Reaching the age of 50 can be a financial wake-up call.
If you follow the traditional retirement calendar, you have 15 years before you hang it up and begin to reap what you've sown during your savings years.
That's not much time, especially if you haven't saved enough in your early years. The amount you need to save quickly could be daunting. In fact, you might want to give up rather than trying to play catch-up after 50.
But Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz says it is never too late.
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"I would not give up definitely at 50," she said.
She ought to know. Schwab-Pomerantz, 54, is the daughter of Charles R. Schwab, chairman and founder of the pioneering discount brokerage firm.
Schwab-Pomerantz, who started working for her father when she was 16, is the author of The Charles Schwab Guide to Finances After Fifty, which came out April 1. She was in Dallas recently to talk about her advice for middle-aged Americans, as well as her desire to increase financial literacy.
"There's a swath of people who haven't been honest with themselves," said Schwab-Pomerantz, a certified financial planner and president of the Charles Schwab Foundation, which promotes financial literacy. "They have put their finances on autopilot and haven't grabbed the steering wheel."
In other words, many people know they have to save more for retirement, but they haven't crunched the numbers to know exactly how much they'll need compared with how much they have.
"Fifty is still fairly young, but it's better to start (saving) earlier," Schwab-Pomerantz said. "You have to be more diligent about saving than would have been the case if you had started earlier, but with discipline and resolve, you'll be able to amass a retirement nest egg."
Make no mistake: Starting later in life means you'll have to sock away a larger percentage of your income each year.
First, figure out how much you'll need for retirement and then create a concrete plan on how you'll get there. Those who have a definitive plan save more than those who just pull a number out of the air.
"Understand how much you have to save each year to reach your goal," Schwab-Pomerantz said.
Her advice for people of all ages:
■ Figure out your net worth.
■ Track your spending and make a budget.
■ Reduce debt.
■ Create an emergency fund.
■ Make sure you have enough insurance for health and property.
■ Create or update your estate plan.
■ Organize your records.
■ Review your investment portfolio.
■ Set up automatic contributions to your retirement and savings accounts.
Schwab-Pomerantz got her passion for saving from her father.
"I'm a nervous Nellie and really diligent about saving for the future," she said.
She described her first job at her dad's company as being the "secretary's secretary."
"I filed and answered phones," Schwab-Pomerantz said.
She later gave clients quotes over the phone.
"I called back clients and let them know their trades went through and at what price," Schwab-Pomerantz said.
Today, she's working for a higher purpose.
"Through our financial education programs, I've seen time and time again how financial knowledge enables people of all ages and all walks of life to make good decisions," Schwab-Pomerantz said. "Financial literacy creates optimism, confidence and action. It truly can change lives and create better outcomes."
People in their 50s must set clear and sound priorities, Schwab-Pomerantz said.
As an example, she addressed a common dilemma faced by parents trying to fund their own retirement and their children's college education at the same time.
Schwab-Pomerantz's message was clear: Pay yourself first.
"It's like the airline emergency instructions to put on your own oxygen mask before you help your child," she said. "You won't be of much use to your child or anyone else if you can't take care of yourself."
Your child can get financial assistance to pay for college. There's no loan, grant or scholarship to fund your retirement.