Published March 18, 2011
Adjusting to life without a steady income is difficult for retirees, but taking a close look at your budget and spending habits can help ease the transition.
“Figure out what your retirement income is going to be and figure out what you have to cut,” says Bob Williams, senior vice president of Delta Trust Investments in Little Rock, Ark. “Sit down and look at each individual expense. Have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting. Can I afford this?”
Eliminating unnecessary spending in retirement can help seniors maximize their savings and ensure a comfortable living.
Bill Hayes, partner with Illinois-based Kenilworth Asset Management, suggests retirees pare down expenses by the same or greater amount that their income dropped. If you experience a 20% drop in net monthly income, Hayes suggests to reduce your monthly expenses by 25% to 30%.
Here’s a look at nine expenses experts say many retirees can cut back on or eliminate from their budget to help pad their nest egg.
Eating Out Frequently
Dining out regularly can take a significant chunk out of your hard-earned nest egg. Make going out to eat a special occasion and always look for discounts or special deals for the elderly.
Joel Steele, co-owner of Steele Financial Solutions in New Jersey says many of his retired clients live on $2,500 to $3,000 a month with only a third going to food expenses.
If you will receive any form of income during retirement, such as a pension, the experts recommend taking a look to see if it's possible to reduce your federal tax withholding to receive more income each month.
“This method allows a little more monthly income without having to do anything except make an adjustment on your W4,” Steele says.
This strategy is also valuable when planning for retirement so you can funnel extra monthly income into an IRA or 401(k).
Retirement is not the time to invest in a depreciating asset, so if you have to buy a vehicle, opt for a used car versus a new one.
If you have more than one car sitting in your driveway, assess whether you still need both. Now that you aren’t working, it might not make sense, and you could save a bundle between car payments, maintenance and gas.
“Look at the big expenses,” says Hayes. “Do you want to keep the big house you have? If your house is paid off, do you really need it?”
Depending on whether your liquid assets are gaining substantial interest elsewhere, the mortgage interest tax deduction may not be worth carrying the payment. The experts also suggest considering prepaying your mortgage and limiting your monthly obligations when you’re not working.
Williams also suggests some retirees look into a reverse mortgage to supplement their income.
A reverse mortgage allows homeowners to convert a portion of their home equity into cash. But unlike a traditional home equity loan, no repayment is required until the borrower no longer uses the home as the principal residence or fails to meet the obligations of the mortgage.
“Any services you used while you were working full time that were only needed because you didn't have time to handle the tasks yourself should be cut,” says Timothy Yee, principal of SII Investments in Oakland.
“These would be things like yard service, cleaning service, or the people that would come get your dry cleaning each week. Now that you are retired, guess who has time to do those things themselves?”
If you have a cell phone and are comfortable using it, consider eliminating your landline.
If you aren’t comfortable getting rid of your home phone all together, you can reduce your bill dramatically by removing features like call waiting or multiple phone lines that could tack on an extra $65 a month, according to Williams.
Professional Memberships, Country Clubs
Professional and trade groups are a great way to network as a member of the workforce, but they don’t have much use for a retiree.
“The membership fees are wasted money if you don't have a need to network for professional growth any longer,” says Yee. “There are many other ways to keep in touch with former colleagues for free after you retire.”
If you plan to travel and won’t be spending as much time at the country club, cut that too.
Unnecessary Insurance Coverage
Examine your current insurance policies and make sure the coverage still reflects your life circumstances.
“Your insurances are usually there for taking care of your kids,” says Hayes. “There could be some new wealth found there. Review [the policies]. Life insurance-- what do you need it for now? What could you do with the cash in there? It’s remarkable.”
According to Steele, some companies will keep billing you until you cancel the coverage even though the policy wouldn't pay out anyway. “Disability insurance usually only covers you to age 65, but some companies may still keep billing you beyond that age even though the coverage isn't valid anymore.”
Many insurers offer discount rates for senior citizens so be sure to ask if you qualify.
While it might be tough to turn away family requests for money, it’s important to take care of your financial obligations before helping others.
Offer your time or services instead to a struggling family member. “We call these gifts from the heart instead of gifts from the handbag,” Steele says.