Once you’ve retired, you soon discover whether those “best laid plans” were good enough. If you find yourself withdrawing more than expected from your nest egg, don’t panic. Instead, take advantage of these ways you can save and stretch your retirement funds to last as long as possible. Even if things are going well, it doesn’t hurt to be proactive.
Assess Any Damage
Start by comparing your pre-retirement budget to reality. Identify problem areas. Are your retirement funds underperforming? Have your spending habits gotten out of control? If things don’t add up, it’s time to take action.
Check Your Spending Habits
Examine all discretionary spending and decide what’s important and what’s dispensable. Discretionary spending is an easy target because it involves the “extras”—like dining out and going to movies or concerts. Go there first, trimming as you work your way down the list.
Almost all budget areas offer opportunities to find savings. Below are some big expense areas to tackle and suggestions for how to do it.
When you go grocery shopping, work from a list. Develop a meal plan and buy only items you need for those meals. Cut back on dining out. Take advantage of “early bird” specials. Don’t be shy about asking for senior discounts.
You are no longer working. Casual clothing is usually less expensive than business attire. Now you can buy when things are on sale—not because you need a new outfit for an important meeting.
Since you’re no longer commuting, you may be able to sell your “work” car. Doing so not only raises some extra cash, it eliminates ongoing expenses for gasoline, oil, repairs and insurance.
Plan any trips for the offseason. Take advantage of promotions and look for sales. You may be able to volunteer overseas in countries such as Costa Rica, Italy or China and write off the trip. (There are strict IRS requirements—for one, you must do work five out of seven days while on your trip; be sure to follow them.) House sitting and pet sitting may offer free lodging.
Golf is less expensive on weekdays than weekends. Frisbee golf is usually free. Gardening is not only inexpensive, it may save you money at the grocery store if you raise vegetables and/or fruit. Volunteer with a local arts organization for free admission to concerts. Apply for a lifetime senior pass at national parks and visit state and local parks, many of which are free. Your local senior center likely has many programs at low or no cost.
Few things drain a monthly budget faster than high-interest debt from credit cards. Make greater-than-minimum monthly payments. Shift debt to lower interest cards or a new card with a no-interest introductory offer.
Review Medicare coverage including Part D plans annually and change plans when appropriate. If you no longer need or want life insurance, consider selling the policy. Even if selling isn’t an option, it might make sense to drop an unneeded policy.
Shopping online isn’t second nature to all seniors, but it should be. Major retailers are starting to compete with Amazon to offer free shipping and heavily discounted prices. At the very least, check prices online before going to a brick and mortar store. You will have a competitive price with which to bargain.
Downsize or Relocate
If your current home is too large and too expensive to maintain or if yard work is becoming difficult, consider selling and buying (or renting) a smaller home. Money isn’t all you will save. Less time mowing the lawn and cleaning the house is time that can be spent traveling or enjoying a new hobby.
Or consider downsizing, which can be an opportunity to move to a warmer climate or a less expensive neighborhood. Since you don’t have to rush to work every morning, you can afford to move farther away from downtown.
Put your retirement nest egg to work. Most experts suggest at least 50 percent of retiree investments should be in stocks. Another option would be an income annuity that pays a monthly benefit for life. Check online for the best yields on CDs and money-market savings accounts. Consider consolidating retirement plans from different jobs into one IRA to lower fees and make your portfolio easier to manage.
Look at Your Taxes
If you are receiving Social Security benefits at the same time you are taking distributions from an IRA or 401(k) you could easily bump yourself into the next tax bracket. Track income on an ongoing basis and adjust those retirement distributions as needed. Check with a trusted financial advisor for additional steps to take including tax loss harvesting if appropriate.
Get a Job
If you have saved as much as you can and still come up short, consider part-time work. Many retirees boost income this way. As a bonus, going back to work restores social contact that might be missing from your life. The best thing about working part-time is that you can look for a job you love this time around. Going into business for yourself, selling items on eBay or Amazon.com or turning a hobby into an occupation are other ways to grow income and have fun at the same time.