It’s almost time, you don’t have enough, and you aren’t going to make it. Do you give up, try harder, or just pretend it’s all going to work out? Any choice you make might be the wrong one. So what should you do?

For those who have not accumulated enough investment assets to retire, there is still hope.

All too often, people are thrown off the path to their ideal retirement and money (or lack thereof) is a looming storm cloud. The stress of counting pennies and welfare programs shouldn’t be a reward for a lifetime of hard work.

The solution is called “staying in the game,” which is a fancy title for working longer. WAIT! Before you say, “blaaaaa!” and look for a different solution, I implore you to read on.

“Staying in the game” means you have to be physically and emotionally healthy enough to keep working, which means you need to control your stress. Stress caused by finances (MONEY STRESS) is one of the most debilitating stresses I have ever come across. It destroys relationships, causes heart attacks, leads to substance abuse, induces depression, etc. MONEY STRESS can (and probably will) squish the joy out of your life. So let’s END IT!

How do you end MONEY STRESS when you are running out of time?

Here is an example of how to deal with MONEY STRESS:

Assume that retirement is three years away, and you are saving every spare dime and counting every penny. You are trying to make up for years of unemployment suffering caused by the 2008 recession. You know you’re not going to have enough money saved. You are scared about what you’ll do in your 70’s and 80’s when the savings run out. It frustrates you that you don’t even have $20 leftover at the end of the week to do something nice for yourself or a loved one. It angers you that your spouse seems to be pretending that this isn’t an issue. You are MONEY STRESSED and because of all this stress, your back hurts, your blood pressure is high, and you HATE going to work!

Assume that over the next three years of scrimping and saving, you manage to save an additional $10,000 in your retirement account each year. That’s $30,000, which if budgeting properly, might help you finance another few years of retirement. You’re still going to run out of money, and you just spent the last three years in a MONEY-STRESSED zombie trance. You can’t imagine working any longer. It physically hurts to go to work, and mentally, it feels like you’re going to break in half.

STOP trying so hard! Why do you HAVE to retire in the next 3 years anyway? Because everyone else is? Because of your health? Because you never get to have any fun?

Stop worrying about everyone else, as many of them aren’t prepared either. They just won’t admit it or possibly don’t even know. Eliminate your MONEY STRESS and you may cure many of your health problems. Low stress = better health. Better health means you can work longer. But do you think if you work longer you can never have any fun? Change your frame of mind. Stop saving so much (notice I didn’t say stop saving at all!) and start taking care of yourself. Take your vacation time. Fill your year with mini-retirements. These can be long weekends or blocks of time where you “try out” retirement. Think of work as filling the time between retirements. Money from work is for living your life!

What if work stress is the issue? Your job is horrible, and your boss is a monster. Go find a job that makes you happy! Sure, you may save less. Sure, you may have to work longer. But you may even be happier when you get up in the morning. And you may actually get to use that paid time off. And sure… you may just decide to work longer because you’re having fun and feeling fulfilled.

Being able to work longer is like pixie dust. It’s magical. There is more time for you to save, or if you can’t save very much, there is more time to let your current savings grow! You’ll make more Social Security contributions and delay taking benefits, which means you will receive higher Social Security benefits when you do retire! To top it off, researchers have even cited working longer as a prevention against Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Let’s go back through this and go over this step by step:

1)     Honestly assess your financial retirement readiness
2)     If you’re not ready to retire and are dealing with MONEY STRESS, consider saving less
3)     Save less as a trade off of working longer
4)     Work longer, but a) get a job you enjoy, and/or b)( take time for yourself and your family
5)     Working longer and saving less while finding fulfillment in life = less MONEY STRESS
6)     Reduce your MONEY STRESS and have better relationships, more day-to-day enjoyment, and fewer         medical issues
7)     Working longer increases your retirement income and investments even if you don’t save as much,         which means you may not run out of money in retirement.
8)     Working longer is linked to preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Working longer while saving less = less MONEY STRESS = more money to use in retirement while aging in grace and dignity.

Planning tip: Before selecting any retirement-planning strategy, you should seek out a professional financial planner who can help assess your unique situation including risks and opportunities. This strategy is just an example of one of many alternative ways to look at short-term, time-horizon retirement readiness planning.