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Planning for Retirement: How to Retire on the Cheap

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When it comes to retirement, the conventional wisdom is that a couple needs at least $1 million to retire comfortably. Why $1 million? Economists, financial advisers and others say retirees should spend no more than 4% of their nest egg a year, and if they have a million bucks, that means they can spend $40,000 a year for 25 years.

Add the average Social Security benefit and that couple will have about $68,000 to spend, a comfortable sum even for retirees who are still paying off mortgages.

That’s the logic for the $1 million pot of gold that we all allegedly must possess, but let’s be honest: Many folks make due with considerably less than that. Here are five ways people of more modest means can stretch their dollars in retirement.

1. Move

That’s right. It usually costs more to live in or near big cities or on or near coastlines. You can save thousands of dollars a year in real estate taxes and on home and food costs by moving to “middle America,” where the cost of living is lower. The median household income in Auburn, Ala., is only $21,630, and the winters are mild. In Blacksburg, Va., it is $26,792, and in Mount Pleasant, Mich., it is $27,621. These three cities all happen to double as college towns — Auburn University, Virginia Tech and Central Michigan University, respectively — which tend to offer lots of cultural and educational events, often priced low to attract students. One warning: If you live in a town that’s too isolated, it may take you longer to get to airports, hospitals, libraries and stores, and you’ll find that your children and friends may not visit you as often as you’d like.

2. Pay off your house

The most recent statistics show that at least a third of those who are 65 and older are still paying off mortgages, and some continue to work because of these mortgages, their largest single expense. Imagine how much better you can live in retirement with an additional $12,000 to $24,000 a year.

3. Get rid of car payments

It’s easier said than done, but having no car payment will save you hundreds of dollars a month. After you pay off your car loan, be sure to maintain your car well so it will last several years. Some retirees who no longer need to impress clients with luxury cars downsize and buy more affordable cars and save hundreds of dollars a month doing that. Whatever you do, don’t lease a car. That guarantees that you’ll continue to have large monthly payments going toward transportation.

4. Take care of your body

Eat well. Exercise. Don’t smoke. All of those things you need to live a healthy life will reduce the likelihood that you’ll need expensive surgeries or other medical procedures. And if you retire before you qualify for Medicare, your health will be a major factor in the health insurance rates you pay.

5. Delay retirement

There are two reasons to do it: You’ll give yourself more years to save for retirement, and you’ll receive a higher Social Security benefit. If you’re trying to decide, keep it mind that the key is whether you think you’ll live past 79. Let’s look at two examples:

Mary and John are the same age, and they both will live to be 90. They stand to collect the same amount if they retire at the same age, but Mary wants to start receiving benefits when she turns 62. She receives $19,320 a year, and by the time she dies at 90, she has received $542,570. John waits until he’s 70 to start collecting his benefits. He receives $35,340 a year, and by the time he dies, he has received $709,745.

The break even age– the time at which she would have collected the same amount whether she retired at 62 or 70 – is 79 years and six months. If you think you’ll live longer than that, consider delaying retirement. It just might pay off in a big way.

 

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