For millions of baby boomers, the financial gap between today and a successful retirement is deep and wide. When confronted with this reality, many folks simply give up, lamenting that they will never be able to retire or will continue working until age 75. But it may not have to be that way, if you are willing to adopt radical strategies to accelerate your retirement plan and close that financial gap. Here are a few ideas to consider:
1. Work a second job. You need more income now so you can save more for retirement. If you are healthy and the nest is empty, fill some spare time with more work. I am friends with a couple who each work full-time in conventional 9-to-5 office jobs. One spouse also works evenings and weekends selling ladies shoes in a mall department store on commission. She makes more money from that part-time job than she does at her regular job.
2. Become a single car family. Most married couples are two car families, even if the kids are gone and one spouse is not working. Operating costs including gas, insurance, maintenance, and repairs and carrying costs such as depreciation, taxes, and interest for a car or SUV can easily average $6,000 to $10,000 per year and even more for luxury vehicles. (Check Edmunds.com or ConsumerReports.org for data for your vehicle.) Gas prices are on the rise. Getting rid of the second vehicle can save you thousands of dollars for retirement. Commute with others, take public transit, share a ride with your spouse, or ride a bike instead. It can be done with careful planning.
3. Push your kids off the payroll. Many boomers find it emotionally difficult to completely cut the ties that financially bind them to their children. It starts with college expenses that drag on as the kids fail to graduate on time or need help paying off student loans. It continues with supporting boomerang kids. I know folks who continue to pay their kids car insurance or cell phone bills, even after the offspring are gainfully employed. When your child-rearing days are done, love your children, but be politely and firmly selfish about your money. You will need it when you retire more than they will now.
4. Start a spending fast. Most of us eat too much. We also spend too much. We often combine those vices by eating out regularly. Look at your budget and see if that’s you. If so, go on an extreme spending fast. Vow to go an entire month without restaurant food. Also, avoid the drive-through and skip the exotic $5.00 cups of coffee. Stash the money you don’t spend in your retirement savings. Think about what it will buy when you really need it. The next month, start another spending fast, this time targeting your cell phone or cable bill.
Most people who read these suggestions will roll their eyes and vow not to take such radical actions in their own lives, even if their retirement hangs in the balance. My message in response is this: The pain of financial discipline will be far less than the pain of retirement regrets.
Mark Patterson is an engineer, patent attorney, baby boomer, and author of The Failsafe Retirement System. He blogs on matters of personal finance and retirement planning at Tough Money Love and Go To Retirement.