The tricky thing about retirement planning is that it's hard to anticipate what your living costs will look like 15, 20, or 30 years down the line. Maybe you'll end up spending $1,000 a month on healthcare due to rising costs and multiple medical issues. Or maybe you won't even spend half that much.
But while it's difficult to estimate your retirement costs when that milestone is decades away, there are steps you can take to plan for your senior years, like socking money away in savings and establishing an income strategy. And part of the latter should include figuring out what role Social Security might play in your retirement.
Now many seniors depend on Social Security for the bulk of their retirement income. Some even count on those benefits to pay all of their living costs once they stop working.
It may be possible for you to get by on Social Security alone. But whether that makes for an enjoyable retirement is a different story.
What do you want retirement to look like?
The average senior on Social Security today collects $1,663 a month. Now the monthly benefit you receive may be higher, lower, or comparable. The sum Social Security pays you each month will hinge on factors that include:
- Your wage history, including the number of years you worked.
- Your Social Security filing age.
If you're a higher earner, you may be in line for a monthly benefit that's far more generous than $1,663. Furthermore, if you delay your filing beyond full retirement age, you can boost your monthly benefit by 8% a year in the process, up until age 70.
So, let's say you're entitled to a monthly benefit of $3,300 due to having earned higher wages and due to delaying your filing. If you have modest goals for retirement, a paid-off home, and no major health issues, then you might manage to live comfortably on that sum.
But if you're looking at a monthly benefit that's closer to what the average senior today collects, it's a different story. Even if you're content staying close to home and you're mortgage-free, being limited to $1,663 a month could mean having to skimp on basic luxuries, like cable, to cover your essential bills. And that sounds like the opposite of comfortable.
The point, therefore, is that while it may be possible for some people to maintain a decent standard of living using only Social Security as an income source, that's generally not advisable. A better bet is to make an effort to build a nest egg of your own so you have income to supplement those benefits with.
If you were to sock away $300 a month in a retirement plan over 30 years, and your investments were to generate an average annual 8% return, which is a bit below the stock market's average, you'd wind up with about $544,000. And that, combined even with an average Social Security benefit, could leave you with enough money to enjoy the comfortable senior lifestyle you deserve.