Few Americans are saving enough to finance a retirement that could last 30 years or more. Workers who haven't accumulated enough to maintain their current standard of living have two choices: delay retirement or learn to live on less money. Those willing to put in a little effort to downsize big and small expenses may be able to get by just fine with a smaller retirement stash. Here are some frugal strategies retirees can employ to stretch their nest eggs:
Downsize your home. Once your kids move out of the house, you no longer need a multiple-bedroom home near a good school district. "It's not just the mortgage but all the maintenance," says Jane Young, a certified financial planner for Pinnacle Financial Concepts in Colorado Springs, Colo. "A lot of people like to move into a townhouse where they no longer have to take care of a huge yard." Consider downsizing to a smaller home or condo and padding your nest egg with the extra income.
Ditch a vehicle. Eliminating a daily commute is one of the biggest perks of retirement. Couples may no longer need two vehicles when they don't travel to separate offices. Ditching a car also will cut your insurance and car maintenance bills. Some retirees who can't or don't want to drive can even go carless.
Take required minimum distributions. Those ages 70½ or older must take required minimum distributions from retirement accounts each year. The withdrawal amount is calculated by dividing your individual retirement account and 401(k) balances by your life expectancy, as determined by the Internal Revenue Service. The penalty for failing to take out the correct amount from your retirement accounts is steep: a 50 percent tax penalty, plus income tax on the amount that should have been withdrawn.
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Spend taxable accounts first. You don't have to pay income tax on the money in your 401(k)'s and IRAs until the money is withdrawn. But many types of gains outside retirement accounts are taxed each year. Minimize your tax bill by spending money outside your retirement accounts first. Also, consider strategically spacing your retirement account withdrawals throughout retirement to control your tax burden.
Scrutinize investment fees. Fees and expenses diminish investment returns. Even after you retire, it can pay off to seek out investment options with lower expense ratios and fewer fees. "A lot of times index fund expenses are every low—half of 1 percent," says Robert Krakower, a certified financial planner in Huntington Beach, Calif., and author of Redefining Retirement for a New Generation. "If you have a mutual fund that is changing you 2 percent, try to narrow your expenses." Also, take care to avoid banking fees in general, including trading fees and ATM or overdraft charges on your checking account.
Sign up for Medicare on time. Seniors can sign up for Medicare during a seven-month period beginning three months before their 65th birthday. Fill out an application right away to avoid a Medicare Part B premium increase of 10 percent for each 12-month period of delayed enrollment. Seniors who are still working and receive health insurance through their employer after age 65 need to enroll within eight months of leaving the job to avoid the penalty.
Find the best Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. Every year the premiums, deductibles, and cost-sharing provisions of Medicare Part D prescription drug plans change. Retirees should go to medicare.gov and compare expected out-of-pocket costs for necessary drugs under all the plans available in their area. Seniors can switch plans once a year during the open enrollment period.
Delay signing up for Social Security. Workers may sign up for Social Security benefits beginning at age 62. But benefit checks are reduced by 20 to 30 percent for workers who claim their checks before what the Social Security Administration calls the full retirement age. Soon-to-be retirees born between 1943 and 1954 must wait until age 66 to claim their full entitlement. For those born after 1954, the eligibility age for full benefits gradually increases, finally reaching 67 for Americans born in 1960 or later.