What to Do If Social Security Benefits Aren’t Enough for Retirement

When you retire, you probably thought your Social Security benefits and any other money you had set aside would be enough to cover your costs in retirement.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go according to plan.

Instead:

Many retirees are faced with the sad fact that they don’t have enough money to live their ideal lifestyle. Some may not even have enough to cover their basic needs.

So, what do you do if you figure out your money and Social Security benefits aren’t enough for retirement?

As with most money problems, you have two major options:

  1. decrease your expenses during retirement
  2. increase your income

For each option, there are different ways to go about it.

Here are a few ideas to help you find the money you need for your retirement.

Cut Your Cost of Living

While no one likes cutting their expenses, sometimes you have to do it to survive financially.

Thankfully, there are many ways you can consider cutting your expenses based on what matters most to you.

Housing

Housing is usually one of the biggest budget items in most households. As a retiree, this may or may not be the case for you. Either way, housing may be the answer.

If you rent or haven’t paid off your mortgage yet, this large monthly expense provides a huge opportunity for big savings.

Downsize

Consider downsizing to a smaller home to cut your costs.

In addition to reducing rent or mortgage payment, but you might be able to save on utilities, too.

Also:

Selling a larger or fancier home and downgrading to a smaller or less upgraded home can result in cashing out a large chunk of your home equity.

Even so, there’s an opportunity to boost your budget here.

If you take that equity and invest it, you now have a bigger nest egg to help generate income for you.

If you own a home and were successful in paying off your mortgage before you retired, you may only have to pay insurance, property taxes, and home maintenance costs.

The location of your new downsized home could save you money, as well.

Transportation

Transportation is another one of the major costs in most households.

As a retiree, you should take a serious look at your transportation spending habits.

One car only

If you were a two-car household prior to retirement, chances are you could easily downsize to a one-car household.

This could cut your transportation costs in half.

Spend less on a car

Look at the car you typically drive. If you buy a new car every few years, consider buying a used car and keeping it longer.

Extending the life of a vehicle can save you a ton of money over the long run.

An example:

Let’s say you buy a new $30,000 car every 3 years. When you trade the car in, it’s worth approximately $15,000. That means your car costs were $5,000 per year just in the price of the car alone.

If you keep that same vehicle for 10 years, you won’t get as much when you trade it in. You may end up only getting $5,000.

However, the average yearly cost of owning a car decreased dramatically. Instead of spending $5,000 per year on a car, you’re now only spending $2,500 per year on the cost of purchasing a car.

Opt for a more economical vehicle

You should also look at the type of car you’re buying.

When you have a family, many people buy larger vehicles such as minivans, large SUVs or huge trucks.

When you’re a retired couple, you don’t need these features anymore, even if they are nice to have.

Instead of buying a much more expensive large car, consider buying a compact car or sedan that meets your transportation needs. If you go from buying a $40,000 SUV to a $20,000 sedan, that’s a huge cost savings every few years.

Buying smaller cars can help you save money at the fuel pump, too. The better gas mileage your car gets, the less you’ll have to spend at the pump.

Over a few years, this can make a huge difference in your budget.

Food

Most people don’t think they have any room to lower their food budget.

In reality:

They don’t want to make the sacrifices necessary to do so, but it can usually be done.

One of the easiest ways to save money on food is cutting back on food waste. Any time you throw away leftovers or spoiled food, you’re essentially throwing money away. Instead, focus on buying and cooking only what you need.

Create systems to help you avoid letting food spoil by eating perishable foods first. Keep an inventory of your food where you’ll see it often. This way you don’t forget about what’s in the back of your refrigerator.

Another easy way to cut back on your food budget is eating at home more often.

While dining out is fun, it’s an easy expense to cut if money is tight. You can still eat nice food, such as steaks, at home for much less than it would cost at restaurants.

More generic/store brands

Finally, you can often substitute brand name food items with store brand food items.

