Every day, another 10,000 of us turn 65. And while pretty much every expert on the planet predicts that our standard of living likely will deteriorate once we retire, there really are a few things you can do now to disrupt the pending train wreck. A version of this post appeared in May 2014.
Here are five ways to make sure your retirement doesn’t suck.
1. Figure out where you will live.
Housing is everyone’s big ticket item. Maintaining a home or apartment in cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco can be super-expensive. There are many places where you can pay far less for rent or home ownership. Getting a handle on just this one monthly expense can totally shape your retirement life.
The internet is filled with Most Affordable Places To Retire lists. The are generally based on median home prices and take things into consideration like weather and crime rate. What most of them ignore is the desire and need to be near family and friends. If uprooting is indeed the path you choose, it makes sense to visit some of these places before you commit to living in them. And that’s something you can and should do before you retire.
2. It’s not too late to start saving.
Many of us haven’t yet figured out that saving can feel as good as spending. What we do is spend to our earning capacity; the more we earn, the more we purchase. AARP says that three out of five households headed by someone 65 or older have no money in retirement savings accounts. That’s none, as in zero.
To not be lumped in that group, there are small things you can be doing now that will help later. It may not feel extravagant to eat lunch out every day or stop for take-out food when you’re too wiped out to fix dinner when you get home after work, but it all adds up. Think about how many hundreds of dollars you spend each year making your morning coffee run. There is going to come a day when you wish you had put that money in your IRA or 401k.
3. Learn to live on a budget.
Retired people live on fixed incomes that generally are a combination of Social Security and a company pension and/or withdrawals from their 401k or IRA. They may have some passive investment income, but that’s not most of us. Today’s job market isn’t a happy place for most post 50s. They are met with rejection and told that their skills are out-of-date. So if you are entertaining a fantasy of being able to pick up a little supplemental income from a part time job when you retire, well, you might want to change the channel to some reality TV. It’s smarter to practice living on a budget — because that’s what you will be doing in retirement.
4. Prepare your home for the long run.
If you own your home and plan on staying in it, now is a good time to make sure it can accommodate you as you get older. Think about things like steps, first-floor master bedrooms, cabinets that you can reach. And think hard whether you will still need so much space. Even if your home is paid off, houses are expensive to heat and cool. We know a woman who wound up selling her house after she realized she only went up to her second floor to clean the dust bunnies once a month.
Also, look for ways your home can provide some income for you. Is it big enough to rent a room to a college student or another retired person? Investigate whether the garage can be converted into a guest unit and become a good source of rental income for you. If any remodeling or updating needs to be done, do it while you are still working. Keeping your home in tip-top shape also ensures that if you do wind up selling it, it is less likely to linger on the market long.
And for heaven’s sake: Refinance to a lower interest rate while you are still employed. Interest rates right now are at historical lows.
5. Lower your expectations.
Sorry, but this is a reality many will face. You will not have your parents’ retirement, nor will you even have the one you were expecting 10 years ago. What you can realistically expect is to work longer, be forced to be creative about reducing housing expenses and travel. But if you really want a retirement that doesn’t suck, accept the fact that your retirement may look very different than the one you dreamed about and move on from there.