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Dr. Don Taylor, CFA, advice columnistRetirement savings envy

Dear Dr. Don,
After just reading Portfolio Paula's smug-sounding e-mail about a 30-something couple in which the federal government-employed husband makes a salary in the low $100,000s and they actually worry about putting only $18,000 or so a year in a TSA plan, my message is this: GET REAL! You have very few real financial problems regarding retirement. Look at those who struggle so much more around you.

Reading about these people and their so-called "retirement worries" makes me either laugh with the irony of it all or cry to think I am an incurable slacker who will end up a bag lady in retirement.

I think my situation is more realistic than Portfolio Paula's. I am a post-Sept. 11 laid-off airline employee and just started a nursing career as an RN at 51 years of age after spending four years retraining. I am starting over financially from scratch and am single. At present, I put 11 percent of my pre-tax money in a 403(b) with a company match of 25 cents on the dollar up to 6 percent of salary. I also put $300/month in a Roth IRA. I have an emergency fund of $4,000 that I don't touch.

I plan to work until I am 66 years old, part-time the last few years of my nursing career to give my aching back a break. In one year I have already sustained a back injury lifting a 400-pound patient, which helped me to realize that my job is a very physical and demanding one and my physical strength is an asset that must be protected in order to survive for the long haul. 

My dilemma is this: The amount above is the absolute maximum I can possibly contribute right now. I constantly read about "catch up" contributions for those over 50 years of age and about contributing more of my pre-tax earnings and I just drool wishing I could do this. Question: Am I a horrible slacker or am I on track?
-- Julia Juncture

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Dear Julia,
You are neither a slacker, nor are you likely to be on track in your retirement savings. I'll bet against the bag-lady prognosis, too. You've bounced back from some career setbacks and shouldn't measure your progress by comparing your situation to Paula's.

If you've done all you can in your retirement contributions, then don't beat yourself up for not doing more. Investing this money too conservatively can be an issue, so it wouldn't hurt to review how it is invested. I think it's worth hiring a fee-only financial planner to provide that review and to pay for a second opinion if you can't get comfortable with what they recommend. A Bankrate feature, "Picking a financial-planning professional," can help you find that planner.

Beyond a review of your investments, the planner may be able to allay your fears about what income you can expect in retirement and whether you are able to do more about saving for it.

I pick the letters that go into this column. I picked Paula's because they were doing all the right things, given their financial situation and goals, and I wanted her to hear that. I picked yours because I would say the same thing to you. 

To ask a question of Dr. Don, go to the "Ask the Experts" page, and select one of these topics: "financing a home," "saving & investing" or "money."'s corrections policy -- Posted: Sept. 27, 2006
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