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Smart ways to save money for retirement

Saturday - 3/30/2013, 1:45pm  ET

Retirement_ahead.jpg
Finance expert Carmen Wong Ulrich says parents need to prepare for retirement so their kids don't have to pay their expenses in old age. (ThinkStock)

Randi Martin, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Don't sacrifice your retirement fund to pay for your kid's college, don't neglect your health as you age, don't buy a house until you really can and don't wait to start saving for your older years.

That is just some of the advice offered by finance expert Carmen Wong Ulrich in her book "The Real Cost of Living: Making the Best Choices for You, Your Life, and Your Money."

Money decisions are often driven by personal wants, desires, fears, needs and how much someone is willing to risk, Wong Ulrich says.

Putting a child through college is something every parent wants to be able to do, but Wong Ulrich says parents can't forget about their own future.

"You really have to take care of yourself first before your child," she says.

She points out in her book that most Americans are far behind in saving for retirement. If parents sacrifice their future funds for their child's college education, they will end up depending on that child when their retirement money runs out.

Your health, Wong Ulrich says, is your greatest wealth. No matter how much money you have, if you end up with a chronic illness or get into an accident, you can lose everything.

"A third of your expenses in retirement will probably be medical," she says.

Wong Ulrich suggests taking preventative health care measures such as giving up bad habits like smoking or drinking, exercising and going to yearly checkups. That way, if something is wrong, a doctor will catch it early.

Wong Ulrich also cautions not to jump into buying a house.

"You want to buy a house when it's right for you, not when the market says it's right, not when your broker says it's right," she says.

She says people should only buy a house if they have ample emergency funds available, a great credit score and can put down more than 10 percent.

Lastly, Wong Ulrich says it's never too late to start saving for retirement. Whether it's getting a second job or downsizing, "there's always something that can be done," she says.

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