness thereof, the results to be obtained by the use thereof or any other matter.