Social Security is an important source of retirement income for most people, but it was never intended to replace personal retirement savings.
Yet approximately 1 in 5 baby boomers and older retirees don't have any other sources of retirement income beyond Social Security, according to a Nationwide survey. That can lead to debt problems or financial dependence on children, which can threaten children's ability to save for their own futures.
If you're concerned about being unable to afford the cost of your retirement, there are steps you can take to shore up the situation. Let's look at a few of them below.
How much will Social Security cover in retirement?
Social Security was originally designed to replace about 40% of pre-retirement income for the average worker, according to the Social Security Administration (though it gives no indication of what average earnings are). Social Security might cover more or less than this amount for you, but it's almost certainly not going to be enough to fund most people's retirements on its own.
The Nationwide survey found that the average retiree received about $1,380 per month from Social Security, which comes to $16,560 per year. We know from Bureau of Labor Statistics data that the average household headed by an adult 65 or older spends a little over $50,000 per year on average, which means a $1,380 monthly Social Security check would only cover about a third of the average senior household's expenses.
It might cover a little more for you if you spend less than $50,000 per year, but it's a pretty tall order to live off of Social Security alone. If you're struggling financially and you don't have any other savings to fall back on, here are a few things you can try.
Make sure you're getting the most from Social Security possible
Delaying Social Security means fewer checks, but every month you don't claim benefits increases the size of your checks until you reach your maximum benefit at 70. Of course, this might not be useful advice if you're already claiming Social Security benefits.
But there are other ways to maximize your benefits, including making sure your spouse, if you have one, is claiming or plans to claim benefits as well. Even if they've never worked, your spouse can still claim a spousal benefit on your work record if you're eligible for Social Security.
You may also qualify for Supplemental Security Income if your income is low enough. This provides additional money each month to help you cover some of your expenses. You can apply for these benefits online or at your local Social Security office.
Investigate other types of financial assistance
You might also qualify for government programs to help you pay for food, energy bills and medical expenses. Available programs vary by where you live, and each will have its own criteria to determine who qualifies.
Do some research into financial assistance programs for seniors or low-income households to see if you qualify and consider signing up if you do. This can help you stretch your Social Security funds a little further.
Consider a job
If you aren't able to come up with money any other way, consider returning to work at least part time to supplement the money you're receiving from Social Security. You don't have to work in the same field you were in before. You can choose something that's more in line with your interests so it feels less like work, or even try starting your own business.
There are also opportunities out there that require some upfront work but can then provide a more or less passive source of income. You can rent out property or create and sell an online course or ebook. Think about what interests you most and what would work best with your lifestyle, and then look for ways to turn it into a source of income.
Things may not always be easy for you if you're already retired and have burned through your savings. But you still have options. Try some of the suggestions above to see what kind of difference they can make for you.