One scary part of retirement is knowing you could have 30 more years in front of you but only a limited amount of cash available to pay for them. How do you make sure your retirement account doesn’t run dry before you say your final goodbye?
Well, there are no guarantees, but following are numerous smart strategies you can use to stretch your money — however little or much you have — over the decades to come.
1. Budget, budget, budget
Ugh. This is no fun, right?
You may not want to spend your free time working on a budget, but there is no better way to make your money last than to be intentional about its use. Without a spending plan, you could find yourself running through your cash in no time.
The good news is that the digital age has made it easier than ever to keep track of money coming and going. One of our favorite tools for doing this is a program called YNAB, aka You Need A Budget, which helps you track spending and create and live within a budget.
YNAB offers a free 34-day trial so you can see how it works for you. To learn more about it, see also “This Tool Makes It Easy to Track Your Spending and Build Your Savings.”
2. Embrace senior discounts
Senior discounts are one of the best parts of getting older. Once you hit a certain age — often 55 or 60 — you can start getting discounted meals, travel, tickets and more. Use these reduced prices to make your money last longer in retirement.
To get started, check out our stories on senior discounts from:
3. Move to a smaller house
Once the kids are gone, you might not need so much space. Consider downsizing to a smaller home. You could find your maintenance, utilities and tax bills all get smaller as well.
To learn about other advantages, check out “7 Unexpected Benefits of Downsizing in Retirement.”
4. Relocate to a less expensive area
You could take moving to cut costs a little further and change states, or even countries.
Some states, like Florida, are known for being tax-friendly. Others, such as Midwestern states, are known for their low cost of living. Either way, such locations help you stretch your money in retirement.
Some retirees leave the country completely. They opt for places like Mexico or Panama, where even small retirement savings can translate into a comfortable life thanks to lower costs of living or a favorable exchange rate.
For more inspiration, check out “All 50 States Ranked from Worst to Best for Retirement” or “The Best Place to Retire Abroad in 2019 Is Downright Affordable.”
5. Sell what you don’t need
You can add to your retirement war chest by selling the items you no longer use. Maybe your camping days are done, or you decide woodworking is a hobby that will never take off. And all those Disney movies? Probably not essential in this phase of your life. Keep a couple for when the grandkids visit and make some money off the rest.
Garage sales, local Facebook groups and Craigslist classifieds are all places to sell your excess for cash. However, you’ll also want to read “Don’t Toss These 7 Household Items — Sell Them Instead.”
6. Get the things you do need for cheap
When you do need to buy things, you’ve got the advantage of having more free time to search for a deal. Scour garage sales, classified ads and secondhand stores for steals on what you want.
If you’d rather buy new, see “15 Golden Rules for Saving on Every Purchase.”
7. Become a one-car household
Speaking of things you no longer need, is it really essential to have two cars after you retire?
Sure, it’s nice to have the freedom to go to one place while your spouse goes to another, but is the convenience worth the extra car payment, insurance, maintenance and registration fees?
Your money will stretch further in retirement if you’re not using it on a vehicle you drive only occasionally — especially considering that it costs $8,849 per year to own and operate a new car, according to AAA.
8. Refinance or consolidate your debts
In a perfect world, you’d have your debts paid off before retirement. However, we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in the real world.
If you have debt, you can save money by lowering your interest rates. For example, you may be able to move balances from high-interest credit cards to one with a low introductory rate — like those we cite in “3 Cards With Zero Percent APR Until Summer 2020.”
For more options, use a free online resource like Money Talks News’ credit card comparison tool. Select “0% APR” from the menu on the left to limit the search results to that type of card.
If you need professional help, consider contacting a reputable credit counselor.
9. Travel wisely
When you don’t have to plan vacations around work or school schedules, a whole world of travel savings opens for you. Travel in the off-season to get great deals and avoid the crowds. Or be spontaneous and go wherever the latest deals take you.
10. Manage your sequence of returns risk
Sequence of returns risk, also known as sequence risk, essentially means that if the stock market tanks when you start taking withdrawals from your retirement accounts, your balance may never fully rebound even if the market does.
In other words, you want to avoid having to withdraw money from your accounts when the market is down. There are several ways to do this, such as keeping enough money in a cash account to ride out a bear market or investing conservatively to minimize losses in a crash.
Since this can be a complex topic, working with a financial professional to structure withdrawals is always a good idea. Wealthramp is a free service that can connect you with fee-only fiduciary financial advisers in your area.
11. Stay active
Medical expenses can be a major drain on a retiree’s finances. Fidelity Investments estimates that a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2019 will need $285,000 to cover their health care costs in retirement. That doesn’t include long-term care costs, either.
However, you may be able to minimize your expenses by staying active for as long as possible. Physical activity is key to preventing and managing chronic diseases and lowers your risk of developing dementia, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
To learn more about the benefits of physical activity, see “8 Reasons You Need to Stay Fit After Age 50.”
12. Understand your health care benefits
When you do need health care, understand the benefits and caveats provided by your plan, which for most seniors 65 and older means Medicare.
For instance, if you’ve signed up for a Medicare Advantage plan, one of the two main types of the national health insurance for seniors, you may have to go to in-network providers and pharmacies or else pay more. If you opt instead for the other type, known as Original Medicare, and you travel internationally, your care at a foreign hospital may not be covered.
In addition to knowing how your coverage can cost you, know how it can save you cash. There are more than 20 freebies that come with Medicare, so use them to the fullest.
13. Get ready for long-term care costs
In addition to your regular health care expenses, you may have to pay for long-term care. This type of care doesn’t come cheap and is not covered by Medicare except in very limited situations and for short periods.
Without a plan for how to pay for long-term care costs, you could find your retirement money gone in a flash.
If you’re young enough, you could buy long-term care insurance. Otherwise, consider whether you could use a reverse mortgage, long-term care annuity or living benefits from a life insurance policy to preserve your assets.
14. Set boundaries with the kids
A 2018 Merrill Lynch study revealed that parents in the U.S. collectively spend about $500 billion per year helping their adult children cover everyday expenses from housing to cellphones. That’s twice as much as those parents save for retirement.
Moms and dads, this has got to stop. If you want your money to last through retirement, you’ve got to stop giving it to kids who are old enough to support themselves.
Set clear boundaries on when and how much you expect to spend on grown kids and then stick to your guns. For pointers, check out “6 Ways to Help Adult Kids Who Are Struggling With Money.”
15. Work longer
If you’re hitting your golden years with little savings in the bank, the best way to stretch those dollars is to avoid using them at all. Working full-time or even part-time not only pads your bank account but may also let you delay claiming Social Security, the retirement benefits funded by payroll taxes paid during your working years.
Learn everything you need to plan your dream retirement
The Only Retirement Guide You'll Ever Need gives you the knowledge you need to retire on your own terms. Sure, you can pay a financial adviser, but this online course gives you total control to create a custom retirement plan around the things that make you happy.
You're going to get expert, personalized advice. You'll have access to the latest tools. And when it's complete, you'll be able to approach your retirement confidently and with peace of mind.
It's time to plan the best years of your life. Let's get started.
Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.