04/25/2012 12:41 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2012

Oops! I Forgot to Save for Retirement

My friend Jane is a world traveler and has always been a free spirit -- traversing the globe and spending money freely on spontaneous trips and exotic souvenirs. But when she turned 45, Jane experienced a wake-up call as she reviewed her finances. "I'm going to be a bag lady," she wailed, "I've hardly saved anything for retirement!"

When she revealed the meager amount she'd contributed to her employer's 401(k) plan, I gulped. She had great photo albums and striking furnishings gleaned from her trips, but a very paltry nest egg.

Jane needed to make up for lost time and had no idea where to start. Unfortunately, she is not alone. According to recent research, only 19 percent of women report that they feel confident about reaching their retirement goals, and 85 percent admit they haven't even determined how much they'll need to save for retirement.

Do you share the same feeling of panic about your lack of preparedness for retirement? If so, don't give up before you've even begun; it's never too late -- or too early -- to plan for retirement. Start by defining your vision for the future, what expenses may be associated with that vision, and determine where the funds will come from to support those expenses.

If you're coming up short, you have some options: you can save more, reevaluate your current lifestyle and make adjustments or postpone your ideal retirement age.

Save more to catch up. Contribute the maximum -- or as much as you're possibly able -- to your employer-sponsored retirement plan and tax-deferred 401(k), 403(b) or IRA accounts. If it's available, take advantage of the opportunity to catch up and systemize your savings using automatic deposit features. Make sure you have the proper investment mix to balance growth and minimize risk.

Reevaluate your current lifestyle. It may sound painful, but consider how you can adjust your lifestyle -- even slightly -- in order to contribute more to your savings. Maybe it's packing a lunch each day rather than hitting the drive-thru, taking a carpool to work or cutting down your cable package to a less expensive option. To help make these decisions, take a look at what is most important to you -- now and in the future -- and align your spending to achieve that.

Postpone your retirement. Working past the traditional retirement age of 65 is an option many Americans are contemplating. Some are increasing their income by getting a part time job, and others are simply working a few extra years to make sure they have sufficient funds in the future. Working a bit longer may provide just the boost you need, and can be a positive experience that may allow you to focus on doing more meaningful work -- the things you've always wanted to do -- before you officially exit the workforce.

If you are facing these decisions, are concerned about reaching your retirement goals, or just want to make sure you're on track, consider working with a professional financial advisor. He or she can help you create a written plan for your retirement and provide objective advice as you make decisions about your finances and your future. It may seem like you are short on time, but with a plan and effort, you can make a comfortable retirement a reality.

Beat the bag lady blues, and start on the road to a secure retirement.

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