What’s the biggest regret of most people once they retire? Not starting to save money for retirement sooner and not saving more. If that describes you, consider using some of the following tips to boost your savings now and your future income later.

  1. Set a realistic goal. If you’ve saved $0 for retirement by age 59, it’s probably not realistic to save a million and a half dollars—unless you’re already in the top 1% of high earners. Set an annual savings goal that’s realistic given your income, your time horizon until your planned retirement, and your other financial obligations. Having some money is always better than no money.
  2. Practice delaying gratification. Learn how to distinguish your needs from your wants. You absolutely need an emergency fund and savings for retirement. Wants, such as an expensive vacation or a new car, are not needs. If you’re already saving 10% to 20% of your salary, have an emergency fund with three to six months of living expenses, and still can pay for wants without going into debt, then that’s a different story. Decide on your financial priorities and put your money toward those. Saying yes to your priorities can make it easier to say no to the things that aren’t.
  3. Look for areas where you can cut spending. Check your credit card statements for subscriptions you’re not really using. Borrow books from the library instead of buying them new. Consider cutting cable and using a streaming service. You get the idea. And if you use a cash rewards credit card, pay the balance in full every month, and contribute the cash rewards to your savings.
  4. Aim for saving 10% to 20% of your salary and have that amount automatically deducted from your paycheck. Many employers offer a matching contribution of the first 3% that you save, so take advantage of the free money. Speaking of advantages, retirement plans like 401(k)s and 403(b)s help reduce your taxable income now, during your peak earning years. Because taxes only become due when you take out money in retirement, when you’ll likely be in a lower tax bracket, these plans are considered tax advantaged. The money you contribute now will have years to grow. And if you’re over 50, take advantage of the higher limits for catch-up contributions—an extra $6,500 annually for 401(k)s and $1,000 annually for IRAs.
  5. When you get a raise or increase your income, save the difference. You’re already used to making ends meet on your existing spending plan. Consider doing the same thing with any cash windfalls, like a tax refund or bonus at work. Treat yourself to a small luxury and use the rest to take a big step towards meeting your retirement savings goal.
  6. If you have any high-interest debt, pay it off as soon as possible. That 18% to 30% interest rate you’re paying is costing you more than your savings are earning. Get a part-time job to pay down debt. Or, refinance consumer debt at a lower rate through a home equity loan or 0% interest balance transfer. But be sure to put away your credit cards so you don’t rack up more debt all over again.
  7. Consider working longer. Working longer offers a couple of advantages. One is that you have more time to contribute to your retirement savings, increasing the total amount you’re able to save. The other is that your savings have more time to grow, thanks to the magic of compound interest, before you begin withdrawing money.
  8. Consider delaying when you take Social Security. Hand in hand with the previous recommendation, the longer you wait to take your Social Security benefit, the larger it will be, up to age 70. At the very least, wait until your full retirement age (currently between 66 and 67, depending on the year you were born) to receive 100% of the benefit you’ve earned. While many people begin receiving Social Security at age 62, at that age your benefit amount is only about 75% of the full amount—permanently. Once you’ve reached full retirement age, however, you can receive 100% of your benefit and continue working as much as you want to, without penalty. The average monthly benefit is around $1,200. Working just one extra year and applying your Social Security income to your retirement savings could add an extra $14,000 toward your goal as you reach the finish line. Or, delay starting your Social Security benefit by a year to add an extra 8% to your future monthly income.

No matter how close you are to retiring, it’s never too late to start saving more. While the best time to start saving is probably yesterday, the next best time is today. Knowing you have a plan and taking the steps to meet your retirement savings goal can help you reduce financial stress today as well as tomorrow.

The information provided in this article is intended for Carlson Retirement Plan Services plan participants. We recommend that individuals consult with a professional adviser familiar with their particular situation for advice concerning specific investment, accounting, tax, and legal matters before taking any action.