logo

Who says you're too old to win at investing and saving?

Sally Toro didn't get serious about saving for retirement till late in the game. Now she is on track to retire at 60.
Source: Sara Toro

In your 50s, and even older, you might find yourself thinking of retirement with a mixture of excitement and dread.

A new chapter's coming — but not so deep down, you know you don't have enough saved.

Even if it's a mix of work and leisure, most of us expect a little loosening up on the pressures of working. And starting in your 40s and 50s, it's natural to start planning and wondering what retirement will look like.

A serious illness, not being prepared for a big stock market downturn or a sudden job loss can quickly jettison dreams of a sunny retirement.

But don't give up hope.

If you didn't start saving, start now. If you weren't saving enough, try some strategies to shore up your finances.

You've got this

Sally Toro, 56, grew up poor. "I was never taught about saving or preparing for the future," she said.

Through her 20s and 30s, Toro, who lives in Pompano Beach, Florida, saved nothing. When Toro was 39, Bea Martin, a co-worker at their financial company, asked if she was using the company's 401(k) plan. No, Toro told Martin. Between supporting her two daughters as a single mother and a salary of about $42,000, she simply could not afford to give up 1 cent.

"Do you know you are losing money by not putting in the minimum?" Martin asked. That got Toro's attention. Martin urged her to give it a shot, telling Toro she could always stop saving.

Toro started putting 2% of each paycheck aside. "I was terrified I wouldn't have $20 more on that paycheck," she said. But she remembered what Martin said: that in a year's time, she would build up a cash reserve.

Money is money. If you've lost those years, you're going to have to plan on working a little longer.
Barbara Delaney
principal at Stone Street Advisor Group

In a year, she accumulated about $4,000 and felt rich. "But I didn't have the guts to continue increasing," she said. Only when she moved on to another company did she begin slowly upping the percentage.

For the last eight years, Toro has actually been maxing out at $18,000 and even putting in the catch-up contributions allowed for those age 50 and over.

A year ago, she began working with a financial advisor. Between her 401(k) and two individual retirement accounts, she has close to $300,000 and hopes to retire at 62.

Whether it's your upbringing or lack of confidence, you need to take the risk of putting away even 2%, according to Toro. "Be bold and try to save for yourself. It is your future."

Generational headwinds

People in their 50s and 60s may not have been able to use some common retirement strategies when they were starting out in the work world. Barbara Delaney, principal at Stone Street Advisor Group, remembers when workplaces simply didn't have retirement savings options.

A former employee with EF Hutton, Delaney says the brokerage firm began offering a 401(k) in 1987. Before that, the company had a pension plan with a 10-year vesting schedule. When another company took over and closed her department, Delaney lost out on a future pension as well as eight years of retirement saving.

A top strategy for those getting a late start is to save as much as you can and push back your retirement age. "Money is money," Delaney said. "If you've lost those years, you're going to have to plan on working a little longer."

VIDEO3:2503:25
Saving More, Working Less

It's a hard conversation she has with many of her clients.

People commonly overlook the fact that Social Security is a good income replacement for those who make less than $60,000. To that end, Delaney recommends claiming Social Security as late as possible. "People take it at 62 because they think they're going to die early," she said.

Delaney helps people find ways to bridge the gap between the end of a paying career and the start of Social Security benefits, such as dipping into a 401(k) or accumulated savings.

Relocating to a cheaper area to save on monthly expenses, such as property taxes, is another way to cut spending. "The fixed costs of living in New York are triple what you might pay in Delaware or South Carolina," she said.

A Roth IRA can be a boon for reducing someone's taxable income. "If we can have an older person start a Roth and take distributions to bridge the gap, it comes out tax-free," Delaney said. If someone can get to zero taxable income, they will then save on Medicare premiums because it is means-tested.

"Health care is costing us a lot," she said, especially in retirement and especially if someone has a chronic illness.

More from Invest in You:
The magic strategy that can save retirement for people in their 40s
Here's what it takes to become a 401(k) millionaire at any age
Do these five things to get to your first $10,000, even if you're broke

Slash expenses

A single day costs Americans an average of $164.55, when you factor in groceries, gas and going out.

Sharon Cutler, who lives in Chicago with her husband, decided to cut back substantially on dinners out and extravagant spending. "I find that money is not the solution to happiness," said Cutler, 71.

One New York single mom, Adrienne B., buys food in smaller quantities, always paying cash — and she no longer buys only high-quality, organic, grass-fed meat.

VIDEO2:5902:59
Tips to save enough for retirement
Be flexible

Peg McNichol, a morning news anchor in Holland, Michigan, is 61.

A patchwork of strategies will help her retire, someday.

McNichol used to say, "I'll work till I'm dead because I love being a journalist."

But as her friends have begun hitting their 60s, many are retiring and some have physical disabilities. It's a wakeup call.

Student debt of just under $11,000, down from around $25,000, prevents her from retiring any time soon.

McNichol says she can probably retire at 62. "But if you have one major medical event, all the cards are in the air," she said.

Retirement timing is a topic she revisits frequently. "I just got a job I love," she said. The company has excellent retention and she'd like to stay for a long time. For savings, she has a few thousand saved. Social Security would give her only about half her current monthly paycheck.

What-if scenarios include unexpected medical issues. "I have to think in terms of a medical condition that prevents me from driving to work," she said. She will then scale back her lifestyle to afford whatever her income is.

"It's not like I don't think about this stuff," she said. "I do, but I never articulated this beyond casual conversations with a friend.

"That is part of the problem with retirement," McNichol added. "We think about it, but we don't talk about it."

Invest more

Depending on your personality, you can invest aggressively. But if you're not a risk taker and won't be able to ride out five years of bad markets, don't do it, Delaney said: "Do some soul searching."

Make more

Scout the possibilities. If you can't earn more, perhaps you can take on a small side hustle, such as occasional pet-sitting. McNichol rents out a room in her house to help with monthly expenses.

Sharon Cutler recently co-wrote a book on '60s pop music. Some of her friends, in similar situations, work part-time as dog-walkers and personal care aides to the elderly.

Check out I Made $1000 by Taking Pictures with This Easy Side Hustle via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.