’Tis the season for frights. So let’s touch on a terrifying topic: running out of money in retirement.
Going broke in your golden years is commonplace, lasts a long time and is a scarier nightmare than any Halloween horror film you could see this week. But by changing habits and smart planning, you can avoid that terror.
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Here are my suggestions:
1. Cheaper housing
Personal finance pundits often hype small savings tricks, like skipping daily light-whip two-pump Mochaccinos and quitting avocado toast. Those could add up. But cutting big, unnecessary expenses is a better place to start.
For many, the best savings trick is leaving a big city, which are expensive. Housing, restaurants, groceries and basic services typically get cheaper the further you get from a metropolitan center.
In Seattle, for example, a three-bedroom home can cost $1 million or more, according to Zillow. In nearby Duvall, Washington, you get that house plus a nice yard for half a million or less. Renting a three-bedroom Seattle pad typically costs $3,500 a month, or more. In the suburbs? Try $2,200. That’s over $15,000 in annual savings.
Look up housing costs in any major city and its suburbs. You’ll see similar trends. In California, you get more for your buck in San Ramon than in San Francisco. Santa Clarita is hugely more affordable than Los Angeles.
Round Rock, Texas, beats Austin. Garden City, New York, beats Manhattan. Move further out, to true rural America, and you can cut housing costs by half again, easy.
Can’t give up urban living? Consider moving to a cheaper metro area.
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According to SmartAsset’s analysis, a $1 million retirement fund lasts just 10.5 years in Manhattan. San Francisco is nearly as bad, just 12.7 years.
But in some big cities, your buck stretches further. In Denver, your $1 million savings could last 21 years. West Coasters might also try Phoenix, where $1 million lasts over 25 years.
Prefer southern living? A million could last roughly 23 years in Atlanta. San Antonio, Texas, gets you about 27 years.
2. Cut entertainment spending
If you don’t want to leave family, friends or community, there is another big, easy way to save: Slash entertainment spending. Few folks fully fathom what they fritter away on entertainment. The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates people aged 65 to 74 spend $5,832 annually on play. For a couple that’s 11 grand. One reason it gets out of hand? In retirement, you jump from one or two leisure days a week to seven – more opportunities to spend.
But there is a lot of free and cheap fun. Consider your local Shakespeare in the Park instead of spending hundreds for "Hamilton" tickets. Have picnics or experiment your way through a new cookbook instead of eating out regularly. Take a cue from millennials and try cord-cutting your way to cheaper TV with streaming services instead of cable. Netflix or Amazon Prime can make movie night cheaper, too. Make sure you actually use services you subscribe to. Many subscribe to things (streaming, gyms, wholesale retailers, etc.) they rarely use. It's a waste.
3. Rethink your old budget
Central to all this is: Plan to change your habits, which can become our real Halloween goblins. Being habitual critters, our routines keep us spending the way we did before.
Just as important as avoiding old routines is setting a budget. Then stick to it. Tally your spending. Hold yourself accountable. Don’t forget to plan for the unexpected!
Many folks forget to factor in wiggle room for car or home maintenance. Setting aside a few thousand dollars a year for potential big-ticket hiccups can save you from yanking emergency cash from your 401(k) and suffering a tax hit.
Budgeting and penny-pinching may not sound fun. But it beats the terrifying misery of going broke in old age. A little pre-planning goes a long way later.