4 Easy Steps to a Richer Retirement

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Never before have so many people faced so many threats to their long-term financial survival. But no matter where you are on the path to retirement, you can take some simple steps that will get you there a little faster.

Loss of confidence

Over the past several years, retirement investors have been besieged by a bad economy and a stagnant stock market. That has made many people give up on trying to save for retirement.

We're not talking superannuation here. We're talking enough money to retire comfortably, and to remain living in the style they've been accustomed to during their working life.

So, if you want real financial security, you can't settle for what a large portion of Australians will end up with. Instead, do these four things and get yourself moving in the right direction.

Step 1: Set the stage

You're not going to be able to retire rich without investing well. But that doesn't mean you should jump right into investing. Many people try to become millionaires before they even get themselves out of the hole.

So first, make sure you've gotten rid of "bad" debt, including high-interest credit cards, car loans, and other burdensome credit. It also means being smart about managing all of your debt.

Even seemingly "good" debt like mortgages or student loans can backfire if they go wrong. Getting your net worth out of the red is an important milestone toward getting the retirement you want.

Step 2: Save more

Just as important as what you invest in is how much you invest. Smart retirement savers take every opportunity to boost their savings. So if you're fortunate enough to be getting a raise or are supplementing your income with extra hours or a second job, then setting aside a good portion of that extra money can get you to your retirement goals a lot faster.

Step 3: Get the right investments

Once you're out of debt and have a plan to set aside enough cash, it's time to attack a key question: how to invest it.

If you look at the most successful share market investments over long periods of time, you'll find that they fall into two distinct categories:

* Some shares ride the high-growth for a decade or longer, giving their early shareholders huge rewards. Woolworths (ASX: WOW) and Commonwealth Bank (ASX: CBA) were two great examples. They haven't done investors any big favours lately, as both companies have struggled to find new ways to sustain their long-term growth.

But in their day, they brought riches to those who were fortunate enough to single them out. It's those returns that motivate most small-company investors, as they watch upstarts post the same type of impressive growth that Woolworths and Commonwealth Bank did throughout the 1990s and much of the 2000s.

* Other shares aren't as explosive but still make their investors rich over time. Blue chip companies with high dividend yields and relatively low P/E ratios can do wonders to your long-term wealth. They owe as much of their long-term success to their regular and growing dividends as they do from share appreciation.

Choosing between these two groups depends on your financial resources and your current status.

If you're close to retirement and have most of the money you'll need, then sticking with conservative dividend-paying shares for the equity portion of your portfolio makes a lot of sense.

On the other hand, if you have a long time horizon and need high growth, then taking risks is a smart move.

Step 4: Control your outflow

It's easy to figure that if you save enough and invest well, you'll have it made. But you also have to focus on the other side of the ledger: keeping expenses and costs down.

There are plenty of things you can do to make more from less. Shop around for the best, and cheapest, financial products, including insurance and mortgages. Switch banks to take advantage of the best savings rates.

And even just being careful about budgeting and finding bargains can help a limited income go a lot further.

You'll get there

So if tough times have you wondering if you'll ever be able to retire comfortably, don't despair. Following these four steps can get you back on track toward putting your finances into better shape.

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