What to Do in the Last Ten Years of Your Career

Four ways to get your retirement savings on track

It’s crunch time. T-minus 10 years until retirement. Are you ready? Are you on track to have enough saved to last for the rest of your life?

If you’re like most Americans, the answer is no. In fact, a recent study shows that the median retirement account balance of households headed by those aged 56-61 was only $27,0001. This is concerning. Fortunately, 10 years is a lot of time. There’s a lot you can do in 10 years—if you use it wisely.

Let’s look at four ways to use it wisely.

Squeeze 20 Years of Savings Into 10

One major obstacle to playing retirement catch-up is that there are limits to the amount you can contribute to your retirement account each year.

For example, in 2024, the maximum contribution to a 401(k) account is $23,000. Fortunately, the government realized a large majority of its citizens are horrible savers, so they created a loophole, raising the maximum contribution to $30,500 for those over age 50.

This is a well-known loophole, which should be taken advantage of as much as possible. However, there is another lesser-known loophole available for business owners.

It’s called a cash balance plan, and it can allow you to contribute over $300,000 per year to your retirement savings (depending on your age). This can have huge tax benefits for high earners who got a late start to saving for retirement.  After all, these retirement contributions bring down your taxable income on a dollar-by-dollar level.  That means that any income you put into a cash balance plan will not be taxed in that year.

To determine if a cash balance plan (or other tax-minimizing strategies) is right for you, it’s best to consult with a financial advisor.

Plan Your Retirement Withdrawal Rate

This one might seem obvious, but it’s an important step that’s often forgotten. You need to determine what your “safe withdrawal rate” is once you enter retirement. In other words, how much can you withdraw each month so that you don’t outlive your money?

While this isn’t an exact science (after all, nobody can predict the future), you can easily estimate your safe withdrawal rate using the 4% Rule.  The 4% Rule basically states that if you are invested in a 60% equity/40% fixed income mix, you can safely withdraw 4% of your portfolio value each year (adjusting for inflation)

So, if you have a $1 million nest egg, you can safely withdraw $40,000 in your first year of retirement (and increase for inflation from there). Depending on your lifestyle, where you live, and what other income you’ll have—this may or may not be enough to live on.

With the 4% Rule in mind, you can determine if your current portfolio, planned savings, and expected growth rates will be enough to support your current lifestyle. If you annually spend $100,000, and expect $20,000 in social security payments, we know you’ll need $80,000 annually from your portfolio.  Using the 4% rule and working backward, we also know that your retirement portfolio target should be around $2,000,000.

Now the big question, are you on track to have this much saved in ten years?  The answer to this should play a big role in your savings and investment behavior during the last ten years of your career.

Align Your Investments to Your Risk Tolerance, not a Time Horizon

Ten years before retirement, it is very common for investors to get “cold feet” and abandon much of the long-term investment philosophy that helped them accumulate wealth over their career.  There is a natural urge to become very defensive with your portfolio as retirement nears, trading in historically higher earning but riskier equities for cash and bonds.

This type of defensive strategy is likely not the best approach, however, for the simple reason that you are not merely investing for the next ten years of your career, you are investing for the next ten years of your career plus the many decades you’ll be living off your portfolio in retirement!

Pre-retirees should remember that while their retirement time horizon may be ten years, their investment time horizon can still be thirty or more.  For this reason, the best strategy is to continue align your investments with your risk tolerance, not to set some hypothetical target of what a ten-year outlook should be.

So, what is your risk tolerance? The question we need to answer is: “how far can my portfolio fall before I capitulate and make an emotionally-charged poor decision?”  This is the scenario we want to avoid, and it tells us how much risk you can handle in your portfolio.  Understand this, and we can set your investment expectations accordingly.

We offer an online risk tool that can help you identify your risk tolerance, review your current investments, and align your portfolio to match. You can take the first step today by using our online quiz to discover your personal tolerance for risk and set your investments accordingly. This 5-minute exercise is an easy first step in learning if there is in fact too much risk in your portfolio.

Enjoy Your Pre-Retirement Years

It’s easy to get so caught up planning for, stressing out about, and looking forward to retirement that you forget to enjoy the present moment.

Retirement is great, but so are your working years. If you’re like most people, you’ll end up missing work—the interactions, the challenges, the growth, the purpose. Don’t take it for granted.

Yes, you must think about the future. Yes, you may need to put in extra work. Yes, you may need to make some sacrifices and lifestyle changes.

But whatever you need to do, enjoy the journey.

Next Steps

It can be stressful racing against the clock to build up your retirement account. It doesn’t need to be.  Ten years is a long time to plan, and you’ll be investing for decades longer once you are retired.  With a financial planner in your corner, you can take advantage of every opportunity, avoid common pitfalls, and enjoy a stress-free end to your career.

If you’re serious about building your retirement account and catching up for lost time, we at Windgate Wealth can help. You can reach us by calling (844) 377-4963 or emailing You can also book an appointment online here.


Perritt Capital Management, Inc. is the Registered Investment Advisor for Windgate Wealth Management accounts.  Neither Perritt Capital Management or Windgate Management provides tax advice. Consult your professional tax advisor for questions concerning your personal tax or financial situation.

Perritt Capital Management and Windgate Wealth are not responsible for, and expressly disclaims all liability for, reliance on any information contained in these third party sites.  No guarantee that information provided in these sites is correct, complete, and up-to-date.

Information here is obtained from what are considered reliable sources; however, its accuracy, completeness, or reliability cannot be guaranteed.

First published June 2019.  Updated January 2024.

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