So you made it to retirement and you were smart enough in youth to put enough money back. Whew! That's a relief, right? But now what do you do with your retirement savings?
Once you start cashing out that IRA or 401(k), you can get into a lot of financial trouble in a hurry. Getting through your golden years without feeling a financial pinch means you will have to be smart about managing your money.
The Baby Boom's big debt looms.
According to AARP, Baby Boomers are approaching retirement with more debt than previous generations. The 2008 Great Recession and a sputtering housing market have contributed to many Baby Boomers' retirement woes. Many find themselves upside-down on refinanced mortgages, with little equity built up in their homes.
Add to that the fact that a lot of soon-to-be retirees are coming out with pensions reduced as part of emergency corporate debt restructures, or are being forced into "early retirement" just shy of achieving full investment in their pension plans, and you have the makings of a retirement crisis. Social Security, after all, only goes so far.
Even those debtless people who are relying on reverse mortgages to supplement fixed incomes are probably going to face hardship, as the market will be flooded with sellers, driving reverse mortgage rates down.
So how can you avoid overspending in retirement and maintain a comfortable senior lifestyle?
Here are a few expert tips:
1. Reduce your debt heading into retirement.
This is especially true of credit card debt, for which interest rates can approach 30%, and moderate to high-interest car loans. If you find yourself paying off a high-interest car loan, sell the vehicle (provided you're not upside-down) and buy a cheaper car outright with the cash proceeds.
If you have high-interest credit card debt, try to roll it into a lower interest debt vehicle, like a home equity loan. Then cut the card— or at least put it away in a lockbox, so that you can't get to it for impulse purchases.
2. Downsize, downsize, downsize.
Once the kids are grown and gone, you don't need a multi-bedroom, multi-story house. It's expensive to heat and cool and you're paying more per month on that mortgage than you need to pay. Sell it (again, if you're not too far upside-down) and purchase a smaller home, a condo, or even consider moving into a retirement community (provided the rent is less expensive than your previous mortgage payment).
3. Put yourself on a strict allowance.
Figure up you base weekly expenses— those that you must spend money on just to survive, give yourself a 10% increase over that amount for mad money, and save or pay down debt with the rest. If you find yourself facing the "urge to splurge," as AARP's Lynette Khalfani-Cox put it, ask yourself why you want to spend additional money and run through a mental checklist of reasons why you should (or should not) give in.
4. Get a part-time or seasonal job to stay active and earn money.
Ideally, your spending will be controlled to the point that you can just use this extra money to reduce debt or save it for later. Or, if you find your finances in decent enough shape, take out 10 to 25% of your net part-time earnings for mad money and for spoiling the grandkids, and invest the rest. Sooner or later, you're going to need it. We all face medical bills and long-term care expenses eventually. If you do go this route, get a job that you enjoy, that doesn't put undue stress on you and that is close to home.
Managing your money in retirement is just like managing your money in your younger days, except your earnings potential is more limited.
If you are smart about your spending, avoid over-using credit cards and flashy or needless purchases, you'll do just fine. Keep a close eye on your balances. Periodically refigure your spending needs to see if there are opportunities to reduce your expenditures. If you have the opportunity to pick up a non-stressful side job, have at it. Enjoy the extra cash… and keep enjoying your golden years!