Even if your real retirement is years away, you’ve already had some practice.
That came during the pandemic lockdown and into its aftermath, when many of us were tucked away at home, working remotely. Except for the part where you’re actually working and getting a full paycheck, this is similar to what life is like for many retirees.
So ask yourself: How did your spending fare on that retirement test drive?
Before you can determine how much you will need to save for a fulfilling retirement, you first need to know how much you will spend in retirement. You’ll also need to factor in soaring prices on everything from gas to groceries. Sure, inflation affects everyone, but it could hurt more in retirement when your income will probably be lower.
Financial planners have estimated that retirees need 80% or more of preretirement income to maintain their standard of living, though individual situations vary greatly. Another data point that correlates: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual survey on consumer spending, the average retired household spends 25% less than the average working household each year.
That said, some items to do stand out in a retired household, including big-ticket expenses such as health care and travel. Here’s a look at 10 budget categories where retirees are likely to spend more and some tips on keeping costs in check.
You’ll Spend More on Travel in Retirement
Most retirees put “travel” at the top of the list of things to do more of in their post-work years.
Maybe you plan to set off on a cruise or two. Or perhaps you simply want to pack up your car for weekend getaways with your grandkids. Either way, you may find yourself spending more on travel in retirement than you bargained for. The customer-starved travel industry is eager to get retirees back on the boat, bus, train – or into an RV.
While overall transportation expenses decline throughout retirement, many retirees take the kind of trips they could only dream about while working full time. For instance, compared with their working peers, retirees were choosing (at least, before the pandemic) longer cruises and cruises that visit more destinations, according to travel experts.
Deborah L. Meyer, a Certified Financial Planner and founder of fiduciary advisory firm WorthyNest, recommends a five-step plan for pre-retirees looking to turn these dreams into reality, :
- Assign specific cost estimates to travel goals
- Break the big savings goal into monthly or quarterly allocations to savings
- Adjust income and expenses to make room for the regular savings
- Don’t compromise on future goals (that is, beyond the trip)
- Act on achieved goals
You’ll Spend More on Health Care in Retirement
It's a blast to kick back and make big travel plans in retirement. Less fun: The reality that we spend more on medical care after we retire – and that those costs keep increasing as we age.
The Employee Benefit Research Institute found that the percentage of a household’s total spending on health care increases from 8% in preretirement households to up to 13% by the time a household is past the age of 85. A similar finding turns up in a survey by the Employee Benefit Research Council.
Unpredictable and costly new diagnoses and hospitalizations drive much of the increase in health care spending for the average retired household, but overall spending rises for general health needs, health insurance, prescription medication, medical supplies and medical services as well. As the National Council on Aging reports, 84% of people 65 and plus have at least one chronic condition.
You’ll Spend More on Utilities in Retirement
If you noticed your utility bills spike while you were working remotely, welcome to another reality of retirement.
The average retired household spends more each year on utilities than the average working household, according to the Urban Institute. Why? If retirees are home more often, they’re simply using utilities more. If you’ve seen a bump in your bills – gas, electric, water and sewer, cable and streaming services – think of it as a precursor. On the plus side, chances are you’ll have finished paying off your mortgage (or come pretty close) when you reach retirement age. That means you’ll be saving thousands each year.
You’ll Spend More on Moving and Relocating in Retirement
Empty-nesters tend to take flight in retirement. Downsizing that multi-bedroom home for smaller living quarters, and ones that may be more elderly friendly, is an obvious strategy that could save money in the long run. For the most part, that’s true. But the move-out process can set you back thousands of dollars.
Take it from experience. My wife and I recently moved into our “retirement” home and community. I put retirement is in quotes because we haven’t actually left our jobs. But the right house in the right city popped up on our radar at the right time and we went for it. Fortunately, we’re still working and were able to cover the thousands of dollars in related expenses:
- Getting one home ready to sell
- Listing our existing house
- Buying a new home
- Settlement and moving costs
Not to mention upgrading appliances, new lighting, window treatments, and all the other tweaks you’ll do to a new living space.
According to Mike Palmer, a certified financial planner with Ark Royal Wealth Management in North Carolina, downsizing in full retirement can present huge unexpected costs for some of his clients, particularly when they want to stay within urban areas. “I see a lot of folks thinking they’re going to walk away with $200,000 [by downsizing], but that’s rare. In most cases, it will be lateral,” he says. To avoid this, he recommends trying to move from an urban area to a more rural one.
It can be nearly impossible to predict every moving expense as it comes, but Squared Away can help: It offers a calculator that estimates what you’ll spend.
You’ll Spend More on Fitness in Retirement
Research indicates that retirement itself is a motivator to get fit. With a flexible schedule free of commuting and the stress of a busy work week, many retirees drop unhealthy habits and pick up healthier ones, raising their spending on gym memberships and fitness classes and equipment (a new bicycle, perhaps?)
Approximately 53% of retired Americans participate in physical activity and allocate about 13% of their annual spending to fitness and leisure activities. Because of this, Fung Global Retail & Technology says that the fitness industry is starting to cater to seniors as well, offering more specific (and pricey) gym options for aging populations. (See Gyms for Older Exercisers.)
