FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Jorge Castilla wasn't thinking of his future retirement when he was washing dishes as a second job or helping his wife, Rose, sew clothes for extra money.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Jorge Castilla wasn't thinking of his future retirement when he was washing dishes as a second job or helping his wife, Rose, sew clothes for extra money.

But today, the Castillas see their extra work as one reason they have a comfortable retirement at ages 67 and 63 after years of selling appliances, cutting hair, sewing clothes and washing dishes at a restaurant.

They live in a four-bedroom home in a gated community in Pembroke Pines, Fla. They are part of an elite group in Florida with their house and two SUVs paid off. In addition to two Social Security checks, they enjoy a monthly income of about $1,000 from investments.

"We can live a little bit better," Jorge Castilla said. Plus, they have savings to cover an emergency. In all, they have considerably more than the $70,000 the median American household has after subtracting debts from assets.

"We sacrificed a lot" to build our nest egg, Rose Castilla said.

They are glad they did and want to reassure others: A comfortable retirement can be acquired, even on modest incomes.

Most Americans are worried they won't be able to retire. A recent national poll, commissioned by the New York Life Insurance Co., found that just 24 percent surveyed thought they would be in better financial shape for retirement in the coming year.

But Jorge Castilla, a retired appliance salesman, said the secret is steady work, paying down debt and regularly saving. Even when they were raising their three children, the Castillas said they were putting aside money and taking on extra jobs.

"We would work until 2 in the morning," he said.

Others have comfortable retirements by following the same path.

"We have lots of hard-working, middle-class clients who never made a lot of money but were excellent savers," said Ben Tobias, a certified financial planner in Plantation, Fla.

Here's how the Castillas did it.

BUYING A HOUSE: The Castillas, immigrants from Cuba as teenagers, first settled in New Jersey, married and worked multiple jobs to save for a down payment on a first home. Rosa Castilla, a retired hairdresser, said they then worked on paying down the mortgage. She said they would plow their yearly federal income tax refunds, for example, into lowering the mortgage balance.

When they moved to Hialeah, Fla., the couple put all their considerable equity into their newly bought home. "We had a relatively small loan," her husband said. They did the same for the bigger house they bought in Pembroke Pines — and paid it off in five years. "We wanted it paid off before we retired," Rosa Castilla said.

Tobias commended the Castillas for following the Golden Rule of Retirement: They paid off their house before they retired. No mortgage means retirees don't have to worry about finding the money to pay for their highest expense — housing, Tobias said. So they don't need to save as much money for retirement, Tobias said.

It also gives retirees options: They can sell their homes to move to less costly houses and use the leftover money for other things, said William B. Stronge, an economics professor emeritus at Florida Atlantic University and a senior fellow at the Economic Development Research Institute in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Or retirees can opt for a reverse mortgage if they need money. A reverse mortgage allows them to live in their home for the rest of their lives but get paid upfront for the house.

AVOIDING DEBT: Unlike many ohers in south Florida, the Castillas avoided debt. Their two Toyota Highlanders were paid for before they retired. They didn't run up credit card debt. As retirees, they have no debt.

"That's great," financial planner Tobias said.

Researchers at the nonprofit Pew Research Center found that after the Great Recession, 20 percent of Americans were broke or owed more than they were worth. Ten percent listed only their car as a chief asset, Pew found.

SAVING FOR RETIREMENT: The Castillas said they saved for retirement for decades. After they paid off their house, Jorge Castilla started putting 20 percent of his income into his 401(k) retirement savings plan. That's more than double the average 401(k) contribution of about 8 percent, said Mike Shamrell, a spokesman for Fidelity, the nation's largest provider of the work retirement plan.

By the time Castilla retired two years ago, he had built a considerable retirement nest egg that now delivers about $1,000 a month in income. Plus, the Castillas saved in another account.

"We wanted to have money in reserve," Jorge Castilla said.

WORKING LONGER: Although about half of Americans retire early at age 62, according to the Social Security Administration, Jorge Castilla opted to work three years longer and start collecting Social Security benefits at 65. He would have gotten his full retirement benefit at 66 but Castilla felt he had worked enough to save for retirement.

As a salesman on commission, Castilla said he worked weekends and 12-hour days to be able to make more sales that helped him earn more — which, he said, contributed to a larger Social Security benefit. Rose started collecting Social Security checks at age 62.

LIVING SIMPLY: The Castillas enjoy being homebodies. They like to prepare their own meals, watch movies at home and enjoy their families. They do most of their own home repairs and yard work. "I'm handy," Jorge Castilla said.

Most importantly, they said they are used to spending little after decades of saving, and they are content with their simple life.

"I don't miss anything," Rose Castilla said. "I like being at home."