I fear we’ve done our job too well.

With Americans' retirement savings so pitiful, we in the personal finance media and many financial experts have been on a mission to encourage folks to save more so that they don’t run out of money.

But the passion in which we make our case for saving more — much more — is causing a lot of anxiety, especially among younger adults.

During a recent online chat, I received a question from a nervous reader worried about not having enough income in retirement.

I asked Carolyn McClanahan to address this person’s concerns. McClanahan is a physician turned certified financial planner who founded the fee-only Life Planning Partners based in Jacksonville, Fla. She concentrates on how health intersects with personal finance, including aging, health-care costs and long-term care issues.

Q: I’m 35, single, and a renter, and have essentially no retirement savings. I’m not counting on Social Security, and even if I was, my payout is very low right now due to years of schooling.

I make about $50,000 a year, and that won’t change for the next few years. However, I am optimistic that in five years, I can get a job that will pay $70,000 to $80,000. I’m trying to plan a worst-case retirement scenario for me, which has me saving 20 percent of my income starting at age 45 (when my student loans should be paid off), retiring at 70, and living off $64,000 a year. Using Bankrate.com’s calculator, that gives me 16 years of retirement.

Do you think $64,000 will be sufficient in the year 2053?

What other things should I be worried about? I’m hoping that this really is worst-case and I can start saving at 40 (those extra five years give me an extra 10 years of retirement!), save more, make more, etc. I’m considering leaving my profession for one that will pay more because I’m so worried about my current state of retirement. I’m throwing all my extra money right now to paying off credit card debt — that should be done in three to four years. But if all these numbers sound reasonable to you, maybe I can keep doing what I’m doing instead of moving to a big corporation.

A: It is wonderful that at 35, this person is thinking that far ahead. Too many people wait too late to save and they are caught flat-footed later in life.

However, there is a balance. We cannot predict the future one year out much less 50 years out. Life can change on a dime. I ask people to take stock of their life now. Are you happy in your job and your life? Do you make enough to live on? Are you taking care of your health, and are you able to save some money? If you are hit by an illness or a bus today, did worrying about 50 years out really pay off if you didn’t focus on making life great now? Do you really want to change a job that you love because some calculator said you weren’t going to have enough money?

Regarding the question: “What other things should I be worried about?”

I joke that we get only so many “worry minutes” and then we die. People should focus on only what they can control and not worry about bridges that aren’t even there yet to cross.

My recommendation for this reader is to focus on paying off that credit card debt and vow never to charge it back up, but at the same time, if the person has a retirement plan at work where he or she gets matching funds, at least get the match. If not, focus on the credit card debt first. Then take the money you were paying on that credit card and create an emergency fund of three months’ expenses. Then all the money that was being paid to the credit card should be put in savings.

For this period of time, pay attention to where money goes so you have a better handle on what you need when you can no longer work.

Don’t focus on a retirement age — if you do what you love, you should try to do it as long as possible. One of my favorite professors in college was 88 years old — she taught history and had lived most of it!

Over time, projections can be done to see how you are doing, but this should be used as a guide, not the gospel. The more important number to follow is spending — make sure it stays in check and that all spending is thoughtful use of money.

Read more:

Live chat this week

Join me on Thurs. Jan. 10 at noon (Eastern time) for a live discussion about your money. McClanahan will be available to take your online questions about retirement.

On the day of the chat, you can join the discussion by clicking this link.

Your thoughts

I loved this line from McClanahan: “Projections can be done to see how you are doing, but this should be used as a guide, not the gospel.”

Do the projections of how much money you may need to retire scare you? How do you feel about the push to get more people to save for retirement?

Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. Put “Retirement Projections” in the subject line.

Retirement rants and raves

I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?

If you haven’t retired yet, what concerns you financially?

You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

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