How to Make Your Money Last in Retirement

Time To Read 7 MIN READ

With the right planning, retirement can be a time to follow your dreams—learning new skills, exploring new opportunities, and enjoying all that life has to offer. But the transition can feel difficult if you aren’t prepared for the shift.

After spending so much time saving your money, now it’s time to think about protecting that investment nest egg while also drawing on it to live on and enjoy your life. 

Consider these 4 key steps you can take before retirement and 9 principles to live by during retirement to help you strike the right balance and manage your retirement spending with confidence.

4 key steps you can take before retirement

Step 1. Pay off debt

The more debt you can pay off before you retire, the easier it will be to meet your monthly expenses. Plus, as you free yourself from those debt payments along the way, you’ll have more money each month to use toward paying down other loans or investing in your future.

Still, paying off your debt before retirement isn’t a hard-and-fast rule.

If the interest rate on your debt is relatively low, you might be better off using your money some other way, like building up your short-term emergency fund or investing in an opportunity with a high yield. 

It’s also not worth paying unnecessary penalties to pay off your debt, so don’t take early withdrawals from your retirement account just to pay off your mortgage. In most cases, especially at today’s low interest rates, you’re better off hanging onto that mortgage and paying it down over time.

Step 2. Look at downsizing

Downsizing your life can take a lot of different forms. For some people, it might mean moving into a smaller residence that costs less and is easier to maintain. For others, it could mean selling off things you aren’t using anymore to make more room for friends and family to move in with you.

No matter what changes you decide to make in your life as you approach retirement, be sure to think about the emotional as well as the financial side of those choices—and try not to make assumptions about what you think retirement should look like. 

The question isn’t what retirement is “supposed” to look like but what will make you happy as you step into this new phase of your life.

Step 3. Plan your retirement portfolio

Make the most of your retirement portfolio with investments that are designed to keep up with inflation and lower your risk while providing a steady stream of income.

To that end, hiring a specialist can help you plan ahead. This isn’t just about making sure you have enough for retirement. It’s about designing a portfolio transition over time to help you move from saving up for retirement to protecting those investments while living off their income.

Step 4. Consider working a little longer

If your plan isn’t coming together the way you’d like, working a few extra years before you retire can make a significant difference. At the very least, work long enough to maximize your social security benefits. If that isn’t enough, you might want to stay in the workforce a bit longer.

If retirement is still some time away,  you can change your retirement picture by pushing for promotions at work or starting a side gig to earn some extra income. At least one projection expects gig workers to make up almost 51% of the U.S. workforce by the year 2028.

Under the current social security rules, once you reach full retirement age, your social security benefits won’t be reduced by your current income. So go ahead, start that online store and keep it going right into retirement. 

9 principles to guide your retirement journey

As you make that transition from working and saving into retirement life, these 9 essential principles can help you enjoy a long, healthy, fiscally sound retirement.

1. Change your mindset

The first, and perhaps most important, step in your retirement transition is accepting the fact that you’re entering a new financial phase of your life. 

Until now, the emphasis has been on growing your wealth and preparing for retirement. Once you retire, you’ll be drawing on that wealth to live on the investments you’ve built.

It can feel unsettling at first as you start to take those retirement distributions, but it’s easier if you have a plan for your annual withdrawals. That way, you’ll see your expected distributions ahead of time. As you withdraw that money over time, you’ll be able to do it with confidence, knowing (and seeing) that it’s all according to plan.

2. Take your finances off auto-pilot

While you’re still working, it’s easy to set your financial life on auto-pilot. Things like 401(k) contributions, tax withholding, salary deposits, and more all happen automatically. 

Once you retire, you’ll need to take manual control of your finances. 

While you might want to keep things like your utility bill on auto-pay, you’ll need to set up a plan for your investment withdrawals, and be sure to ask your accountant about other changes you should make—such as paying quarterly estimated taxes if you aren’t already.

You’ll also want to keep a closer eye on your investments to make sure your retirement plan is staying on track.

3. Take stock of your fixed expenses

Conduct an “audit” of your personal expenses to see where you can reduce that cash outlay without feeling like you’re giving up more than you’re willing. This isn’t about cutting your life down to the bone. It’s about deciding on purpose how you want to spend your money.

For example, if you like to take golfing trips, pay attention to how much you’re paying for food on those weekends. If eating at the club is an important part of the experience for you, so be it. But if you could take twice as many trips by bringing along some groceries, that might change your decision.

4. Take advantage of points … and senior benefits

Most people have no problem taking advantage of credit card points and other benefit systems, but they can still be reluctant to claim senior benefits. Get over it. Grab every dollar you can, as soon as you can.

Organizations like AARP are designed to make your retirement savings go further. Restaurants and entertainment venues offer senior discounts for a reason. Look for those discounts everywhere, and take advantage of them wherever you can find them.

5. Create a spending plan

Once you’ve minimized your expenses, create a spending plan to make sure you’re living within your intended means. If you’re using Quicken for Mac or Windows, you can create a custom budget (or change the one you have now) to fit your plan.

6. Make inflation part of your plan

Your cost of living probably won’t change a lot between one year and the next. If inflation stays around 2% or 3%, you aren’t likely to notice a huge difference in just 12 months. 

But over time, inflation can make a big difference in your necessary spending.

When you’re creating your plan for those retirement withdrawals, be sure to take inflation into account by adding that 2% or 3% to your expected spending every year.

7. Include taxes in your plan too

One thing that makes retirement complicated financially is the fact that that one type of withdrawal is not the same as another when it comes to income tax. Be sure to consult with your financial advisor when it comes to which account you’re going to pull from when. Choosing wisely can go a long way toward preserving your resources.

8. Think about long-term care

Long-term care is one of those things you hope you won’t need but should be prepared for just in case. A private room in a nursing home can cost $92,000 per year or more.

Consider long-term care insurance, and decide how much of a long-term care fund you’d like to build into your overall retirement plan. You can even separate those funds from the rest to hold them in reserve in case they’re ever needed.

9. Make healthier choices

Finally, a huge part of enjoying a long and fruitful retirement is staying healthy along the way. While we can’t control for every possibility, moderate exercise and healthy nutrition can significantly reduce the risk of many chronic conditions.

In the United States, a 2018 CDC report found that 28.6% of adults over the age of 65 had diabetes, and that trend is on the rise. The same report showed that the average excess medical cost of diabetes was approaching $10,000 per year, and that cost was also on the rise.

In other words, protecting your health is an important part of protecting your financial security in retirement—while also giving you more time, freedom, and energy to make the most of it.