5 steps you can take today to get closer to a secure retirement

(BPT) - Did you know nearly 1 in 3 people think they're more likely to learn Bigfoot is real than to save enough to retire comfortably? That’s according to a recent survey from AARP and the Ad Council.

But successfully saving for retirement doesn’t have to be a fantasy — or scary. Chances are you’re better at saving than you think. Have you put kids through college? Bought a house? Purchased a car or two? You’re probably better at achieving financial goals than you give yourself credit for. The careful planning and savings skills you've already used can help you reach your next big financial goal: a secure retirement.

The right tools make it easier. You can get started today with a free online resource from AARP where you can create your personal action plan in just a few minutes. Meet your friendly digital retirement coach, Avo, at AceYourRetirement.org.

"In just three minutes you can get answers to a few simple questions, plus personalized tips and saving strategies," said Debra Whitman, AARP executive vice president and chief public policy officer. "The to-do list format is effective and works for any age."

The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll have peace of mind, and a concrete plan. While everyone’s situation is unique, here are steps you can take today.

1. Take advantage of your employer's retirement benefits. If your workplace offers a 401(k) or another savings plan, make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. If your employer matches part of your contribution, aim to contribute at least enough to get the full match.

"It's basically free money for your future, and it can be a huge way to amplify the amount you're able to save for yourself," said Whitman.

If possible, consider boosting your contribution past that employer match by a percentage or two, to increase your savings even more. A long-term goal might be to set aside 10-15% of your income as a contribution to your 401(k).

2. Try to pay down debt. No matter your situation, reducing debt is always smart, as debt you carry eats away at savings you’re trying to set aside. Check interest rates on your current mortgages, car loans, home equity loans, parent loans or credit cards. Consider working toward paying down loans or cards with the highest interest rates first. Call your credit card companies and ask for a lower interest rate. Some debt may be eligible for refinancing, so consider that option to lower interest rates.

3. Have a family conversation. When it comes to any big financial decision, it helps if everyone is on the same page. You and your spouse could create a budget and incremental goals to work on together. Talk to your adult children about how paying down your debt and saving for retirement is a priority, and that helping them with their education, housing or other responsibilities is a secondary goal.

4. Plan your retirement timing. "As soon as possible" isn't the best way to decide when to retire. If your health and work situation allow, delaying retirement until your late 60s or even early 70s can make a big difference to your long-term financial security.

"Earning a few more years of income can really help you grow your nest egg and waiting to claim Social Security increases your annual benefit for the rest of your life," said Whitman.

Calculate your Social Security benefits to determine your best strategy at ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/estimator.html.

5. Live within your means. Spending only what you can afford is key to financial security. The sooner you develop a budget and track your spending, the more cash you'll save in the short term, helping you make more accurate projections for the long term. Enjoy life now, but don't let that enjoyment come at the cost of your future. Saving money consistently every month can help make a secure retirement a reality.

These goals are within your control, and you can make progress if you start small, start today and plan. For more information, visit AceYourRetirement.org.

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