How to have more in retirement

When financial planning for the last third of your life, you are faced with two issues:

  • how much you will need to live on in retirement, and
  • how you will pay for it.

Fortunately, most people have flexibility in what they will need to live on. I often tell planning clients, “You can have what you want – but maybe not everything you want.” If you haven’t saved enough for a lavish lifestyle, you can usually make tradeoffs to have the part of the lifestyle that matters most. By retirement age — or, as we like to call it, getting to “walkaway freedom” — material things tend to be less important than those that you can’t put a price tag on, such as relationships, giving back, and self-improvement. But, you still have to eat and put clothes on your back. And you may have a bucket list of places to see and things to do. So what can you do if you are starting to wonder if you have any hope of escaping the daily grind?

Planning ahead, even a few years, and making some lifestyle changes can have a noticeable effect in the standard of living you can enjoy. Here are some tiny tips that can make a definite difference:

Work part-time – as Boomers retire, labor experts project a demand for older workers. AARP says that seven out of 10 Boomers plan to work some during retirement. These part-time jobs, called “encore careers”, focus on flexibility and doing what you love. To learn more, see retirementjobs.com, encore.com and YourEncore.com.

Work an extra year and bank as much as possible. We all know how quickly time passes as we age and that year will pass before you know it. As an added bonus, you will permanently increase your Social Security benefits. That’s because Social Security calculations are based on your 35 highest earning years. By working longer, you’ll substitute your lowest income year for a higher one.

Budget your variables – if you find it tedious to stick to a detailed budget, just take on the usual suspects. I call it top-down budgeting: review your discretionary (optional) expenditures and budget for those only. It is easy to fritter away money in areas such as eating out, clothes, travel, hobbies, grooming, gifts, etc., and also easy to get a grip on them when you are focused.

Choose a low-cost state – the sun shines just as brightly in income tax-free Texas as it does in costly California. If you’re planning a move, taking time to research will help you stretch your savings.

Retire debt-free – having a paid-off house and debt-free vehicles will go a long way toward cutting your monthly outflow. And, of course, nix any credit card debt.

Consider downsizing – since you’ve paid off the mortgage, you should have some cash left over to add to your nest egg. Plus, you’ll save on upkeep, utilities, taxes, and repairs.

Plan major purchases – doing so will help avoid impulse spending. Examples are vehicles (how often, how much), a vacation cottage, weddings for your children, travel, college for the grandkids, etc.

Be creative – if you’ve always wanted to buy a cabin in the mountains or a house on the beach, consider renting for the month or so each year that you would be using it. If you prefer to be an owner, look for one that can pay for itself by being rented out when you’re not using it. Instead of a 5-star hotel, check out sites like vrbo.com. If you live in a “destination” area, consider leasing out your home while you’re traveling.

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