According to one recent study, the vast majority of Americans who are between the ages of 55 and 64 say that they have only saved, on average, about 12% of what they’ll need to live out their retirement years in comfort. Things have gotten so severe that experts believe that about 64% of working aged people in the United States say “not having enough saved to retire” is their number one concern, regardless of how far off that date happens to be.

But as disconcerting as those statistics are, there is also a silver lining to the situation. Maximizing your savings for retirement is something that you can start doing immediately, regardless of how old you are. It just requires you to keep a few essential things in mind while you do it.

If you don’t have a plan, you don’t have much of anything at all

Maybe the most important thing for you to understand about maximizing your savings for retirement is that there is truly no “one size fits all” approach to what you’re trying to do. That can be terrifying, yes… but it can also be incredibly liberating if you go about things the right way.

In a larger sense, what this means is that you need a plan for saving for retirement, and you need it TODAY. Don’t just say to yourself “I’m going to save 5% of my income every year” and hope that’s enough to get you through. You need to carefully consider all of your own specific variables and come up with a plan that mitigates risk and puts your best foot forward in the most logical way that you can.

In a smaller sense, this means that you need to think about:

  • Paying off debt. List all of the current debt responsibilities you have, including bills, credit cards, large purchases like a mortgage, and more. Be sure to include the current interest rates, too. Once you know exactly how much you owe and to whom, you can come up with a realistic plan to pay off that debt (or reduce it) as soon as you can.
  • Figure out how much money you’re going to need to maintain your current lifestyle during retirement. Again, everyone has a different definition of the term “comfortable,” so don’t let someone else tell you how much you should save. Only YOU can do that.
  • Expect the unexpected. Certain problems ‒ like health issues ‒ can crop up unexpectedly and at the worst possible moment. On top of everything else, come up with a strategic approach that will allow you to have the cash reserves necessary to mitigate risk from these problems wherever you can.

Once you’ve accounted for all of these variables, you can start creating a budget that is actually built on cold, calculated, logical information as opposed to a goal that just “feels right” but that in reality is woefully inadequate.

Maximize those employee benefits

The chances are high that your job offers one or more employee benefits like a 401(k) plan, a flexible spending account and more. At the bare minimum, you need to make sure that you: a) understand the full extent of these benefits; and b) are doing whatever you need to do to maximize them before the big retirement day finally arrives.

If your employer offers 401(k) matching, for example, you need to contribute enough to guarantee they’re giving you the largest match they offer or you’re literally leaving money on the table. If they offer high-quality medical or even dental insurance, take full advantage of it ‒ take care of those small health issues today before they become much bigger and more severe ones in 10 years when you’ll be responsible for the entire bill.

Calculate, rinse, repeat

Finally, the most important thing you can do to maximize your savings for retirement is to go through the above process at least once a year ‒ no exceptions.

People change on a regular basis, and their priorities change with them. A year ago, you may have come up with a perfect plan to help you financially accomplish everything that was important to you at the time.

But are those still your priorities today?

Likewise, have you been following everything as you should be? Has your income or debt changed? Taking the time to re-assess all of these things at least once a year will not only help you maintain a realistic view of your financial plan, but it can also help you pivot with that plan to make sure you’re still on the “right path” that works for you and you alone, regardless of how that path may change in the meantime.