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No retirement savings? Thinking you’ll just work longer? Think again.


You know you need to save for retirement, but so many other things are getting in the way — kids, a mortgage, the vacations to take to stay sane. March Madness. Maybe you should buy a better television to watch the NCAA basketball tournament.

And if you can’t save, no problem. You just won’t retire, right?

Your backup retirement savings plan is to work longer, maybe well into your 70s.

For many people, 65 is just a number. It’s certainly not retirement age.

“Nearly 20 percent of people age 65 plus are still working full or part-time — the highest rate since 1962,” Trent Gillies writes for CNBC. “After the end of the Great Recession, more seniors were forced to stay in the workforce longer, in order to make ends meet.”

Read more: Retirement at 65 becomes a reach for some, as seniors stay in the workforce

A shocking number of workers — 79 percent — expect to supplement their retirement income by getting a job, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

Read more: You call this retirement? Boomers still have work to do

Just one problem if this is your retirement plan: What if you can’t work?

Yes, more seniors are staying in the workforce past 65 and happily so. But many others are finding themselves in a retirement quandary. They thought they had more time, but the reality is they are forced to retire.

And why can’t they keep working? Among the reasons, experts say, are health problems, layoffs, age discrimination and caregiving needs.

Saving for your retirement while you are young is one of the smartest things you can do financially. Here's how to begin investing in a 401(k) or IRA. (Video: The Washington Post)

“When surveyed, 61 percent of Americans say they retired sooner than they’d planned,” according to a report by Ben Steverman in Bloomberg News. “That’s more than anywhere else in the world, according to the 2017 Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey, of 16,000 people in 15 countries. Globally, 39 percent of retirees say they quit working early. Even part-time work may be unrealistic. EBRI finds that just 29 percent of retirees say they worked for pay at some point in their retirement. …

“The irony is, those seniors who find it easiest to keep working — healthy, well-educated and highly skilled people who enjoy their jobs — tend to be the least likely to need the money,” according to Steverman. “Other older Americans, faced with few good job choices, often just decide to retire and live frugally off Social Security and savings.”

Personally, I’m hearing from a lot of people who had intended to work past 65 to give them more time to save, but they complain they’re being pushed out of their jobs because of age. They are hitting the “gray ceiling.”

“Even though employers aren’t supposed to discriminate based on how old you are, getting hired can be a challenge when you’re considered an ‘older worker,’ ” wrote Alison Doyle for the Balance. “In addition to being considered ‘old,’ experienced candidates are sometimes considered to be more of an expense (higher salary, pension, benefits costs, etc.) than a younger applicant would be.”

Read more: Age discrimination issues in the workplace

Read more: 10 things you should know about age discrimination

Sure, life — your needs and wants — can get in the way of saving. But when it comes to retirement, reality may derail your backup plan. You may find you can’t work to fill your savings gap.

Your thoughts
Did you think you would work longer to make up for a retirement savings shortfall and couldn’t? Share your story. Send your comments to

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, 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 Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line, put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

Last week, I asked you to weigh in on this question: Do you think you’re saving enough for retirement and if not, why not?

“In my case marriage was my financial destruction. Worked three jobs to be sure family and basic expenses could be covered,” wrote Wendy R. “I turned life and stress around and am now two months from retiring at 70 from a state job that paid defined contribution rather than Social Security — my salvation!”

Spencer in Great Falls, Va., wrote, “As I approach the time of retirement I can clearly see what was done right and what was done wrong.”

He’s got some tips from experience:

  • Invest pretax dollars whenever possible and put away more than you think you can.
  • Once it is invested, it is “out of sight — out of mind.” And don’t touch it unless you absolutely have to.
  • Make a budget and keep it. Building up credit card debt is way easier than it used to be.
  • Keep your electronic expenses sensible; every penny adds up over time.

Anthony from Central Florida wrote, “When I retired at age 65, I had about 13 times my final year earnings in retirement savings. I was fortunate to be employed by the same company for 43 years that also provided a pension. I had a good income, which allowed me to fully fund my 401(k). I had a strong employer match, purchased company stock at a discount, and contributed to an IRA and other non-qualified savings/investments. My wife and I, who both grew up in families with very limited means, fully recognize that we have been blessed for our good fortune. Our past informed us and we always lived below our means.”

“Retirement is something that is constantly on my mind even though it is most likely decades away.” wrote Joseph from North Bergen, N.J. “My personal opinion is that retirement is not a specific age like the government sets for us but rather a number. If I have enough money invested and it gives me enough dividends to live off of then I will be able to retire. I am proud to say I have well into the six figures already set aside for retirement diversified into three categories tax free, taxable and tax deferred. If more people could just understand the power of compound interest and know that you do not have to invest tons of money at once there will be more people with money. Consistency is key. If you are willing to live like no one else while you are young. You will be able to truly live like no one else in retirement!”

By the way, Joseph is just 29.

Newsletter comments policy
Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict.)

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