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  • Saving for retirement is a huge task that requires years of planning, saving and strategizing.
  • In Insider’s Real Retirement series, we ask regular people approaching or nearing retirement what they wish they knew when they were ready to stop working.
  • The retirees below made it to the finish line, but they made and saw some mistakes along the way.

Saving for retirement isn’t always smooth sailing.

In Business Insider’s Real Retirement series, retirees share their best retirement tips, what worked for them, and sometimes what didn’t.

These three retirees share mistakes they’ve made and seen that could have affected their retirement, from keeping their portfolios too heavily invested in the stock market to simply starting too late.

See Insider’s Picks for the Best Retirement Plans »

1. Don’t hold too much risk in your portfolio

Former AOL employee Dirk Cotton retired between the bursting of the dot-com bubble and the start of the Great Recession.

Holding a portfolio that is fully invested in the stock market runs the risk of losing significant amounts of money, which can be a problem if you don’t have time to recoup those losses. Cotton says he saw many people struggle with this problem when the stock market crashed in 2008.

“Many people had 100% in stocks when they were saving for retirement and lost more than 50% in a very short period of time,” he said.

He recommends that people work with a financial planner to figure out the right balance for their portfolio. “Find a good financial planner or retirement planner,” he said, “and start reducing your equity allocation, aiming for 40% or 50% by the time you retire.

2. Don’t put off saving

David Fisher, who retired at 65, didn’t think much about retirement when he was young. “I started late. 33 to 43, those quarterly statements that I got from TIAA, I threw them away,” Fisher told Business Insider.

Fortunately, his employer had been putting money into his retirement account all along. “After about a year, you become eligible and they put 6.2% of your gross pay into your 403b retirement plan with TIAA, whether you put in a nick or not.”

When he was 40 years old, he opened one of the statements. “I said, ‘Oh my, I’ve got $30,000, $35,000 in there, that’s my money,'” he said.

It should be noted that not everyone is lucky. most employers only contribute to your retirement plan when you do, and even then up to a certain amount (if they do at all). If your employer offers a match, most experts recommend contributing at least as much as you need to get the full match.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of passive income

Corky and Patty Ewing have never earned more than a middle-class income for their Southern California home, but passive income makes retirement not only possible, but comfortable. They own four properties, three they rent out and one they live in.

But they wish they bought more. They say that if they could turn back time, they would buy more real estate and generate more passive income to fund their retirement.

“We never made a lot of money,” Corky told Business Insider. “But with the combined interest rate and appreciation strength of shares and rentals, we’re in a pretty good position now. It’s amazing for both of us.”


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