10 Ways to Play Catch-Up Before Retirement

You may never get back the life you had before, but here are ways to improve your retirement prospects.

Jar of cash on the table for retirement savings

Accept that your retirement lifestyle isn't going to be what you expected. Raether once expected to sell his big house in San Marino, Calif., and buy a retirement home at the beach. Now he dreams of a two-bedroom apartment with a piano. "Realize that the stuff you thought was really important to have … is really not that important," he says.

Review your investments. Look at the numbers, run the retirement calculators, talk to a financial advisor and see if your money is invested in the right vehicles. Conventional advice is to move into safer investments as you approach retirement, but if you expect to work longer, weigh whether it's worth the risk of keeping more money in stocks, which traditionally bring a higher rate of return. Also make sure you're not paying high investment fees.

Embrace simple living and economize where you can. Cooking more often at home and taking your lunch instead of spending $10 on takeout every day could add substantially to your retirement savings over time.

Set a goal of being debt-free by the time you retire, including paying off your mortgage. That could mean making additional mortgage payments or selling a house with a large mortgage and buying a smaller place for cash.

Contribute the most you can to tax-advantaged investments. That means 401(k)s, individual retirement accounts or Roth IRAs. If you've been forced into self-employment, look into options such as a Simple IRA plan, a SEP plan or a solo 401(k). People over 50 are allowed to make additional contributions to those plans.

[See: Your 10-Step Financial Recovery Plan.]

Coming back won't be easy, warns Raether, who has written a memoir, "Tell Me Something, She Said," about his experience, He wrote in his essay:

"What happens when you hit bottom? I can tell you one thing: You don't bounce back. You crawl back, fighting every step of the way. It isn't a straight arc back up either; there are dozens of setbacks every step of the way. And the place you land isn't anywhere near where you were when you slipped off the cliff."

Still, Raether says he counts himself lucky to have his health and good relationships with all eight of his children, who are now in college or older. Plus, he will get a pension from the Writers Guild once he's 65. Most baby boomers will not have pension income in retirement, making savings even more important.

While older workers have less time to save for retirement than workers in their 20s, they still have time, especially if retirement comes later. "If you're in your 40s or early 50s, you're not that close to retirement. You've got a lot of time," Chatzky says. "Thinking you're so close to retirement that you can't do anything is a defeatist attitude, and it's not going to help you."