This major cost savings won’t likely make a big difference to your taste buds. Many store brand items are so similar you wouldn’t be able to taste the difference in a blind taste test.

That said:

There are some food items that do taste different.

In these cases, buy the name brands only for the items that matter to you if you can afford them.

Entertainment

Your entertainment costs could vary wildly from your next door neighbor’s due to your tastes. Instead of focusing on completely cutting out entertainment, focus on how to get the most bang for your buck.

You can have plenty of fun at free events in your community. Free local parks offer plenty of opportunities to explore, as well.

When you do spend money on entertainment, make sure you get the most value out of it.

Consider a season pass to a local attraction you can visit over and over again versus buying single day passes that only provide one day of fun.

Then, change up where you buy your season pass each year so you don’t get sick of a particular attraction.

Move to a Cheaper Area

If the above cost savings ideas don’t end up saving you enough money, there’s a bigger option that can help you.

While people don’t like moving due to upfront costs, it may be your only option.

The truth is:

Certain states and cities are much cheaper to live in than others. As a retiree with no job, you can use this to your advantage and move to one of those areas.

Look for an area that has the lowest costs you can find for your biggest expenses, such as housing. Don’t forget to look at taxes, insurance, and other expenses that vary based on your location.

Moving from an expensive suburb of a big coastal city to a small town in the midwest could save you enough money to make your retirement nest egg last.

To go even further:

You might think about moving a different country that has a much lower cost-of-living overall.

Find a Way to Earn More Income

Sometimes, you can’t cut your expenses any further.

You already live in the cheapest area of the country and you’ve cut your expenses to the bare minimum. Or maybe those ideas sound like they’d make your life miserable.  

In these cases, you have to find ways to earn more income.

Changing Your Investment Strategy

Changing your investment strategy is something you shouldn’t take lightly. However, it could help provide more income.

Speak with a fee-only fiduciary financial planner to see if there are ways to change your investment strategy to provide more income.

Be wary, though.

A non-fiduciary and non-fee-only financial planner may try to sell you products that pay the financial planners high commissions, like annuities.

While annuities can be good in certain circumstances, make sure you completely understand them and how the advisor gets paid before you make the move.

If your financial assets are overly conservative, there may be ways to shift into a higher growth allocation that provides more income and still protects your nest egg over the long term.

That said, any financial changes require a deep analysis of your specific situation to be effective.

Get a Job

Most people don’t want to go back to work after they retire, but it may be necessary.

If you can’t get by on the money you have available to you, working even a part-time job may help.

The best part:

After you reach full retirement age, you can earn as much as you’d like without reducing your Social Security benefits.

Part of your benefits may become taxable, but your benefits won’t be reduced by working more.

Be careful if you’re working before full retirement age.

Why?

In 2019, you can make up to $17,640 before impacting your Social Security benefits.

For each dollar earned above that in a year before you reach full retirement age, your Social Security benefits may be reduced.

Start a Side Hustle

You don’t have to work a traditional full-time or part-time job to make money in retirement.

Thanks to the gig economy, you can now make money in more ways than ever.

You could become a driver for Uber or Lyft. If you don’t like interacting with passengers, consider delivering food with Uber Eats or groceries with Shipt.

Not all side hustles are car related, either. You could start a pet sitting or childcare business in your neighborhood. You could start selling your artistic creations at farmers markets. The options are endless.

Find something that has the potential to provide extra income that you enjoy doing. Then, it won’t seem like much work at all.

Keep in mind:

It’s probably best to stick to side hustles that don’t involve a huge upfront investment. Focus on hustles where you can make more by spending time, rather than money.

Start Making Changes as Early as Possible

When you have a money problem in retirement, it’s important to start making changes as soon as possible.

The earlier you start cutting back on your expenses or earning extra income, the more of your nest egg you can save.

Hopefully, your nest egg can then continue growing to help provide for your future needs.

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