Not Gonna Do It

If you've been walking around thinking that Social Security will cover most of your bills in retirement, it's time to set yourself straight -- and start saving for the future. While the amount of money you'll need in retirement will depend heavily on your lifestyle and goals, most seniors will require around 80% of their former income just to cover the basics. In other words, forget about month-long cruises and country club memberships -- there's a good chance you'll need double the replacement income Social Security can provide just to pay for things like housing, food, transportation, and healthcare.

But don't just take my word for it. Rather, let's look at some numbers. The average Social Security recipient currently receives around $1,360 a month, or $16,320 a year, in benefits. A dual-income household, therefore, might collect $32,640, on average.

Now let's see how that figure stacks up against the costs retirees inevitably face, like the following:

  • Healthcare. The average healthy 65-year-old couple today can expect to spend $377,000 on healthcare in retirement. If we break that figure out over 20 years (keeping in mind that this is a conservative estimate, as many seniors live longer), we arrive at a cost of $18,850 per year.
  • Housing. An estimated 30% of seniors 65 and over continue to carry mortgage debt. But even if your home is paid off in time for retirement, you'll still be looking at maintenance costs, which can easily come to 4% of your home's value each year. As a result, the average American household currently spends $15,528 a year on housing.
  • Transportation. Just because you're no longer commuting to work doesn't mean you don't need to get around town. Transportation costs retirees an average of $6,852 per year.
  • Food. The typical senior household spends $5,508 a year on food. Now this figure does include $170 a month on restaurants, but even if we replace that spending with home cooking, we're still looking at about $4,140 a year on sustenance.
  • Clothing. While you may not need much in the way of professional attire and business suits, you can still expect to spend some money at your local department store once you retire. In fact, the average senior household spends $1,417 a year on clothing. 

So let's add up these bare-bones expenses. When we factor in healthcare, housing, transportation, food, and clothing based on what the average American household currently spends, we arrive at a total of $48,155 a year. Even if we shave off a bit on the food category to account for fewer restaurant meals, we're still looking at a minimum of $46,787 just to get by. And that figure includes zero leisure spending, nor does it include expenses like cable and cellphone service. Since we just learned that the typical dual-income household can expect $32,640 from Social Security in a best-case scenario, it makes a pretty clear case that the average American cannot live off those benefits alone. Period.