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Retirement Savings By the Book

Who knows what will happen to Social Security? And fewer and fewer employees can rely on a company pension. But as Hoffman points out in her book, it's never too late to start catching up.

What I like about Hoffman's book are the real-life examples of people who were able to play retirement catch-up even though they had slipped financially because of a low-paying job, procrastination, credit card debt, a divorce, business failure or bad investments.

_____Column Archive_____
Car Buying Doesn't Have to Be Combat (The Washington Post, Apr 7, 2005)
You Can't Save 'Too Much' For Retirement (The Washington Post, Apr 3, 2005)
Read Michelle's Past Columns

The people she profiles should serve as inspiration if you've fallen behind and as proof that you, too, can make some changes to improve your long-term outlook.

Hoffman says that no matter your situation, you have to shift gears if your plans aren't working out. For example, one couple who had invested in universal life insurance policies -- hoping that was the answer to their lackluster savings -- realized after consulting with a financial planner that the policies were a mistake. Even though cashing them out meant losing about $10,000, they decided it was better to cut their losses than to remain in that bad investment.

"The path to achieving your retirement goals is not always a direct one," Hoffman says. "Jobs may change, investments may earn less than you expect, or you may make mistakes along the way. What's important is to remain flexible."

Each chapter in Hoffman's book lays out a strategy to help get you closer to your retirement goals. For instance, she encourages people to rethink their work plans. To save enough for retirement, you may have to give up your dream of retiring at age 65. You may need to switch careers or work part-time after leaving your main job.

To start catching up, Hoffman says the first step is to organize all your financial documents. Check on all your possible retirement resources, including how much you will get from Social Security.

The key is to develop a plan, Hoffman says.

"The more abstract your concept of retirement is, the harder it will be to save and plan to make it a reality," she writes.

Fewer than half of those surveyed in the retirement confidence poll said they had tried to figure out how much money they will need in retirement.

Retirement planning is like taking a road trip to an unfamiliar location. You can rely on guessing about how long it will take to get to your destination and which routes to travel, but you'll probably get lost, be late or perhaps never arrive.

But if you plan your trip, and ask for directions if necessary, you'll know precisely what it takes to get from point A to point B.

If you are interested in discussing this month's book selection, join me at noon April 28 online at www.washingtonpost.com. Hoffman will be my guest.

To become a member of the Color of Money Book Club, all you have to do is read the recommended book and come chat online with me and the author. In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive copies of the selected book, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of "The Retirement Catch-Up Guide," send an e-mail to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and an address so we can send you a book if you win.

Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Send e-mail to singletarym@washpost.com. Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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