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It’s important to enter retirement with savings so you’re able to pay your bills without worry once you stop working. But saving for retirement is something you should aim to do over time. And the longer you put it off, the harder it might be to build up a large enough nest egg to meet your future needs.

The average 40-something has $77,400 socked away for retirement, according to data from Northwestern Mutual. But what if your current IRA or 401(k) balance is $0?

That’s not an optimal situation to be in. But it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a miserable, cash-strapped retirement, either.

There’s still time to catch up on retirement savings

If you’re 40 years old, it could mean that you’ve been working full-time for almost 20 years, assuming you attended college. And if not, it means you’ve potentially been working even longer than that.

In an ideal world, you’d have some retirement savings by now. But life, as we know, isn’t always ideal. Perhaps you struggled in a low-paying job for many years, or you had expenses like medical bills that monopolized much of your income.

Either way, it’s actually pretty darn easy to get to 40 years old without any money in retirement savings. But before you panic, do realize that you actually have more working years ahead of you than you do behind you, assuming you’re looking to retire in your mid- to late-60s, which is a pretty common time frame. So if you commit to funding your retirement savings starting now, you should have ample opportunity to catch up.

Investing is part of the equation

If you were to start pumping hundreds of dollars a month into a retirement plan now and continue that over the next 25 years or so, then you’d probably end up with quite a lot of savings. But let’s be real.

If your current IRA or 401(k) balance is $0, it means you’re not in the habit of parting with that much money for savings purposes on a monthly basis. So it’s not so feasible to go from saving nothing per month to saving, say, $500 per month unless you’re really willing and able to make drastic lifestyle changes.

But the good news is that you can save a smaller amount of money each month and have it go a long way — that is, if you’re willing to invest your retirement savings in the stock market.

Over the past 50 years, the stock market has rewarded investors with an average annual 10% return, as measured by the S&P 500. If you’re willing to go heavy on stocks, you might generate a similar return for your savings.

Meanwhile, let’s say you manage to part with $150 a month over the next 25 years. (To do that, you will have to make some spending changes, but you won’t necessarily have to uproot your life completely.) At an annual return of 10%, you’re looking at a nest egg worth $177,000. That’s more than what the average 60-something has saved for retirement today — $112,500 — as per Northwestern Mutual.

And if you’re worried about taking on the risk of investing in stocks, do remember that the 10% annual return we just talked about accounts for numerous years when the market utterly slumped. When you’re investing for a two- or five-year goal, stocks aren’t really your best bet — there’s just too much risk involved because you don’t have a lot of time to ride out a downturn. But when you’re talking about a 25-year goal, it’s a very different story.

Getting to 40 without retirement savings isn’t the best spot to land in. But you can’t change the past. So rather than make yourself feel bad for being in that situation, give yourself grace and make a game plan to play catch-up.

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