The key to a happy retirement is planning.
In 2020, 27% of adults considered themselves to be retired. According to Social Security, full retirement age is age 67 if you were born in 1960 or later, early retirement is considered age 62, and delayed retirement age is 70.
While factors such as the age you plan to retire and the lifestyle you hope to have impact how much you should have saved for retirement, experts estimate that saving 10x your pre-retirement income by age 67 should help ensure you have enough to maintain your current lifestyle. Then, once you're retired, managing that money strategically and intelligently is crucial to ensure you have the funds to support your lifestyle throughout retirement.
Here are 11 tips to help make that happen.
1. Make a retirement lifestyle plan
Before knowing how much you need to have saved or how you should manage your money in retirement, you need to have a plan for your lifestyle. Do you want to live a similar lifestyle to what you did pre-retirement? Will you travel more? Purchase a second home? Understanding the lifestyle you want to have can help you estimate how much you'll be spending, and therefore, how much you need to save.
It can also help you understand how much you'll need to withdraw from investment or retirement accounts and make a plan for ensuring those funds last.
2. Start or keep saving
If you haven't already started saving for retirement, it's never too late. Use a retirement calculator to learn if you have enough saved, or how much you may need at the age you expect to retire. If it doesn't look like you've saved enough, there are several ways to catch up:
- If your employer will match a certain percentage of your 401(k) or 403(b) plan, contribute at least that much. For example, if your employer will match up to 5% of your pay, you should be contributing at least 5% of your income.
- Take advantage of catch-up contributions, which lets workers ages 50 and older contribute additional funds to retirement accounts.
- Open a separate savings or investment account that may earn a higher percentage of interest and regularly contribute a portion of your income.
- If you're spending less because you paid off debts or implemented other money-saving strategies, put those funds you would have otherwise spent into a savings account you don't touch.
Even if you are in a good place with retirement funds, it doesn't hurt to continue saving so that you have an additional buffer once you're retired.
3. Know what to expect from Social Security
Maximizing your Social Security benefits, which is a guaranteed income stream, can help you manage your money in retirement. But before maximizing benefits, you must know what to expect. There are hundreds of strategies and rules around claiming and receiving Social Security benefits depending on your individual situation, but there are a few steps you can take to help get started.
First, estimate your retirement benefits at different ages and dates using the Social Security Retirement Calculator. Start by signing into your my Social Security account, or create one if you haven't already.
Once your account is created, find the "Plan for Retirement" section. Enter your estimated retirement age based on when you want your retirement benefits to begin, your average future annual salary, and decide if you want to include a spouse. You'll then be shown an estimate of your monthly benefit at full retirement age, early retirement, or delayed retirement.
By waiting as long as possible to start receiving Social Security benefit, you're ensuring you're able to earn more per month.
4. Lower fixed expenses
Fixed expenses are anything you know you'll spend money on each month, such as rent or mortgage, utilities, food, transportation, insurance, debt re-payments, etc. If you can lower these expenses, you will spend less from your savings. Some ways to lower fixed expenses include:
- Using debt repayment strategies to get rid of debt such as loans, medical bills, or car payments
- Downsize your home or move into an apartment (if the rent would be cheaper than your mortgage)
- Plan out your meals and make a grocery list before going shopping. You can also use coupons and shop for items in-season and on sale
- Talk to your utility company, insurance company, cell phone provider, internet provider, etc. to learn if there is anything you can do to lower your monthly costs
- Cancel any unnecessary subscriptions or memberships
If you aren't sure where to start, make a list of all your monthly expenses, including what they are and how much they cost (on average). Review the list and highlight or mark which ones you have control over, such as your grocery bill, vs. those that you have less control over, such as your mortgage. Then, decide which of the items within your control you can take steps to lower.
5. Work a side-hustle or part-time job
Even once retired from full-time work, some people choose to continue to work part-time to earn extra cash. While working in retirement can affect your taxes or Social Security benefits, the additional funds could help ensure you're able to pay your expenses and withdraw less from your savings or retirement fund.
