12 Crucial Steps if You Have Nothing Saved for Retirement

Get back on the retirement savings train, even if you've been derailed.
Updated May 1, 2024
Fact checked
retirees planning retirement

We receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

Saving for retirement can feel like pushing a big boulder up an extremely steep hill. This feeling becomes more obvious the closer the retirement years loom.

You aren’t alone. Plenty of Americans say that they don’t have anything saved for retirement and are desperately looking for ways to boost their bank accounts.

Whether you’ve been out of work, didn’t have access to a retirement plan, or just need to catch up, there are 12 steps you can take if you have nothing saved for retirement.

Get a snapshot of your current money picture

undrey/Adobe woman using laptop while sitting at table

Life can come at you fast, and that means that it may be hard to see how much money you really have at any time.

Set aside real time on your calendar every week to review how much is coming into your household and how much is going out. What’s coming up next in terms of expenses?

Sometimes an emergency can be avoided by taking care of maintenance before problems get worse.

Tighten up your budget

VadimGuzhva/Adobe friends chilling out enjoying meal in restaurant

While you absolutely can treat yourself to a night out on the town, you might be surprised at how quickly it can add up over the course of a week, month, or year.

If a night out at your favorite restaurant is $50, five nights out a month is $250 that could be redirected to your retirement account.

Mow down high-interest debt

Paolese/Adobe Paying off debts banking and financial problems concept

If you have nothing saved for retirement, chances are good that you may have some high-interest debts clogging up the retirement pipes.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s latest survey, Americans paid over $120 billion in credit card interest and fees per year between 2018 and 2020. Ouch.

You might know the monthly payments for all your credit cards, but do you know their interest rates? Take some time to check the interest rates on your credit cards. Then start looking for creative ways to crush your debt once and for all.

Don’t overlook bonuses

Poring Studio/Adobe hand holding words of bonus on stack coins staircase

A bonus from work feels like an invitation to finally move those fun items out of your “save for later” Amazon list. But since the bonus is essentially money you don’t have yet, you can’t miss it if you move it to retirement.

Whether it’s an end-of-year bonus or one that pops up every quarter, send it to your retirement account so it can grow over time.

Check benefits at work

Vitalii Vodolazskyi/Adobe employee benefits written on a notepad

If your employer is willing to match your retirement contributions, that’s the best free money you could ask for.

Not sure what your benefits are? Your job most likely has an HR portal where you can review company-wide benefits, including retirement matching. They most likely won’t match all your contributions, but every penny helps.

Put promotions to work for your retirement

Prostock-studio/Adobe boss handshaking employee congratulating with promotion

Promotions often come with a bump in pay, which is another form of unexpected money. For once, the plot twist is on your side.

You can move extra money into your retirement account without changing your quality of life. If you want to pinch a little bit more, you can do so without making it hurt too badly in the long run.

Use round-up apps to boost savings

oatawa/Adobe female hand using mobile smartphone with dollar icon

Apps like Acorns, Guac, Digit, and Betterment all have one thing in common: They capture money that would otherwise be lost to just shopping. If you’re going to swipe your debit card, you might as well swipe your debit card with purpose.

While the money still has to take a few hops to make it into your retirement account, these round-up apps still help you add to savings where you otherwise would just spend the money.

Pro tip: Check out this list of the best investment apps to start building your savings with roundups.

Let family help max out retirement accounts

Africa Studio/Adobe man hand putting money in glass jar

Did you know that you can take monetary gifts and apply them to your Roth IRA (granted, you still need to meet the usual requirements)? Sure, not everyone has family willing to help, but if your family wants to pitch in, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

For some people, having intimate conversations about money with family members can feel awkward. But it’s better to risk a few moments of awkwardness instead of sitting up at night worrying about your retirement.

Lean into a side hustle

Viktoriia/Adobe woman influencer in hat and glasses sitting on carpet recording a vlog

If you’re looking at putting money into retirement, you may have to take on a part-time job or side work to find the money for your 401(k) funding. That could look like Uber, DoorDash, or any of these legitimate ways to make extra cash.

Let yourself imagine how you can help other people, and you may find that you can put the money you earn on the side into retirement.

Let the robots make retirement easier

Blue Planet Studio/Adobe finance and money technology background concept

Automating your savings and retirement helps ensure that your money is going to work for you first, with spending to come later. You can set up automated contributions to retirement if you have a 401(k) at work, but you may also be able to set them up with an IRA.

Open an IRA

lusyaya/Adobe 401k ira roth on pieces of colorful paper

It is possible to contribute to both an IRA and a 401(k). The IRS allows taxpayers to utilize both retirement accounts, although there are rules to follow. There is a difference between being able to contribute and being able to deduct those contributions on your tax return.

Be aggressive with your portfolio

William W. Potter/Adobe financial investment products in a shopping cart

A common mistake many 40- and 50-year-olds make when they’re trying to catch up with their retirement savings is playing it too safe. Conservative portfolios focus on preserving money when the focus has to remain on growing the money in the first place.

An ideal portfolio prioritizes growth, and that means stocks. Bonds are good for preserving money, but stocks bring the best returns.

Bottom line

leszekglasner/Adobe senior couple checking bills using laptop

It’s natural to feel frustration, guilt, and sadness if you haven’t saved anything for retirement. But if you focus on what you can control, you’ll find that you have more options than you thought and eliminate your money worries.

Get creative. Start seeing your world in both what you make as well as what you can save. The more you begin looking for solutions for retirement, the more money will flow your way.

CloudBank 24/7 High Yield Savings Account Benefits

  • Incredible 5.24% APY1 to boost your savings
  • Powered by Raisin's intuitive savings marketplace
  • Interest is compounded daily and posted to your account monthly
  • Smart digital bank that can help you reach your goals without having to wait in lines
  • Enjoy 24/7 online access to your account and funds
  • FDIC insured through Third Coast Bank SSB, no fees, $1 minimum deposit
  • Limited Time Bonus: Earn up to $2,000 when you refer friends and family to Raisin. Visit site to learn more.

Want to learn how to make an extra $200?

Get proven ways to earn extra cash from your phone, computer, & more with Extra.

You will receive emails from FinanceBuzz.com. Unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy

  • Vetted side hustles
  • Exclusive offers to save money daily
  • Expert tips to help manage and escape debt