Use special savings accounts during work breaks. Just because you're not earning a steady paycheck doesn't mean it's a good time to put retirement savings on hold. Spousal IRAs for non-working spouses and Roth IRAs can make this easy. Roth IRAs are particularly useful for freelancers, students, and other people with unpredictable income streams, because you contribute money to the account after paying taxes on it, which means you can decide how much to contribute after considering your other expenses. If you think your tax rate is lower now than it will be when you take the money out, you'll benefit.
Save a higher percentage of your income all year long. The Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that on average, employees contribute just 7.5 percent of their income to their retirement accounts. But most people need to save at least 15 percent to be on track, according to Vanguard founder John Bogle, and possibly even more. Instead of worrying, just save more, he urges. January is a good time to review your contribution rate and consider raising it for the year.
Use the end of the year to bulk up your contributions. You can contribute up to $16,500 into your 401(k) in 2010; for those 50 or older, the limit is $22,000. If you're nowhere close to that amount, you can ramp up your contributions to take advantage of tax-advantaged accounts. The same goes for Roth IRAs and traditional IRAs. If you want to max out your retirement savings, now is the time to start putting more money away. (You can contribute up to the 2011 limit until April 17, 2012.)
Getting started on a few of these steps can increase your chances of falling into the small category of people who feel confident about funding their golden years.