Retirement is something everyone needs to consider to avoid going broke late in life, but too few people adequately plan for it. According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, approximately 52% of working households are at risk of falling short on saving enough for their later years. A Federal Reserve survey revealed that nearly 31% of Americans have nothing set aside for retirement, and 36% are banking on Social Security benefits to help see them through.

How to Avoid Going Broke in Retirement

While Social Security can be a help, the average monthly benefit isn’t likely to go far, even for someone living on the barest of budgets. As of June 2016 nine out of 10 people over age 65 were receiving Social Security, with these benefits representing 34% of their retirement income. The average monthly benefit was $1,348. Considering that the average person aged 65 to 74 spends 32% of annual income on housing alone, that’s not exactly encouraging. If you’re a thirtysomething who doesn’t want to be left out in the cold financially once you hit your 60s, the time to take action is now. Here are three things you can do to make sure you’re as prepared as possible for retirement.

Conquer Your Fear of Stocks

Younger investors have been notoriously gun-shy of investing in stocks, particularly in the years following the Great Recession. A Gallup poll revealed that overall the number of Americans investing in stocks declined by 13% between 2007 and 2016. Among those aged 18 to 34, stock investors decreased by 14%, and there was an 11% decrease among those aged 35 to 54. (For more, see Tips for Recession-Proofing Your Portfolio.)

A retreat from stocks is to be expected following a period of economic upheaval, but it’s not going to do your net worth much good over the long run. If you’re in your 30s and have two or three decades remaining before you retire, your time horizon is long enough to allow for recovery from market fluctuations. If you’re wary of purchasing individual stocks, allocating more of your assets to index funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or target-date funds could allow for increased diversification.

Say Yes to Free Money

If you have access to an employer’s retirement plan, such as a 401(k), and your employer offers a matching contribution, letting the match slip through your fingers isn’t the best strategy if your goal is a comfortable retirement. A 2015 survey from Financial Engines estimates that the average worker loses out on $1,336 per year by not contributing enough to an employer’s plan to get the match. That adds up to nearly $43,000 over the course of a career.

When you’re battling student loan debt, or you haven’t yet hit your peak earning years, your 401(k) may not be a priority, but your sixtysomething self will thank you for using it to its full advantage. Even an increase of 2% per year in your salary deferrals could make a significant difference in the size of your nest egg. For example, let’s say you’re 35 years old and making $50,000 a year. You’re contributing 4% of your salary annually, but to qualify for the match you have to contribute at least 6% of your pay. If you save that same 4% until age 65 and earn a 7% annual return, you’d have just over $196,000 saved.

On the other hand, if you bumped your elective deferrals up to 6% to get the match, and your employer matches 100% of the first 6% you contribute, your savings would grow to more than $588,000. Step up your contributions to 15% and you’d have over $1 million to retire on, assuming a 7% annual return. (For more, see 4 Ways to Maximize Your 401(k).)

Plan Ahead for Healthcare While You’re Young

Healthcare can take a huge bite out of your retirement savings. According to Fidelity Investments, a 65-year-old couple retiring today will spend $260,000 on health care in retirement, a 6% increase over the previous year. That figure doesn’t include the cost of long-term care, which could add on another $130,000. (For more, see Long-Term Care: More Than Just a Nursing Home.)

When you’re in your 30s and very likely still in good health, you may not give a thought to how that can change as you age, but now is an ideal time to be setting money aside for those costs. If you have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), a health savings account (HSA) is a good way to do just that. Investopedia's tutorial How HSAs Work will give you the detailed information you need to decide.

Your HSA contributions are tax deductible, and the money can be withdrawn tax and penalty free at any time for qualified medical expenses, including the cost of long-term care. Once you turn 65 you can withdraw the money for any purpose penalty free, although you will pay regular income tax on the distributions. That’s a plus if your good health continues into your 60s and beyond. 

The Bottom Line

When it comes to retirement planning, the sooner you get started, the better. Making these key moves in your 30s can alleviate some of the pressure to save more as you move into your 40s and 50s. If you’re worried about staying on track, creating an annual financial plan can help you to monitor your progress as you work toward your retirement goals. (For more, see Your Annual Financial Planning Checklist.)

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