Countless seniors depend on Social Security to pay the bills in retirement. And even though those benefits aren't enough to live on, if you have an additional income source, you can use them not only to cover your basic expenses, but to enjoy certain luxuries. As of September 2017, the average monthly Social Security benefit was $1,372. Here are just a handful of the things that sum of money can buy you.
1. A roof over your head
The average American retiree spends just under $1,300 a month on housing, which explains why it's the typical senior's single greatest monthly expense. And while it's always wise to keep your housing costs to a minimum, you can take comfort in the fact that a single Social Security payment could easily suffice to pay your monthly rent or mortgage.
2. An apartment rental in Orlando, Florida
Many seniors flock to the Sunshine State once they're ready to leave their careers behind. The good news is that the average Social Security payment is more than enough to cover a rental down there. The average one-bedroom in Orlando goes for $1,043, which leaves you with a few hundred dollars left over. A two-bedroom, meanwhile, will cost you $1,265 on average.
3. A year of public transportation
Not comfortable driving? You're not alone. Many seniors prefer riding the bus to operating a vehicle, and given the cost savings involved, sticking to public transportation often makes the most sense. Thankfully, the average Social Security payment will buy you a year's worth of public transit in cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Charlotte, according to an analysis by ValuePenguin. And it'll come pretty closing to covering a year of unlimited transit in New York City as well.
4. Prescription drugs for a year
Many seniors struggle to keep up with their drug costs, but here's some relatively encouraging news: The average Social Security payment happens to be the rough equivalent of what the typical American spends each year on prescriptions ($1,370, according to data from Express Scripts). Of course, if you can get those costs down, you'll stretch your Social Security income even further, so it pays to talk to your provider about generics or alternatives.
5. Eight months of early-bird specials
The typical senior spends $170 a month on restaurant meals, which means that a single benefit payment can cover eight glorious months of culinary delights you don't have to prepare at home. Now if you're on a strict budget, that money is clearly better spent elsewhere, but if you have some flexibility, it pays to treat yourself to a few dining experiences each month. Not only will it give you a break from your usual menu, but it's a good way to get out of the house.
6. A year's worth of new clothing
You may not have an office to report to, but just because you're retired doesn't mean you don't need new clothing. The typical senior household spends $1,417 a year on clothing, which means that one Social Security check could cover your entire wardrobe. Shop the sales and frequent your local outlet mall, and you can trim that figure even further.
7. An annual long-term care insurance premium
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that 70% of seniors 65 and older will need long-term care at some point in time, and to some degree. That's why it's smart to buy long-term care insurance, and the sooner you do, the lower a premium you'll lock in. In fact, if you're single and get your policy in your mid-50s, you might pay as little as $1,325 annually, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance -- which means that a single Social Security payment will foot your bill for the year.
8. An Alaskan cruise for two
Retirement is the perfect time to travel and see some of the places you've always dreamed of seeing. And one of the best ways to get around is by cruise liner, where you unpack once, pay a set price, and enjoy all the food and entertainment you'd like. Best of all, a single Social Security payment could cover an Alaskan cruise for two if you book in advance, so it pays to start planning your dream vacation.
9. A stair lift
Let's face it: The older we get, the more difficult it becomes to climb the stairs. If your home has a stairway, rather than risk injury, consider investing in a stair lift. Lifts typically start around $1,000, though that assumes your lift is basic and your setup uncomplicated. At the very least, the typical Social Security payment should cover a large chunk of the cost.
10. Cable TV for a year
Though you may have a host of options for keeping yourself entertained during retirement, a cable TV package can be a worthwhile expense -- especially for those days when the weather isn't conducive to leaving the house. As of late 2016, the average cost of cable was $103 per household, which means a single Social Security payment should cover a year of TV and still leave you with enough left over for a streaming service on the side.
11. Home improvements
Because retirees tend to own aging properties, they're among the most likely to sink money into home improvements. If you have a bathroom that's outdated, then with $1,372, you can refinish an old tub, replace your fixtures, and update a countertop on a small vanity. Or you can pay a professional to have your deck resealed, sanded, and painted. There's a host of improvements and repairs a single Social Security payment can buy you, so pick the one that's most pressing.
12. Shares of a high-yield ETF
Seniors tend to shy away from stocks because they're volatile by nature. Exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, however, are often a safer bet for older investors because they offer a degree of built-in diversification that individual stocks don't. ETFs allow you to invest in a broad array of stocks at once, much like mutual funds, but they trade like ordinary stocks in that you buy and sell shares on the public exchanges at any time. Not only can your shares grow in value, but you can also collect dividend income from ETFs, which, as a retiree, can prove useful when your budget is otherwise fixed. If you're not sure where to begin, check out this list of high-yield ETFs for retirees.
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