4 Big Ways to Stretch Your Retirement Funds

Once retired, there is only so much you can do to bring in more money, but you can always use these four strategies to really stretch what you have.
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Managing Editor


They’re coming. Your golden years, that is.

If you’re like most Americans, you may be concerned that your retirement savings aren’t on track. A poll conducted last month by Gallup revealed that 59 percent of respondents worry about not having enough money for retirement, making it the most cited worry in the survey.

Unfortunately for those nearing retirement, there may be too little time left to fully address a savings shortfall, and small lifestyle changes — such as clipping coupons and eating out less — may not be enough to make a real difference.

If it seems inevitable that you’ll arrive at retirement with way less in savings than you should, these serious methods for stretching your dollars may help you avoid more painful changes to your lifestyle.

1. Delaying Social Security

If you’re worried about your ability to meet basic expenses in retirement, the first move you should consider is delaying when you start drawing your Social Security retirement benefits.

“Hold off on claiming Social Security if you can,” says Tracy Ann Miller, CEO of Portfolio Wealth Advisors in Oklahoma City. “You are eligible at age 62, but deferring your payments can boost your checks down the road. Even waiting four years to collect Social Security could make a difference of about $300 per month.”

It may seem counterintuitive that not collecting Social Security can stretch your retirement money, but it’s true. In your mid-60s, you are more likely to be able to continue working part-time, if needed, to sustain your lifestyle. Then, when you are ready to call it quits for good, you can start collecting Social Security and receive significantly more per month than you would have had you started at a younger age.

Some choose the approach of filing for benefits at their full retirement age and immediately suspending them, which allows their eventual monthly payments to continue to grow until age 70 while enabling their spouses to claim spouse’s benefits in the meantime. But this strategy has recently come under fire from critics in Congress, so retirees who want to try it may want to hurry.

2. Downsizing your house and toys

If you want your retirement money to last as long as possible, you need to stop using it to maintain homes and items that aren’t essential to your current lifestyle.

“I always force people to look at their expenses,” says Nick Scheumann, a wealth adviser with Hefty Wealth Partners in Auburn, Indiana, when asked how he advises those nearing retirement age.

Homes that were perfect for a family full of kids may be extravagant and unnecessary for empty-nesters. When no one is working, two cars may no longer be needed, and if it’s been years since you’ve gone to the lake, it could be time to sell the boat.

Scheumann recommends pre-retirees conduct a dress rehearsal of their retirement a few years before they quit their jobs. By living only on their expected retirement income, they can figure out in advance if they need to make any serious adjustments. Plus, they can put the remaining money from their paychecks into savings to beef up their cash reserves.

3. Stopping handouts to the kids

If you’re approaching retirement with thin reserves, it’s critical to stop acting as your adult children’s personal bank.

“I see a lot of my clients underestimate the effect of giving money to their kids,” says Miller. “Even $100 here or there can eat into your savings, and you may have to alter your lifestyle in retirement.”

If you have adult children you know need money and you feel obligated to help, budget a specific amount. When they hit the limit, be direct and tell them you are simply out of cash to share for the month. Also, be wary of boomerang children who come home and overstay their welcome.

“If your adult children move back home, ask them to pay rent,” advises Miller.

4. Getting moving and eating your veggies

The last way to stretch your retirement fund has nothing to do with money management. Instead, it’s about making smart lifestyle choices that will keep you healthy — and out of the doctor’s office.

“Health care is one of the biggest expenses in retirement,” says Miller. “It will cost the average couple about $250,000. Eating a balanced diet and exercising can help cut down on out-of-pocket medical expenses.”

But if there’s still time …

If you’re not on the doorstep of retirement, simply increasing your savings effort may allow you to sidestep these moves and still live comfortably. Be sure to take full advantage of your employer-based retirement plan (particularly if your employer matches your contributions) and other tax-advantaged retirement accounts, and considering saving even more in additional savings accounts if possible.

Then, if you decide to make these changes anyway, those extra funds will simply be there to help you enjoy your retirement even more.

Maryalene LaPonsie is a Michigan-based freelance writer specializing in education, personal finance and retirement topics. She is a weekly contributor to U.S. News & World Report, and her work has been featured on MoneyTalksNews, MSN, FOX Business, CBS News and elsewhere online. Prior to writing full-time, Maryalene spent 13 years working in the Michigan Legislature as a legislative staff member.