Although no one can predict whether they will have a charmed financial life or a disastrous one, having a long-term plan and sticking to it will increase your chances of arriving at retirement in style.

We asked Bankrate readers if their retirement would have them eating caviar or cat food. The responses were mixed.

Reaping the benefits of modest living

My spouse and I always lived under our means, a lower-middle-class life with a middle-class income.

We bought less house than our salaries would have supported and paid off the mortgage ahead of the 15 years. We stopped buying term insurance as soon as we could once we had no mortgage debt and relied on employer-paid plans. We bought whatever we could at salvage and discount stores, seldom ate out and took good care of our possessions.

We saved up and then took nice vacations. We had a budget and generally stuck to it, so we spent very little for interest, except for the mortgage, over the years.

We also knew that it was likely that one of us would become disabled or die before reaching retirement age, so we were careful to have long-term disability coverage insurance and took full advantage of company sponsored and subsidized savings plans such as 401(k)s . Our investments were tax-effective whenever possible. We each had a defined-benefit plan for part of our careers. Using those plans, Social Security, U.S. savings bonds, CDs and the like as the safety net, we allowed our 401(k) and IRA investments to be placed in riskier investments.

We had some funds in mutual funds that had low fees, too. Sometimes the risks were rewarded, sometimes not, but the money at risk could be risked without loss of sleep.

My spouse did become disabled about 10 years before his normal retirement date, and our careful but comfortable lifestyle could continue. When he could no longer be alone, I could stop working and care for him until his death, rather than have to pay for others to do so. And, since for most of our marriage at least one of us was working 50 to 70 hours a week, it also gave us time we never had just to be together.

We didn’t plan for caviar, but cat food — except for the cat — isn’t likely to be on the shopping list either. Notice that we did not purchase long-term-care insurance: My spouse would have been uninsurable, and since we never felt a need to leave an estate to relatives or charities upon our death, if long-term care is needed, the house will be more than sufficient to pay for it. Besides, I still believe that the rating structures for much long-term care insurance are not all that realistic. Of course, we have had the proper legal documents so that “leftovers” should be able to go to the charities and people we selected.

I guess one could call our strategy the “slow and steady” method.

Linda R.

Ashland, Mass.

Outsourcing sparks bitterness

I have no retirement strategy, having already been forced to retire (early). Of course, being female, even though I’ve worked all my life, I retired on much less than I would have if I had been, say, male.

Thanks to Ronald Reagan and every Republican administration since, I am now spending my savings just to stay alive and have a roof over my head (though I suspect I will be living in my car by the end of the year). I have never been able to actually afford a house of my own and I am not a person who would take out a loan I knew I would not be able to repay.

After losing my lifelong job because most of the work went overseas, I went back to school and learned a new profession. Alas, less than two years later, that job also went to India. Now I have an $8,000 student loan and no way to pay it back. Is the government going to bail me out? I guess not. They reserve those tax-dollar actions for big business.

Am I bitter? You bet!

Cheryl Fontaine

Lake Stevens, Wash.

Saving early and often

I’m looking forward to caviar, I think.

I’d like to call it “hot fudge sundaes” instead, though — I don’t much like the idea of fish eggs.

The company I work for started a 401(k) plan eight months after I started working there. That was 20 years ago, when I was 23. I have been putting in what I was able to all of these years. Fortunately, “what I was able to” has risen over the years. I am currently putting 22 percent of my income in per year because I am trying to make up for my husband’s lack of a company-sponsored 401(k) plan.

I became excited about the idea of saving for my retirement back when I was 23 and haven’t stopped since.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I need someone to tell me for sure if I’m saving enough though.

I’m also trying to help my niece (who I just helped put through college) the importance of starting now, while she’s young. My graduation gift to her is a Roth IRA!

Joanne F. DeWald

Riverside, N.J.

Sacrificing a little now for later payoff

I’m 30 years old and save 3 percent in a pre-tax 401(k) plan with a company match of 100 percent up to 3 percent of my salary. I will be fully vested after five years. My husband is 32 years old and saves 10 percent of his salary in a pre-tax pension plan administered by the government agency he works for.

Together, we have about $40,000 in retirement to date. If we keep up this rate of savings, I think we will be OK for retirement. Also, we are planning to pay down our 30-year mortgage in 20 years, which puts our mortgage fully paid down by the time we are approximately 52 years old.

Anonymous

Planning for multiple income streams

I am 49 years old. I receive a pension from the Air Force of about $24,000 per year. I make $59,000 from my employer.

I am debt-free. I am purchasing 20 individual stocks via Sharebuilder and I have three mutual funds along with my 401(k), into which I put 10 percent per year; I am investing about $4,800 per month. I plan on retiring in 12 years.

Note: I will purchase at least three duplexes per year for investment income. I anticipate making more in retirement than while I am working.

Calvin Daniels

Dallas

Cutting costs is the answer

It is really so simple! Spend less than you make. Shop at garage sales and thrift shops — you can get many items new or almost new for a fraction of the original cost.

Never pay interest on anything except a home but pay extra each month on the principal. Do not buy anything unless it is on sale at least 50 percent off, but 75 percent off is better.

Concentrate on just your needs. Then, there will be enough for the wants later.

It took me until I was 35 years old to learn this and I had some downs before I learned.

Adrienne Marshall

Montrose, Colo.

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