Afraid you won’t have enough to retire comfortably? You’re not alone, and a debt-fueled lifestyle is often a big part of the problem. As the 2014 EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey notes:

Fifty-eight percent of workers and 44 percent of retirees report having a problem with their level of debt. Furthermore, 24 percent of workers and 17 percent of retirees indicate that their current level of debt is higher than it was five years ago.

Cost of living and day-to-day expenses head the list of reasons why workers do not save (or save more) for retirement, with 53 percent of workers citing this factor.

Retiring rich means you can maintain a comfortable lifestyle without constantly worrying about money. The plan for getting there isn’t complicated: save more; spend less; invest well. That doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. This might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s downright impossible to save more unless you spend less—and for some folks that means a lot less.

Sad to say, many baby boomers were never taught to live below their means. Quite the contrary; the credit card culture that blossomed as boomers moved into adulthood encouraged them to spend, spend, and spend some more. If you don’t have the cash, just charge it! This is no way to get rich.

Most boomers knew they should save early on, but many kept putting it off until later. Unfortunately, those who let “later” run up against their 60th birthday are screwed.

The Not So Mysterious First Step

Anyone who doesn’t want to be screwed should begin the first step toward saving today: get out of debt. It might take three months, three years, or a decade (hopefully that means you’re 30). Whatever your time frame, this demands a change in attitude and lifestyle. For people used to using debt for instant gratification, it can be a challenge on par with quitting smoking or hiking Mt. Everest. But remember, some people do quit smoking, and others do, in fact, hike Mt. Everest.

Turning Awareness into Action

People are generally aware that they need to up their savings if they want to retire comfortably. The EBRI report states that “20 percent say they need to save between 20 and 29 percent of their income and another 22 percent indicate they need to save 30 percent or more.”

If you run the projections and realize you don’t have enough money saved, you have three options:

  1. Work longer, get out of debt, and accumulate as much as you can.
  2. Radically adjust your lifestyle. Say you’re already retired and lived a $100,000-lifestyle during your working years. If you haven’t accumulated a large enough nest egg to generate that kind of income, adjust your lifestyle now before you find yourself in your 80s or 90s, depending on Social Security or family.
  3. Resign yourself to working the rest of your life in order to survive.

Option 3 is no laughing matter—and for many folks it will be reality. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that workforce participation for people age 75 and over will rise to 10.5% by 2022, up from 7.6% in 2012. For the 65-74 age group, it projects that the rate will jump to 31.9%, up from 26.8% in 2012 and 20.4% in 2002.

If you’re still healthy and sharp at age 80 and want to work, great! It’s one thing to be an octogenarian who still oversees the family business a few days a week, but working the Home Depot checkout line at age 80 because you have bills to pay is a whole other matter. Sadly, I suspect the latter is becoming more and more common.

Retirement Is a New Phenomenon

As a life phase, retirement is still in its infancy. Unless you hail from a particularly well-to-do family, your parents or grandparents were among the first generation able to retire and spend their golden years as they pleased. These folks lived through the Great Depression, or their parents did, and they understood how to stretch a dollar and save.

Baby boomers, on the other hand, faced huge social pressures to buy the biggest McMansion they could afford and trade in their two or three cars regularly. They also raised children when attending college had become the norm—something essential to staying in the middle class—but when the cost of college had also shot up. Many boomer parents have taken on student debt for their children that they can ill afford. While the intention behind education debt differs from that of a car loan for a Lexus, both have to be repaid the same way: with money. All this put boomers at a huge disadvantage in the race to retirement.

How Much Money Is Enough?

The Center for Retirement Research has concluded that the savings rate over one’s working life (beginning at age 20) should be 11% for low-income earners; 15% for middle-income earners; and 16% or above for high-income earners. The reason for the reduced recommendations is that Social Security provides lower-income earners with a larger percentage of their earnings.

If, however, one waits until age 50-59 to start saving, it recommends increasing the savings rate to 35% for lower-income, 29% for middle-income, and 30% for higher-income earners.

There are clear signs that people are simply not doing this. Most 401(k)s, for example, are woefully underfunded. A 2013 Fidelity survey on 401(k) programs indicated that the average 50-59-year-old has a 401(k) balance of $255,000. That might sound like a lot of money, but the truth is, over the 40 or so nonworking years you may have after retirement, $255,000 won’t stretch all that far.

You’re not the “average 50-59-year-old,” though. No one is. So we’ve developed a Retirement Income Calculator which you can download and use to make your own personalized income projections. Knowing where you stand will either put your mind at ease or remind you that now is the time to make a new plan.

And keep in mind that no matter your age or the size of your nest egg, our Bulletproof Portfolio can help you maximize what you do have. You can learn more about our Bulletproof recommendations and access all of our special reports by signing up for a no-risk trial subscription to Money Forever today.

On the Lighter Side

Monday was the Marine Corps’ birthday. Semper Fi to all.

Jo and I are in Indiana this week, visiting the grandchildren. Brock and Braidyn are now both in school, and I love helping with homework. Seems like yesterday I had them on my shoulder burping them after a bottle. Where the heck did the time go?

Our daughter told us to bring our heavy coats. The cold has been a good reminder of why we moved to warmer weather. If I was meant to be out in the cold, I would have more fur.

A reminder to follow us on Twitter @millersmoney, and finally…

Some basic truths about coffee:

Until next week…