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You don’t need millions in the bank to live on your terms.

You dreamed of a great retirement. Maybe you were going to travel the world—or at least the United States. Perhaps you planned to volunteer for that cause you’re passionate about. Or you wanted to give lavishly to your family.

And then life got in the way.

You or your spouse got sick. You got laid off and can’t seem to get back on your feet. The market took a nose dive just when you were set to retire. Now you’re facing retirement years with a lot less money in the bank than you planned. There’s no way you’ll be able to do the things you’ve imagined.

Don’t give up. This chapter of your life may not look like the fairy tale you’d written, but the end of the story can still be spectacular! You can’t change the past, but you can change your future. And you can start making those changes right now.

I can’t guarantee making these changes will put you on “easy street,” but they will allow you to retire comfortably and with dignity. Let’s take a closer look at the steps.

Assess Your Financial Situation

Before you make any decisions, stop and calculate how much money you will have. This includes the following accounts:

  • Workplace retirement funds like a 401(k), 403(b), 457, etc.
  • IRAs or Roth IRAs
  • Annuities
  • Pension(s) from current or former jobs (people often forget those)
  • Money in a savings or money market account
  • Money in CDs
  • Money from income property
  • Estimated Social Security benefit

Once you’ve added that up, you can compare it with how much you think you’ll need to live in retirement. What you need to do is close the gap between the two. There are only two ways to do that: generate more income or cut expenses. Let’s talk about both.

Downsize Your Housing

A government study showed housing is the greatest expense for older adults, both in dollar amount and in the percentage of your budget.1 It’s more expensive than your health care! Some of that is mortgage debt, but you also have to account for homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, utilities, and upkeep. Downsizing to a smaller home not only cuts your utilities and other expenses, but it also frees up more income to use in retirement.

For example, I met with a woman who had $250,000 in equity in her home. She’d never considered selling it because her kids had grown up there. I explained to her that if she downsized, she could buy a smaller home and have $150,000 to invest or use to live on. I’m not saying you have to get a tiny house like you see on TV, but you can get an affordable home that suits your current needs.

Consider Sharing Some Costs

If you’re single, think about sharing your home with a friend or relative. Many homes have mother-in-law suites, and some homes have two master bedrooms. You could charge rent for the room, share common spaces like the living room and kitchen, and split the costs of utilities and upkeep. You might even choose to share food costs. Two people paying the bills is better than one. And you have the added bonus of companionship.

Consider an Encore Career

Lots of older adults are pursuing encore or second careers. Some choose to work full time. Others take a part-time job in a field they love. Some seniors get work at national parks, on cruise ships, or ski resorts. They become bartenders, desk clerks, and security officers. The doors are wide open if you’re willing to think outside the box and chase down your dream.

When thinking about that job, don’t look at salary as the only benefit to consider. Think about a place that’s close to home, offers flexible hours, or offers exceptional insurance. Also, think about your hobbies that could be tied to a job. For example, you could consider working at a golf shop if you love that sport, or work at a candy store because you love working with kids.

Another option is to work for a company on a contract basis. This option is particularly suited for things like graphic design, writing, consulting, tax preparation, and seasonal help. You get to choose when you pick up work and you get to hone your skills at the same time.

Keep in mind that working could affect your Social Security benefits. If you retire before full retirement age (currently between ages 65–67), your earnings could affect how much money you get from Social Security every month. When you hit full retirement, though, your earnings from a job no longer reduce your benefits, no matter how much you earn.

Look for Help

This should be a last resort, but federal, state, and local governments have programs to provide financial assistance to seniors in need. This could include assistance in paying property taxes, utilities, phone service, food, and medication. Look into non-profit options on a local level, such as Meals on Wheels. Some churches and community groups offer meals once a week.

Also, check in with senior citizen centers. According to the National Council on Aging, there are nearly 11,000 senior centers in the U.S. that help 1 million adults aged 50 and up—every day!2 And we’re not talking about shuffleboard and bingo. These centers offer job training, health programs like aerobics and yoga, transportation, and services connecting older adults with private businesses in the area.

Take Advantage of Reduced Rates

Age does have its perks, especially in reduced prices. You’ve seen the discounts at the grocery store and the local coffee shop, but that’s just scratching the surface. You can get lower prices on cable TV, wireless access, airlines, museums, national parks, theaters, car insurance, clothing stores, cell phone service, and more restaurants than I can list! Those small discounts can add up quicker than you can say, “buffet.” All you have to do is ask.

Listen, friends: Don’t lose hope if you have less money in your retirement fund than you want. You still have loads of options at your fingertips. Before you go into panic mode, talk with a financial advisor. They can help you make a solid game plan based on your situation. You can still retire with dignity and peace of mind. 

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