Many workers look forward to retirement and the chance to make the most of their newfound free time. But the ability to enjoy that period of life tends to hinge on one major factor: money. And if you don't take steps to prepare for or eliminate certain expenses ahead of time, you're apt to have less of it during your golden years. Here are four expenses in particular that tend to really hurt retirees -- and what you can do about them.
Healthcare is the one expense that tends to go up for seniors in retirement, especially as they age. And if you're curious as to what it might cost you, you should know that the average 65-year-old man today will spend $189,687 on medical care throughout retirement, while the average 65-year-old woman will spend $214,565. These figures, however, don't account for long-term care. They also clearly aren't negligible, and while knowing what you're in for will help, you should still take steps to keep your healthcare costs to a minimum.
How? Start by taking advantage of Medicare's free preventive health services -- once enrolled, you get one free wellness visit a year plus no-cost screenings for a number of health issues. Next, be sure to address health issues before they escalate. A problem that's solved with an immediate doctor visit will likely cost you far less than an issue that worsens and results in a hospital stay. Finally, be smart about prescriptions. Ask for generics whenever possible, and order medications in bulk to save on costs. The more you actively work to reduce your healthcare-related spending, the more money you'll have left over to use as you please or cover your remaining expenses.
2. Home repairs
Though the average homeowner spends 1% to 4% of his or her home's value on maintenance each year, home repairs are far less predictable. You never know when your roof might collapse or your heating system might break, and what it might cost to fix those items. Therefore, if you don't have a strong level of cash reserves going into retirement, you might consider selling your home and renting instead.
Renting during retirement can be beneficial in that you're eliminating many of the unknowns that come with owning. And when you're living on a fixed income, having fixed housing costs is often the safer bet.
That said, if you own an older home that you'd like to hang on to in retirement, you might choose to have an inspection done on it while you're still working -- just like an inspection you'd have performed if you were buying a new home. This way, you'll get a sense of what repairs you might be looking at in the coming years, and you'll have the option to evaluate your savings and see if you're able to absorb them or not.
3. Debt payments
The fact that nearly 50% of seniors 75 and over are carrying debt means that millions of retirees are walking around in a financially precarious state. The problem with having debt in retirement is that those nagging payments can grow to eat up a huge chunk of your limited income, thereby putting you in a tough spot when unexpected expenses arise.
A better bet? Aim to pay down all of your existing debt before closing out your career -- even your mortgage. And if you have credit card debt, be sure to get rid of it before making your retirement official. Otherwise, you'll accrue even more interest as the months and years go by, reducing your chances of ever managing to pay off that balance in your lifetime. You may need to work a little longer to enter retirement debt-free, but it'll buy you the peace of mind you need to leave the workforce with confidence.
4. Long-term care
It's estimated that 70% of seniors 65 and over will need some form of long-term care in their lifetime, and if you're not prepared for it, the cost of that care might ruin you financially. The typical cost of an assisted living facility nationwide is $45,000 per year, according to Genworth Financial, while a nursing home will set you back $85,775 a year for a shared room or $97,455 for a private one.
And these are just averages. In some parts of the country, you might spend considerably more for long-term care. That's why it pays to look into long-term care insurance in your 50s, when you're most likely to not only get approved, but snag a health-based long-term discount on your premiums. Having a policy to defray the cost of long-term care could spell the difference between depleting your nest egg prematurely and retiring with dignity, so be sure to explore your coverage options while you're young enough to take advantage of them.
The last thing you want is for a host of sneaky expenses to destroy your finances when you're older. So don't let that happen. Read up on healthcare costs and take steps to lower them, consider unloading your home if it's likely to become a money pit, eliminate whatever debt you're carrying, and protect yourself from the overwhelming expense that is long-term care. Once you do, you'll increase your chances of maintaining a healthy income stream throughout retirement and enjoying your golden years all the more for it.