How to Make Your Money Last in Retirement

July 16, 2019

When you were saving for retirement, your goal was to accumulate as big a nest egg as possible. Now that you’re actually retired, it’s up to you to preserve and manage that money so it continues to serve your needs and goals through retirement.

As a first step, inventory all your financial assets, such as Social Security, personal savings or a 401(k) plan, so you can get a realistic picture of your current financial situation. If you own a home and plan to tap some of your home equity with a reverse mortgage, you may want to include that asset as part of your future cash flow.

On the spending side of the ledger, you’ll need to keep tabs on your burn rate or the pace at which you go through money. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average retiree spends about $3,800 each month. If you live on the West Coast or in the Northeast and enjoy occasional meals out, sporting events, weekend getaways and other discretionary purchases, you probably spend significantly more. In fact, a GoBankingRates survey finds that the average consumer spends over $5,000 a year on non-essential items.

Stop paying your kids bills

To help keep you from burning through your retirement savings and other financial assets, here are 10 of our hottest money-preserving tips.

It’s natural that you want to help and take care of your children, especially when they’re just starting out and trying to land on their feet. But do they still need financial handouts when they’re 35 and the vice president of marketing? Isn’t it time they started footing the bill for their own cell phone and car insurance? Yet, according to the financial site Bankrate, about half of all parents cop to the fact that they financially help their adult children so much that they’re imperiling their own retirement.

If you still want to be generous with your adult children without putting your retirement at risk, there are meaningful options you can try. For example, consider one or two well-thought-out financial gifts per year (each person can gift up to $15,000 a year tax-free) instead of offering unlimited financial support.

Downsize your home for retirement

You raised your family there, hosted countless holiday meals, and are now a neighborhood fixture. It’s natural that you’d feel sentimental toward your home. But after your children have left the nest, do you still need such a large roosting place? By downsizing, you may be able to reduce your mortgage, taxes, insurance and home maintenance costs

Pay attention to your medicare deadlines

Consider this: The average homeowner spends 3.25 percent of their home’s value in annual maintenance, according to Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. So, a home with a smaller footprint translates into less money spent on home maintenance, leaving you with more money to invest. That’s a pretty good trade-off

Make sure you sign up for Medicare when you are eligible. There is a seven-month window when you can do this—the three months before turning 65, the month of your 65th birthday and the three months after. Unless you have insurance through work, you will be penalized for every month you delay. The penalty totals 10 percent for every 12-month period you don’t enroll, and that penalty is permanent, even after you sign up. For example, if you waited two full years to sign up, your Medicare premium would be 20 percent higher than if you had enrolled on time.

What’s more, there are also penalties for not signing up for a supplemental plan on time, and the right to get insurance without medical underwriting. If you miss the window, your premiums could be higher if you have a pre-existing condition, or you could even be denied coverage.

Once enrolled, you need to be aware that Medicare doesn’t cover all your healthcare expenses. As a result, consider purchasing a supplemental plan to fill in the gaps. A Medigap plan such as Plan F is the most popular option. It is also the most expensive because it pays for almost everything Medicare does not, including co-insurance and deductibles.

Treat a lump sum of money with reverence

Advantage plans are cheaper, but they function much like health maintenance organizations (HMOs), relying on in-house networks of doctors and hospitals. If you have to go out of network, you could incur much larger medical bills.

Once you reach the magic age of 59 ½, you’ll be able to access your retirement accounts without penalty. If you’ve been a disciplined saver and investor, you could be sitting on the biggest pile of cash you’ve ever seen.

If you’ve never managed such a windfall before, you could be tempted to spend it like an Internet millionaire, thinking there’s more where that came from. But as a retiree, your ability to generate more money for retirement is likely limited.

Instead, turn that lump sum into a reliable stream of income by investing. If you need help with investing, consult a fee-only financial planner who has a fiduciary responsibility to act in their clients’ best interest. They do not accept any fees or compensation based on product sales. If you want your money to last, financial experts recommend withdrawing no more than 4 percent of your total in the first year of retirement, and then increasing that amount by the rate of inflation in subsequent years to preserve your purchasing power.

Should you buy or rent your vacation home

Who hasn’t dreamed of a cabin retreat by the lake to escape to for fishing and relaxation? But will you really spend as much time there as you imagine? Will you be able to rent it out as often as you think to cover your expenses? Many retirees find that they’re much busier in retirement than they originally thought, filling their time with newfound hobbies and family obligations—not sitting by the lake. So, try renting first before taking out a 30-year mortgage.

Beware the social security tax torpedo

The tax torpedo refers to the tax hit that higher-income retirees face when they are collecting Social Security and drawing down their retirement savings at the same time. As retirees pass certain provisional income thresholds, more and more of their Social Security becomes taxable. Provisional income is your modified adjusted gross income plus half of your Social Security.

Social Security isn’t taxed when provisional income is less than $25,000 for individuals ($32,000 for married couples filing jointly). But when provisional income is between $25,000 and $34,000 for individuals (or between $32,000 and $44,000 for married filing jointly), then 50 percent of Social Security is taxable. When provisional income is above those amounts, then 85 percent of Social Security is taxable. What’s more, those amounts aren’t indexed for inflation, so over time the tax torpedo will ensnare more retirees.

Spoil the grand kids judiciously

Of course, your grandchildren are your pride and joy. But sometimes grandparents overdo it. An extra scoop of ice cream when the parents aren’t looking is one thing. But buying a car for a grandchild the moment they get a driver’s license, or paying for their college and then springing for a year abroad is quite another. Make sure your own security is taken care of before jumping in with offers of financial assistance. If you can’t make as big a gift as you’d like, meet your grandchildren halfway. Offer to pay for half of a big-ticket item or help them brainstorm ways to earn the money for whatever goal they have in mind. Those financial lessons are a more enduring legacy than a new set of wheels can ever be.

Get the best medical care not the most medical care

The medical profession is notoriously litigation-averse. To avoid malpractice suits, many doctors resort to a practice that’s known as “defensive medicine,” making sure to eliminate all possible diagnoses, no matter how remote. That can mean a lot of unnecessary (and costly) tests and procedures. In fact, a study in the American Journal of Managed Care found that surgeons were more concerned about being sued than being cost-conscious when practicing medicine. Guess who pays for that overabundance of caution? Before you agree to a test or a procedure, understand the doctor’s reasoning and ask if each one is absolutely necessary. Better yet, find providers that practice cost-consciousness in addition to good medicine.

Keep your guard up against senior scams

Unfortunately, financial oversight is often one of the first areas to be affected when seniors start experiencing cognitive decline. Scammers know this and target older people in the hopes that they’ll be easy prey. Each year, seniors are bilked out of billions of dollars at the hands of fraudsters, whether it’s telemarketing scams, Internet hoaxes or even by people dearest to them. When you are on the verge of giving a large amount of money to someone, first run your decision by someone you trust to help you assess whether everything is above board. Don’t hesitate to report suspicious actions or behaviors to the authorities because elder theft is a crime.

Enjoy senior perks

One of the great perks of growing older is the senior discount that can help you lop 10 percent to 25 percent off prices. Many museums, movie theaters, and retailers offer such discounts, but sometimes the person you’re dealing with might forget to mention it (or feel shy about presuming you’re a certain age), so make sure to ask.

Promotions vary widely from business to business, with different qualifying ages. Some discounts are only available certain days of the week or times of the day. Be sure to always carry your ID in case you’re asked to prove your age.

Retirement should be a rewarding time of life. By staying attentive to your spending, your retirement will continue to burn bright.

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