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Worried that your retirement plans are shot, thanks to a really rotten decade for investors? Don’t despair.Even if the market never returns to its former glory, there are many ways to retire well. Better yet, most of them don’t involve living like a pauper to save every available dime, according to Ralph Warner, author of Get a Life: You Don’t Need $1 Million to Retire Well.In fact, some of the best advice about ensuring a comfortable retirement — such as falling in love and taking more vacations — is so counter-intuitive that it sounds downright weird.But once you know the details, you may realize that counter-intuitive advice can be scathingly brilliant. See for yourself by perusing these 5 wonderfully weird ways to fix your retirement.
 
   
    1.  Fall in Love

To be sure, love is its own reward. But when love turns to marriage (or even just co-habitation) the economic benefits are substantial. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one-person households spend $29,405 on average. Two-person households spend $51,650 — about $7,160 less than two individuals would spend on their own.

Not surprisingly, the biggest savings comes from housing and utility costs, which are $3,238 per person less when living together versus separately. But two-people households also save on apparel ($192), food ($306), alcohol ($86.50) and entertainment ($53.50). (Couples spend more on insurance, taxes and housekeeping, though.)

Of course, if you’re considering tying the knot, make sure you’re sure. Divorce can be devastating to your wealth. In addition, if you’re marrying for a second time, check in with the Social Security Administration to see how re-marriage might affect your retirement benefits. Social Security can sometimes make it costly for elderly lovers to wed.

    2. Take More Vacations

One of the reasons people become anxious to retire is because they work themselves into a frazzle, saving their vacation time and scrimping on airline and cruise tickets in an effort to catch up on retirement savings. Retiring early becomes the holy grail, because, well, you’re tired and completely sick of working so hard.

Here’s the bad news: No matter how much you save, it’s not going to make up for retiring early. Each year that you work past age 62 generates about 8% more in Social Security benefits — for life. Moreover, it’s another year that you don’t dip into savings. That’s a lot to make up for.

The better alternative? When you get, say, five years from your desired retirement date, stop saving. Use the money you would have saved for vacations instead, suggests Stuart Ritter, vice president and certified financial planner with T. Rowe Price. In fact, you could scale back to part-time work, as long as your work pays enough to cover your bills (sans savings) without dipping into savings or requiring that you apply for Social Security. If vacationing more makes you work a few more years, you’re far better off economically, he says. He’s serious. He’s done the math.

   3. Clean Your Closets

How do you figure out how much you need to save for retirement? You look at how much you’re spending now and subtract the amount that you set aside annually for savings, work-related expenses and other costs that you won’t have when you stop working. (For instance, if you pay off your mortgage before retirement, you’d subtract the monthly mortgage payment, but not the cost of property taxes and insurance.) The presumption is that you’ll spend then much like you spend now.

But is the way you currently spend money making you happy or putting you on a treadmill that requires a lot more work (and savings) for not very much personal satisfaction? The best way to figure that out is to clean your closets.

The process makes you face all the things you’ve purchased that you don’t use. How much did those unused items cost you? How much less could you live on if you made a point of avoiding wasteful spending? If you realize that $200 of your $2,000 monthly budget is wasteful, you’re 10% closer to retiring comfortably if you simply cut out the things you really don’t want, need or use.

   4.  Be Good to Your Family

One of the biggest wild-cards of retirement planning is long-term care. About 10 million Americans — about 5% of the adult population — need some form of long-term care in any given year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Whether you need a nursing home, assisted living or just a home health aide, long-term care is costly. The average cost of nursing care is $70,000 annually; assisted living facilities average $36,000 per year; and home health aides typically charge about $29 per hour, according to KFF.

Medicare only pays for about 22% of the spending, so unless you’re poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, most of that cost comes out of your pocket.

The good news: Only about 14% of those who need long-term care require the most costly nursing home option. Everyone else gets by with either assisted living, home health aides — or the one little-discussed option: unpaid help from family and friends.

Realistically, your friends and family will not be able to care for you if you’re among the unfortunate few who require a nursing home because dementia or chronic ailments necessitate round-the-clock care. But if you’re among the much larger segment of the population that just needs help sometimes and with some things, good friends and good families can pick up a lot of the slack.

Need a ride to the grocery store? You could pay a home health aide $60 to get you there and back, or you could figure that the grandson that you spent every summer with will love you enough to dedicate a few hours of his weekend taking you to the market (or the movies or sprucing up your yard or changing a burned-out light bulb or two).

Work demands can make it hard to slow down enough to play games with the grandkids, take them to the park, or lunch or swimming. But when you’re wondering whether you ought to spend another hour in the office or spend that hour with your family, think of the hour spent with your family as an investment in retirement planning. It may just pay off big.

    5.  Volunteer

Have you thought about how you’ll want to be entertained in retirement? You should. If you’ve always loved golf or seeing plays or traveling, you’re going to want to do those things in retirement just like you did when working. The challenge: Hobbies are often really expensive.

But if you think through your options,  you might just find ways to engage in your favorite activities for free by becoming a volunteer. When Get a Life author Ralph Warner started interviewing vibrant seniors about what made their retirement happy, he ran into a golf enthusiast who had volunteered to work as a marshall at his local course, for example. The ancillary benefits of this volunteer job were legion: Besides free access to the course and carts, by spending several days a week trolling the fairways to check on fellow duffers, this volunteer got to know all the regulars — young and old — and had plenty of new friends to golf with.

Fran, a play lover, became a volunteer usher at a local playhouse. Not only did she watch shows she never would have otherwise seen after taking people to their seats, every few months the playhouse gave all volunteers four free tickets to the play of their choice. Steve, a baseball lover, did much the same at his local baseball Stadium. And Tom, a college professor who loves travel, volunteered to give informational lectures on cruises. He and a guest can cruise for free in return for Tom’s commitment to spend a few hours of each cruise talking about a topic he loves.

Love museums or art? Become a docent. Boating? You could become a youth instructor. Turning a costly hobby into a job can save you a fortune and allow you to spend far more of your time with people who share your passions

Kathy Kristof is a syndicated personal finance columnist, speaker and author of three books, including the recently updated Investing 101 (Bloomberg, 2008).

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