15 ways to never run out of money

Savings, investment, and lifestyle strategies for all ages

Last reviewed: February 2011

The American economy may be moving like molasses in January, but have no doubt, it is moving. Between late 2008 and 2010, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose in healthy double digits to the point that many investing stalwarts who stayed in stocks recouped the money they’d lost in that period, and then some. The national savings rate—income minus taxes and household expenses—rebounded from a negative number in 2006 to almost 6 percent in October 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

For many, the economic recovery isn’t so much crawling as stalling. But regardless of the state of your finances, now is a good time to begin planning a future that’s secure. That means creating a plan to ensure you don’t run out of money in the near term or far in the future. And paradoxically, it may mean creating a lifestyle that doesn’t place money at its core.

When the Consumer Reports National Research Center recently surveyed 24,270 online subscribers age 55 and up about their finances and satisfaction with their lives, we found some common keys to peace of mind that had little to do with big salaries or high living. They pointed to active steps they’d taken as well as pure luck: enjoying good health, planning ahead, maximizing savings, having hobbies and friends, and staying in a job with a defined-benefit pension, which provides a regular income in retirement for life.

And when we interviewed several survey respondents as well as younger workers still in savings mode, we found another common element. A number mentioned living within, and sometimes below, their means. “Most of our entertainment is with friends and neighbors,” said Vernon Chestine, 68, a Charlotte, N.C., retiree who participated in our survey. “I feel really fortunate to be in the position we’re in.”

In this report, we offer 15 ways to ensure you don’t run out of money on your way to personal satisfaction, while you work and after you retire. Our survey respondents and the people we profile on these pages demonstrate their “best practices” that anyone can emulate. Employing just a few of them can pay off big-time in the long run.

Do you need a pro?

Among pre-retirees who had consulted a financial planner within the 12 months ending in October 2010, 67 percent reported gains in their retirement accounts during that period. But among those who hadn’t met with their planner recently, 59 percent saw investment gains. And 57 percent with no planner experienced gains as well.

Indeed, our survey showed that saving more money and investing more in retirement accounts had the greatest payoff during the period, planner or no planner.