Within your Means

Short and sweet today, but critical advice to remember for retirement security: your retirement lifestyle needs to align with your savings level.

Many people assume that once they retire, they'll manage to maintain the same lifestyle they did during their working years. But unless you've saved well, you may need to cut corners to make up for the fact that you're living on a fixed income (and, most likely, a lower one at that). In fact, it might surprise you to learn that 46% of seniors spend more money, not less, during the early stages of retirement, and those who do risk depleting their savings prematurely. 

Furthermore, if you think Social Security could be your saving grace, you haven’t been paying attention of late. True, almost 25% of seniors depend on Social Security as their single source of retirement income, while 65% rely on it to provide the bulk of their income. But in reality, even if Social Security benefits are still being paid out by the time you retire, the average American can't come close to retiring on Social Security alone. That's because Social Security, in a best-case scenario, will only replace about 40% of the typical worker's pre-retirement income. However, most seniors need at least 80% of their former earnings to cover the bills in retirement, and that assumes a relatively modest lifestyle.

These days, the average Social Security recipient collects about $1,360 a month, or $16,320 a year. If you're single, and you don't have any outside savings, that's hardly enough money to live on. Even if you're in a dual-income household, and you and your partner each collect $1,360 a month in benefits, that's still only $32,640 a year to cover all of your living expenses. Given that the average healthy 65-year-old couple today will spend $400,000 on healthcare alone in retirement, over a 20-year period, that's $20,000 a year right off the bat. With Social Security alone, you'd be looking at a mere $12,640 per year to cover housing, transportation, utilities, food, clothing, and other such necessary expenses for two people, and that's just not feasible.

Bottom line, when you think about your lifestyle in retirement, don't assume you'll be able to swing the same set of expenses you're managing as a full-time earner. You may need to come up with a plan to trim your living costs, whether it's downsizing your home, unloading a vehicle, or making smaller adjustments that achieve a similar effect. Either way, map out a budget before you retire so you have a framework to follow as you adjust to your new financial situation.