Even if you don't want to work a job, you can earn other ways, such as selling unwanted belongings. A yard sale is a great way to get rid of the stuff cluttering up your home while also generating some extra dollars. You could also take a hobby you love, like woodworking or sewing, and sell the items you make online or at craft fairs.
Related reading: 10 Side Hustles That Will Earn You Money in Retirement
6. Be strategic about your withdrawal rate
Experts suggest using the 4% rule when it comes to retirement spending: Add up all of your investments and withdrawal 4% of that total during the first year of your retirement. Then, you can adjust how much you withdraw in subsequent years to account for inflation. This formula helps ensure you have enough money for a 30-year retirement.
If you retire early or want to be more conservative with withdraws, you'd take out a lower percentage, such as 3%.
Taking out large withdraws early in your retirement can increase the risk that you'll run out of money later. Being strategic about how much you use and when can help ensure your money last longer.
7. Remember inflation
The average annual inflation rate is 3%. This means that each year, it's going to cost you an average of 3% more to live. When you're saving for and spending your retirement savings, it's important to consider that inflation rate to understand the long-term impact on your portfolio and what that means for spending in the future.
8. Invest intelligently
Regardless of whether you're willing to take risks when it comes to investing, being smart and strategic with your dollars is important. The national average interest rates for savings accounts is only 0.06%, which means your dollars could earn more, faster, somewhere else, ensuring you have an even better nest egg in retirement. (For example, the average Roth IRA delivers between 7% and 10% annual returns. Other types of investments could earn even more.)
If you aren't sure where to start, talk with a financial planner about your current income, savings, and goals, as well as where you'd like to be in retirement. They can help you choose investments that you feel comfortable with.
9. Get tax assistance
Depending on how much you've invested and saved heading into retirement, you could be put into a higher tax bracket due to required minimum distributions from retirement funds. Typically, these distributions start at age 70 1/2. This extra income could also affect your Social Security taxes.
Once retired, your tax situation may change and could become more complicated. A tax expert can help you determine how much you should or shouldn’t take out of your accounts, when you should start distributions, and other ways to reduce future taxes. Not only can this give you peace of mind, it can also help your funds go further.
10. Stay healthy
Even if you have fixed premiums through Medicare, chronic conditions or other health problems can lead to increased medical costs. Preventing chronic diseases, or managing symptoms appropriately, can help reduce your costs.
- More than 34.2 million Americans have diabetes, which can cause severe complications. The total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes was $327 billion in medical costs and lost productivity in 2017
- Obesity affects 42% of adults and costs the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $147 billion per year
- More than 868,000 Americans die of heart disease or stroke every year, and these diseases cost the healthcare system $214 billion per year
There are several things you can do to stay healthy and prevent chronic conditions, or manage them if you've already been diagnosed:
- If you smoke, quit
- Try to get 30-60 minutes of exercise each day
- Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and other nutrients
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol (more than one to two drinks per day)
- Get enough sleep
- Take medications as prescribed
You should also visit your primary care provider (PCP) at least once per year to talk about your health and risk factors, review your medications, and schedule any preventive screenings you may be due for. Medicare covers a number of preventive screenings and services to help diagnose symptoms or conditions early, when they are easier to treat or get back under control.
It's also important to plan for health costs. Choose a Medicare plan that's right for you and be sure to set aside enough for monthly premiums, co-pays, co-insurance, and other expected costs. Your plan should cover doctors and medications you may need throughout the year at a price that isn't prohibitive. Planning for either expected or unexpected health costs is an important part of budgeting for retirement.
11. Plan for long-term care
Medicare doesn't cover long-term care if that's the only care you need. Unfortunately, nursing home or long-term care can cost hundreds of dollars per day, and thousands per month. This is a significant expense that if not planned for can be detrimental to retirement savings.
Today, more than 66% of 65-year-olds will need long-term care support, and 20% will need it for longer than five years. It's critical to plan and save for long-term care expenses just in case you need them.
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