MainStreet.com: How to catch up on retirement savings in your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond

Jun 3, 2015

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Although the best way to save for retirement comes down to spending less, saving more and doing that sooner rather than later, if you're behind on contributions, there are ways to catch up. Here's what you can do to help make up for lost time when you're in your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.

If you're in your 30s …

When you're in your 30s, you should keep trying to live below your means, says Kimberly Foss, Certified Financial Planner and founder and president of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, Calif. You likely have more money coming in than you did when you were in your 20s, but that's not a good reason to spend it.

"The wealthiest clients I have live well below their means, and they have for their entire lives. If you can learn to live below your means, you will be so far ahead when you're ready to retire," she says.

When you get bonuses and raises, don't be tempted to spend them. Take at least half of your newfound cash and put it into your 401(k), Foss says.

"People have a habit of spending what they make, and it's a dangerous one. The truth is, you've been living on what you've been making, and you're still surviving. Sure, enjoy yourself, take a vacation, but save as much as you possibly can. You aren't going to die or be destitute because you didn't spend that other $1,000."

When you're in your 30s, you may have student loan debt left and credit card debt you're paying down. To get the most out of your money, try to eliminate all debts as soon as possible, Foss says.

"If you're paying off a credit card at 21% interest, you have to get more than a 21% return on your savings in order for it to equate to your cash flow," Foss says. "Millennials should be taking their highest-interest debt and paying it off as quickly as possible. That's the debt that's most costly to your future."

Foss says she's the first to acknowledge that savers in their 30s have it rough. Oftentimes they're getting married, starting a family and trying to buy a home. Things are tight.

"This is where people will fall off the savings bandwagon. It's a hard time to save, but there's really no excuse for not saving at least enough to get your company's 401(k) match. If your company is offering a 3% match and you're making $50,000 but not taking advantage of it, it's like taking $1,500 every year and lighting a match to it."

Even though it may be difficult, maximizing your contributions is key to boosting retirement savings, says Leslie Tayne founder of Tayne Law Group and author of Life & Debt.

"This will give you the most bang for your buck over a long-term savings plan," she says. "If your employer matches your contributions, not saving to your maximum potential would be akin to just throwing away free money."

If you're in your 40s …

Saving when you're in your 40s can be a challenge for people with families who must provide for both aging parents and growing teens.

"At this stage, it often comes down to number crunching. How much are you able to help out? You have to decide what you can and can't do for your parents," she says.

If your parents don't have a large nest egg and don't have long-term care insurance, you may need to let them know exactly how much you can contribute, if any.

"There are some tough conversations that need to happen. I've had clients say, 'I will take care of you to this extent, but my family comes first,'" Tayne says. "That's not to say you won't help, but you've got to acknowledge your priorities. The truth is, only a certain percent of your budget can go to support your parents."

When it comes to your retirement savings, your 40s are a great time to sit down with a financial planner and take a look at your complete savings picture.

"How much of a shortfall is there? Where are you behind, and what are the most effective ways you can grow your money?" Foss asks. "Awareness is the key."

Again, it all comes down to maximizing your contributions. Now that your children are older, your expenses may have changed, so it's a good idea to go through your budget line by line and identify places where you can cut back. Take any additional money and put it directly into your 401(k) and IRA, Foss says.

Also, if you haven't already, look into a Roth IRA, Tayne suggests.

"A Roth IRA account is a great way to save money and collect interest on a tax-deferred basis," she says.

If you're in your 50s and beyond …

Over and above what your employer contributes, anyone can contribute a maximum of $18,000 to their 401(k) in 2015, says Erin Ellis, financial educator at Philadelphia Federal Credit Union. Those 50 and over are allowed to contribute an additional $6,000 per year, for a total of $24,000.

"Also, On top of your 401(k) contributions, you can make deposits into an IRA of up to $5,500 or $6,500 if you're over 50," Ellis says.

Although you may have planned to retire in your 60s, working until you are 70 or older will give you more time to put money aside for retirement.

"There is no rule that says you have to retire at 65," she says. "In fact, if you wait longer to start drawing your Social Security benefit, your benefit amount will increase."

The age at which you can start collecting social security is 62, but every year you wait your monthly benefit increases.

"Waiting until you can maximize this benefit can add a lot of money to your monthly income," Ellis says.

— Written by Kathryn Tuggle for MainStreet

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