Marguerita Cheng, the chief executive officer of Blue Ocean Global Wealth, says that fitness is one of the biggest new expenses she sees her retired clients take on. For her clients, she says, it is often the fear of declining health as they age that motivates them to take fitness seriously. Some of her clients put so much time and money into fitness that they schedule meetings with her around their yoga or spinning classes.
You may have a workaround to gym costs: Some Medicare Advantage plans have a free gym membership as part of their benefits.
You’ll Spend More on Day-to-Day Expenses in Retirement
As they transition into retirement, many people’s lives aren’t radically altered. They may still drive to meet with friends or associates, grab coffee from around the corner, or use their laptop do work from the comfort of their couch. What often does change after leaving the workforce, however, is who picks up the bill for a lot of the small stuff — lunches, parking, dinners, concert tickets. In short, so long, expensing!
"Small-business owners and professionals who retire are often surprised at how many of their expenses were picked up by their company," says Bert Whitehead, president of Cambridge Connection, in Franklin, Mich. "It is a jolt when they discover how much it adds up to."
You’ll Spend More on Debt in Retirement
Retirees are especially vulnerable to accumulating debt and subsequent interest. Although the average debt ballooned across all age groups between 1989 and today, older retirees were by far the hardest hit. According to a study from the National Council on Aging, the average debt held by people 65 and older keeps climbing. The total median debt for those 65 and up in 2016 (the latest year available) was $31,300. That’s 2½ times more than what it was in 2001.
Credit cards with high interest rates carry the greatest risk to retirement security. According to the research and advocacy group Demos, roughly half of those older than 50 reported using credit cards to pay medical expenses, as well as groceries, utilities and even rent.
If bills are beginning to pile up, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Focus on paying off the cards with the highest rates first, and consider consolidating your balances on a card offering a 0% interest rate if it will take more than a few months to pay off each card.
The National Council on Aging also offers tips for seniors to manage debt (opens in new tab).
You’ll Spend More on Charitable Giving in Retirement
Americans age 65 and up, even with their reduced income, contribute almost 11% more to religious, educational, charitable and political organizations than people from 55 to 64. Retirees age 75 and older donate even more, on average.
Part of this phenomenon is psychological. Researchers have found that older adults take more pleasure in charitable donations than their younger counterparts. On the other hand, older retirees may have less control over their finances than they realize. A diminished capacity for financial decision-making in retirement is “extremely common,” says Daniel Marson, a neurology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “In fact, I might say it’s inevitable.”
While many retirees have no problem managing their money into old age, it never hurts to have a trusted family member keep an eye on things. Services such as EverSafe, for example, allow a designated family member to monitor a retiree’s finances and get alerts in case of excessive withdrawals, changes in spending patterns and other unusual activity—all without the retiree losing control of their money.
You’ll Spend More on Reading in Retirement
Before retirement, the average household spends $101 each year on reading. Yes, it’s a category tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that includes the cost of books and audiobooks, as well as devices such as a Kindle. In retirement, the average household spends $173 each year, a 73% increase.
A greater number of subscriptions to newspapers, magazines and audiobook services—the result of a more flexible schedule—accounts for some of the increase.
How do you cut those expenses? Try your local library for free hardcover books, audiobooks, magazines and, increasingly, online access to streaming services.
You’ll Spend More on Financial Planning in Retirement
If you’re entering retirement with accumulated wealth, that’s great. You may have done so with guidance from a financial planner, but then again, maybe you’ve had good luck along with regular 401(k) contributions using some sort of robo-adviser service.
But remember, the more wealth you’ve collected, however, the more elbow grease it’ll take to manage that money and make it work for you. That’s where financial planners come in. Their services can be invaluable, but they’re not free. Depending on the management style you prefer, figuring out what to do with your money can become an expense in its own right.
Fee-only planners may charge a flat annual retainer (which could run a few thousand dollars or more), or they may charge on an hourly basis (often from $100 to $250 per hour), by the project (from $1,000 up to $10,000 for a comprehensive plan) or, if they’re managing your investments, as a percentage of assets (from about 0.5% to 1.25% of your investable assets). Or they may use some combination of those billing models.
In a recent survey of financial planning firms, Fidelity found that 23% of all clients were older than 70, and they held as much as 28% of total assets. According to AARP, retirees should continue to use financial planners to assist with relocating, with managing new medical expenses and to address changing financial needs.
Bob is a Senior Online Editor at Kiplinger.com. He has more than 40 years of experience in online, print and visual journalism. Bob has worked as an award-winning writer and editor in the Washington, D.C., market as well as at news organizations in New York, Michigan and California. Bob joined Kiplinger in 2016, bringing a wealth of expertise covering retail, entertainment, and money-saving trends and topics. He was one of the first journalists at a daily news organization to aggressively cover retail as a specialty, and has been lauded in the retail industry for his expertise. Bob has also been an adjunct and associate professor of print, online and visual journalism at Syracuse University and Ithaca College. He has a master’s degree from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a bachelor’s degree in communications and theater from Hope College.
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